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2023 Schrager Award Winners
Each year, the Philip and Terri Schrager Foundation honor deserving educators leading the way in innovation in the classroom. In May, the Phillip and Terri Schrager Foundation presented the 2023 Schrager Distinguished Teaching Awards to two Westside Community Schools educators, Nick Djernes and Erin Lunsford.
2023 Phillip and Terri Schrager Award Winners
Vocal Music Director
Westside Middle School
Nick Djernes, the Vocal Music Director at Westside Middle School, is a 2023 Schrager Distinguished Teaching Award recipient.
Djernes has been teaching and inspiring Westside students through music since 2009; his impact has been felt at Oakdale, Westgate Elementary, and Westside Middle School. Djernes is widely respected not only in the Westside Community Schools, but in vocal music education circles across the country, through his unparalleled success with students and programs, the level of music education offered, and the degree of opportunities provided to all students.
As Vocal Music Director at Westside Middle School, Djernes has built one of the region's most respected secondary music programs. His competitive show choir, Westside Connection, is one of the most popular activities among students at Westside Middle School and one of the only middle school programs that involves a student show choir band.
Through Djernes’ vision and leadership, Westside Middle School boasts an uncommon middle school annual event – the school musical. It is among the most anticipated yearly events in the district.
Building upon his time as elementary music department chair, Djernes organizes outreach to younger students, including school visits with his show choir and an annual summer camp often booked to capacity.
His students ' stories are the most powerful evidence of Djernes’ impact. Djernes has supported thousands of students in developing an appreciation and passion for music, implementing various evolving teaching strategies to help students understand everything from reading music to composition to performance. These students often refer to the choir department as ‘family’ and note the deep relationships, confidence, and sense of belonging created in Djernes’ classes and choirs. Each year, Djernes writes a personal note to every student in his ensembles, an arduous task given the number of students he takes on at any given time. Djernes views teaching as his mission to motivate young people, encouraging them to be brave and they can accomplish tremendous things.
Congratulations to Nick Djernes, most deserving of this honor as a Phillip and Terri Schrager Distinguished Teaching Award recipient.
Visual Arts Teacher
Westside High School
Erin Lunsford, Visual Arts Teacher at Westside High School, is a 2023 Schrager Distinguished Teaching Award recipient.
Lunsford has been teaching for 20 years at Westside High School, serving for the last 15 years as Department Chair. Lunsford was one of the critical founders of Westside’s Arts For Me program, empowering students of all abilities to learn and enjoy creating art. The program is now a model for other adaptive art programs at schools and institutions nationwide.
Lunsford has demonstrated innovation, resourcefulness, connectivity, and creativity in many settings within the walls of Westside High School and throughout the District 66 community. With extensive training in pottery, photography, drawing, painting, and other forms of art, Lunsford provides her students with an incredible voice and choice in self-expression while helping them refine their talents through expertise in a wide range of specialties.
Simultaneously, Lunsford challenges her students to find depth and meaning in their work and has been instrumental in implementing Advanced Placement opportunities for students with exceptional drive, talent, and career aspirations in art fields.
She continues to monitor and partner with artists in multiple fields outside of education to ensure Westside High School has industry-standard tools and techniques, as well as real-world opportunities for student artists with area businesses, including Kaneko, Regency Mall, and Hot Shops, along with working-professional artists such as Therman Statom.
As a passionate educator who approaches obstacles as opportunities, Lunsford was an instrumental member of an effort to provide a new art curriculum for students with special needs. Coordinating with special services administrators and staff, she created new opportunities for students to explore art in different ways, both in the classroom and in art shows throughout the community. Some of Omaha’s most prominent galleries, including Kaneko and Lauritzen Gardens, now display those pieces.
The impact of this program has been monumental; students who take part are celebrated just as their student artist peers; they show pride and excitement in showing their work and what they have learned. Other students, staff, and community members see the abilities and contributions of their peers, expanding our building culture in District 66 by seeing the potential in all people.
With growing success, both measurable and intangible, Lunsford has been asked to share the Arts For Me program with multiple outlets, including as a key presenter at the 2022 Spring National Art Teachers Conference.
Congratulations to Erin Lunsford, most deserving of this honor as a Phillip and Terri Schrager Distinguished Teaching Award recipient.