LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Lisa Villano

Position: Elementary Special Education Teacher
School: Shishmaref School
School District: Bering Strait School District
City, State: Shishmaref, AK

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Music that Describes Lisa


Lisa Villano was nominated by her district's special education director, Jessica Towarak.

Ms. Villano has been a special education teacher in the Bering Strait School District for the past four years in the village of Shismaref, Alaska, a remote village along the Bering Sea. She has made substantial growth over the years, and is always seeking improvement for both herself and her students. She has displayed great leadership potential in recent years. Ms. Villano was recently nominated to serve on the Council of Exceptional Children as the President of Alaska's Chapter. She also presents to fellow educators each year at the Alaska Statewide Special Education Conference and is a great advocate for those who experience disabilities. As a self-advocate, Ms. Villano goes above and beyond with her students each and every day in order to ensure the best services are provided to them. She always seeks to support, encourage, and celebrate even the smallest of accomplishments while being a team-player. Ms. Villano is extremely creative, positive, personable, and always eager to connect with others. She's the definition of a LifeChanger in every aspect of her life and career. 



Comments (31)


Mari Torgerson Posted over a year ago

I have known Lisa Villano since she was 8 years old.

Jim Villano Posted over a year ago

Lisa is an awesome lifechanger. She is one of the kindest and most compassionate people I know. After overcoming her own physical disabilities, she has dedicated her life to helping those who most need it. Lisa has worked in group homes for people with disabilities in Alaska and Washington state. She now works as a special education teacher in a remote Alaskan village, making a positive difference in the lives of young Inupiaq Eskimo children.

John Lentine Posted over a year ago

Lisa is an energetic and resourceful teacher and a wonderful person. She is caring and dedicated and comes from a great line of educators! Her students are blessed indeed to have such an amazing teacher.

Tammy Smith Posted over a year ago

Lisa is a wonderful person to have in our profession. She is hardworking, dedicated, and cares deeply about the students she is working with. Her entire life has been one of selflessness. Lisa has volunteered in programs which supports the well-being of others and which taught life skills. Her work as a sped teacher is an outreach of her volunteer work. Lisa deserves this honor because she walks the path with those who need an extra lift.

Christine Villano Posted over a year ago

Lisa is a wonderfully kind and loving person who has made the world better since she was born. She has had the challenge to be born with a form of cerebral palsy that made many physical and time management activities hard for her. Throughout her life she has persisted and never let it hold her back. In fact her own understanding of adapting to her environment has lead her to a life of service to others. Lisa was an Americorps volunteer for adults with severe disabilities living in houses that celebrated the gifts of the adults in a program called L’Arche found by Jean Vanier, a Jesuit priest. Lisa’s 5 years of service also led her to go to India to volunteer for the poorest and disabled in Calcutta. Lisa worked through many challenges after her volunteer years to become a Special Education teacher. She persisted even when some professionals discouraged her dream. Now Lisa is in her 4 th year in a remote Inuit village encouraging her native students to try their best to succeed to achieve their dreams even when disabilities and others challenge their lives. Her patience, love, and kindness radiates out to all whom she serves and comes in contact with everyday. She is a life changer! Lisa has changed my life in so many ways. She inspires me to give Gods love to all people and to help give others the tools to live a full and happy life.

Annie Leaness Posted over a year ago

Lisa has been the best big cousin. I’ve always looked up to her kindness and transparency. She’s a role model. I love that we share a passion for education.

Heather Damario Posted over a year ago

I have known Lisa since we were in junior high. It has been an honor to work with her on occasion and see her growth professionally. She has a way of building long lasting relationships and enjoys being an educator. She is admirable and such an inspiration to all the encounters.

Christa Mulder Posted over a year ago

Lisa was one of the teachers who participated, with her Climate Heroes group, in our Winterberry citizen science project. Despite having no science experience, she threw herself into it. As a result, one of her young students made it to the state-wide science fair in Anchorage and got a first prize. I was very impressed by her persistence in making sure this young lady had all the support she needed for this challenging project. The enormous smile on her face when she won says it all.

M. L. Brent Posted over a year ago

Lisa Villano has an engaging personality and a warm smile that immediately draws you to her, Teaching students with special needs is challenging, and Lisa meets that challenge daily with creative ideas and exciting techniques. As a retired teacher, I have been impressed with the mNNER

Elaine Johnston Posted over a year ago

Lisa Villano’s enthusiasm and compassion for her students motivate everything she does. This is deeply communicated to each of her students; she is a force for good in the world! Brava!

Tim Parker Posted over a year ago

I have been impressed over and over by Lisa's leadership. As the president of NEA-Alaska, I have worked with Lisa on many projects, and she is one of the hardest workers and best thinkers. Her care for her students is top notch.

Archie Posted over a year ago

We love having Lisa as a part of our community. She is kind and friendly. This community is better with a person like Lisa. Thanks Lisa.

Eleanor Taft Posted over a year ago

Lisa is a wonderful lady who goes out of her way for her students. Not only that, she volunteers within the community for programs that help our children.

GS Posted over a year ago

Lisa is very patient, kind & helpful in anyway & how, does thee best she can do plus more. Way to go lisa thank you for all you do for our community & children ??

Pamela Schwarz Posted over a year ago

Lisa is the kind of person who gives her all for her students. She relates to them in a very special way and loves them unconditionally while enthusiastically spreading joy in everything she does.

Gina Carolan Posted over a year ago

Lisa is a true example of someone doing what she loves and loves doing what she does...helping others. Teaching is a gift, and Lisa gives that present to others as she encourages others to learn new things on a daily basis. She does not seek recognition for herself, rather she inspires others to reach beyond a comfort level to achieve their goal.

amy gallaway Posted over a year ago

A dedicated educator serving with grace and expertise.

Jean Mann Posted over a year ago

Congratulations so awesome this award couldn’t go to a more giving person!

Mary Carolyn Ramsaur Posted over a year ago

I have known Lisa since she was a wee girl and what a thrill to see she is such an inspirational teacher and outstanding voice for all students. We need to clone her and spread out all her gifts to the Alaskan Rural School districts!

Elena B Sparrow Posted over a year ago

Lisa''s nomination to be Life Changer of the Year is highly deserved. She is very passionate, highly dedicated, and truly cares for the students she teaches and whose lives she is positively affecting.

Amy Posted over a year ago

Lisa is an incredible person who has been a friend since childhood. She has overcome so much to become a teacher and she truly understands what it's like to be a child with special needs. She is amazing. A true light in my life and all of the lives that she touches.

Grace A B Posted over a year ago

An inspirational part of our community

Kathleen Krotke Posted over a year ago

I have known Lisa since 1996, when we were both freshman attending college at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, and I have had the privilege of watching her develop as a teacher from the very beginning. You can easily describe Lisa as dedicated and hard-working, but for me, the trait that I most admire about her is that she genuinely cares for people. When she first announced that she had accepted a teaching assignment in the village of Shishmaref, I was a little hesitant and wondering if this was a good choice for her. Shishmaref is located in the Chukchi Sea on an island that is very remote and mostly known to the outside world as the village with visible impacts from climate change. It is very isolated, dark, and cold during the long winters. But my hesitation quickly disappeared as I watched her thrive, almost as soon as she arrived, jumping right in to both her teaching duties as well as getting to know the community. And she has grown from there. In the 23 years I have known her, her ability to empathize and care for those around her has always stood out as one of her best features, and these have especially shone brighter since she began teaching at Shishmaref. She has embraced not only working with her students and fellow teachers, but the community. And they have embraced her as well. Being that she is in a remote location, most of her friends and family communicate with her via social media. Lisa is always sharing anecdotes of things her students tell her, or telling us about a community event or activity she is attending, or sometimes cheering on a local sports team. You can tell how proud she is and how much she cares, not just about her students and her school, but also the community that she lives in. And by sharing these, she has taught those of us far away from her to care about Shishmaref too, on a much deeper level than identifying it as that far away place with the climate change problem. Through her sharing, she has the rest of us caring too, and this makes her not just a life changer for her students and school, but for those of us thousands of miles away, by giving us a peak through the window at life on a remote island in Northern Alaska. She teaches us about the people and culture, not just the dot on a map. And we are all, better for it.

Kathe Weber-Baker Posted over a year ago

It has been a joy to watch Lisa grow up and become this exceptional teacher. Her smart, positive, upbeat manner as she embraced her position at Shismaref and in the community, deserves accolades. She has endeared herself to the village and Lisa’s students are so fortunate to have her in their daily lives. As someone who lived and taught in remote Alaska when I was younger, I know it takes a willingness to truly love and work with not only the students but their families, in a close knit community. Lisa has excelled and will continue to grow in her teaching career and also sharing her knowledge and growth with other professionals. It is an honor to support her nomination as LifeChanger.

Lori Mertes Posted over a year ago

Lisa is a wonderful,kind,and caring person. She loves teaching special needs children. She trulybubderstand they have a gift and wants th I make sure they succeed. She has overcome her own disabilities to encourage and let others know you can succeed. Hard work and dedication pays off.

Heidi Cambier Posted over a year ago

Congratulations, Lisa! You’re a special ray of light for many many kids!

Kate Ortega Posted over a year ago

Lisais kindness personified. I have known her for 20+ years. She has always been a beacon of positive service, love and fun to her clients, students, family and those of us lucky to call her, our friend.

Ronnie Rosenberg Posted over a year ago

I have known Lisa since she was a little girl. It’s been an amazing privilege to watch her frow into a talented professional who gives so much to the children and community un a tiny Arctic village on the edge of nowhere

Chioke Brent Posted over a year ago

This incredible woman is my wife! She has worked her whole adult life to better the lives of others. As a young adult, she served as a member of her college student government, worked as a coordinator for the state student government, and was appointed by our then-governor to a state board that regulates student loans. All of this was her fight to ensure that the University of Alaska remained a strong institution that helped to shape a bright future for our young people without crippling student debt. She then moved to Tacoma, WA to become a live-in assistant in tge L'Arche Tahoma Hope community (www.larchethc.org). L'Arche is an international organization of intentional communities, where people with and without developmental disabilities live together in a family setting. It was here that her heart truly broke open, and she found her passion for caring for people with special needs. After returning to Alaska, Lisa began to work in the public school system in Fairbanks. That's where I met her, and to tell you the truth, what made me fall in love with her was the way she treated each and every child she worked with with respect, kindness, and love. She lives her life to ensure that every child she teaches or even comes into contact with knows they are smart, worthy and loved. One student whom she worked couldn't join his class on the ice skating rink during gym class, as he was in a wheelchair. Lisa researched ways for him to be able to do that, finding a to volunteer to make a "hockey chair" for the student. Lisa says that the day the student was given the hockey chair and tried it out was one of the best days of her career. For the past four years, we've been living in Shishmaref, Alaska. Watching Lisa embrace the experience and the community has been a beautiful thing, and it seems the community is embracing her back. She can always be seen attending or volunteering at sporting events, attending Iñupiaq Dance practice, and teaching Sunday School around the community. For a couple of years, she ran an after-school club focusing on climate change, so that participants could observe all the changes going on around them, even traveling with one participant to Anchorage, to enter the Alaska State Science Fair last april.

Judith Youngquist Posted over a year ago

I was Lisa’s mentor through the Alaska Statewide Mentor Project during her first two years of teaching. She stood out as an educator because of the dedication she showed to each of her students. She interacts with of them with respect and gentle humor. She has embraced the small Alaskan community where she teaches and the people have embraced her in return.

KaTrina Gray Posted over a year ago

Lisa was an amazing friend in school during my 4 years living in Fairbanks,Alaska. I am so proud of all her accomplishments. I look forward to all the great things she will accomplish in the future.