Robert E. Yager Active Learning Award

Recognizing Outstanding Educators

The Robert E. Yager Active Learning Award honors outstanding educators who foster an active learning environment in their classroom and create opportunities for students to imagine, create, discover and explore.

We believe active learning is critical to child development and education. Research overwhelmingly asserts that students learn best when they actively participate in their own learning. Many educators in our community dedicate themselves to providing students with opportunities to become engaged learners, innovative thinkers, and creative problem-solvers. We are honored to recognize four of these excellent educators each year.

Recipient Awards

  • $100 gift card for classroom supplies and needs
  • One classroom field trip to The Iowa Children’s Museum
  • Free museum admission passes for classroom students
  • Original “Active Learning” art print created by a local artist
  • 15 Family Day Passes to the museum for the educator’s school district/center/organization
  • Four tickets to The Iowa Children’s Museum’s Celebrate Play! Gala for the presentation of your award

All museum passes and field trips redeemable through the end of the 2022-2023 academic year

Nominate an Educator

DEADLINE EXTENDED: Nominations for the 2021-2022 award are open through January 7, 2022 January 28, 2022. Please fill out the form below to nominate an educator.

  • Please provide us with the following information so that we can follow up with you if needed and to notify you if your nominee is selected to receive the award.
  • Briefly describe what the nominee does to create a student driven environment where "active learning" is possible. (500 character limit.)
  • Briefly describe an innovative/impactful lesson or activity that the nominee has facilitated. In what ways did it exemplify the best practices of "active learning?" (500 character limit)
  • Please describe how the nominee demonstrates a spirit of cooperation, responsibility, and respect within the learning environment--among students, colleagues, parents and others. (500 character limit)
  • Our award is named in memory of Dr. Robert E. Yager, a beloved educator, philanthropist and family man. Is there anything else you'd like to share about the nominee that would help us understand why he/she is deserving of this honor? (500 character limit)
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Previous Award Recipients and Nominees

2020-2021 Honorees & Nominees

Congratulations to the 2021 Honorees for their exceptional work to provide children with rich, active learning experiences:

Ryan Bentzinger

Willowwind School

Taylor Bigbee

Tamarack Discovery School

Jan Johnson

Lakeview Elementary School

Nikki Wilcox

Iowa BIG


The Museum would also like to congratulate the many outstanding educators who were nominated for their work in advancing active learning in the classroom this year.

  • Arianna Aron, United Action for Youth
  • Kelly Fischer, Trinity Lutheran School
  • Matthew Fisher, Wickham Elementary
  • Rachel Herman, Prairie Hill Elementary
  • Dawn Johnson, Kids World Preschool
  • Megan Johnson, Lone Tree Community School District
  • Terri Johnson, Kids World Preschool
  • Joey Lankelma, South East Junior High
  • Heidi Mittlesteadt, Jefferson High School
  • Jill Zeiser, Oak Hill Elementary
  • Allison Otting, Kirkwood Elementary
  • Michelle Pelechek, Regina Elementary
  • Ryan Philliaps, Thomas Jefferson High School
  • Stephanie Schlabaugh, Lincoln Elementary
  • Tricia Weber, Kenwood Leadership Academy

2019-2020 Honorees & Nominees

Please join us in congratulating the 2020 Honorees noted for their exceptional work to provide children with rich, active learning experiences!

  • Lisa Cowden, 1st & 2nd Grade Teacher, Willowwind School
  • Jamie Day, PE/Health/Wellness Teacher, Summit Schools
  • Lisa Hall, 6th Grade Teacher, Lemme Elementary School
  • Brianna Wood, Lead Autism Day Health Staff, ChildServe
  • Jamilee Xiong, Preschool Teacher, Little Angels Learning Center

The Robert E. Yager Active Learning awards were presented to the 2020 honorees at The Iowa Children’s Museum’s annual Celebrate Play “Black and White” Gala on February 28, 2020.

The Museum congratulates the many outstanding teachers in our community who were nominated for their work in advancing active learning in the classroom this year:

  • Patrice Becicka, Prairie Creek Intermediate School
  • Alyssa Cabrera, Horace Mann Elementary School
  • Katie Detweiler, Borlaug Elementary School
  • Kim Hayes, Lemme Elementary School
  • Kristin Homrighausen, UIHC Child Care Center
  • Terri Johnson, Kid’s World Daycare & Preschool
  • James Jordan, Coralville Central Elementary School
  • Jamie Newton, Summit Schools
  • Allison Osweiler, Regina Catholic Education Center
  • Candace Orris, Tiffin Elementary School
  • Amber Strang, Harrison Elementary School
  • Heidi Tafolla, Van Allen Elementary School
  • Jen Wallace, Regina Catholic Education Center
  • Aubrey Yager, Johnson STEAM Academy

2018-2019 Honorees & Nominees

Please join us in congratulating the 2019 Honorees noted for their exceptional work to provide children with rich, active learning experiences:

  • Kari Cushion, 2nd Grade Teacher, Alexander Elementary, Iowa City
  • Amy Erickson, Before & After School Coordinator, Borlaug Elementary, Coralville
  • Naomi Larson, Alternative Kindergarten Teacher, Lisbon Community Schools
  • Jo Nowak-Thompson, Pre-school Teacher, Washington Elementary, Mt. Vernon

The Robert E. Yager Active Learning awards were presented to the 2019 honorees at The Iowa Children’s Museum’s annual Celebrate Play “Black and White” Gala on February 22, 2019, at the Coralville Marriott Hotel.


The Museum congratulates the many outstanding teachers in our community who were nominated for their work in advancing active learning in the classroom this year:

  • Colleen Baldrige, Preschool Teacher, Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County, IC
  • Jennifer Balvanz, Kindergarten Teacher, Prairie Trail Elementary, Ankeny
  • Correne Bass, 5th Grade Teacher, Weber Elementary, Iowa City
  • Deidra Benser, Preschool Teacher, Little Angels Learning Center, Iowa City
  • Jennifer Brauns, Afterschool Care, Saints Mary & Mathias Schools, Muscatine
  • Val Calderwood, Kindergarten Teacher, Penn Elementary, North Liberty
  • Krystle Davis, 6th Grade Teacher, Regina Catholic Education Center, Iowa City
  • Katie Eichhorn, Special Needs Teacher, Johnson STEAM Academy, Cedar Rapids
  • Anna Gibbs, Special Education Teacher, Garner Elementary, North Liberty
  • Mo Gingerich, 4th Grade Teacher, Mid-Prairie West Elementary, Wellman
  • Lisa Hildebrand, PE Teacher, Van Allen Elementary, Iowa City
  • Stephanie Jenson, Pre-K Teacher, Lakeview Elementary, Solon
  • Michelle Koenighain, Curriculum Director/Lead Teacher, Williamsburg Child Care Center
  • Katy Lincoln, 1st Grade Teacher, Regina Catholic Education Center, Iowa City
  • Kaye Lindsley, Preschool Teacher, Willowwind School, Iowa City
  • Aspen Lohman, 1st Grade Teacher, Coralville Central, Coralville
  • Beth McNutt, Early Childhood Itinerant Teacher, Grantwood AEA, Cedar Rapids
  • Amy Miller, 2nd Grade Teacher, Riverdale Heights, Bettendorf
  • Malissa Pryoy, Kindergarten Teacher, Lincoln Elementary, Macomb, Illinois
  • Mary Rockafellow, 1st Grade Teacher, Regina Catholic Education Center, Iowa City
  • Dustin Schneider, 2nd Grade Teacher Prairie Hill Elementary, Cedar Rapids
  • Tessa Strabala, Special Education Teacher, Tiffin Elementary, Tiffin
  • Laurie Thompson, 1st Grade Teacher, Faith Academy, Iowa City
  • Susan Toth, PE/Health Teacher, Willowwind School, Iowa City
  • Nicole Upchurch, Early Childhood Teacher, Prairie Green School, Cosgrove
  • Lauren Willberg, Preschool & Music Together Teacher, Preucil School, Iowa City

2017-2018 Honorees & Nominees

2017-2018 Honorees selected for their outstanding contributions to active learning:

Bridget LaRoche: 4th Grade Teacher – Van Allen Elementary, North Liberty


Erin McDonald: ELP Teacher – Shimek & Penn Elementary Schools, ICCSD


Ashley Reedy: Special Education Teacher – Borlaug Elementary, Coraville


Mary Zobeck: Materials Center Assistant – Grant Wood AEA

Special Recognition To All 2017-2018 Nominees:

Brenda Bean: Highland Elementary, Riverside

Brooke Buxton: Shimek Elementary, Iowa City

Teresa Greiner: Highland Elementary, Riverside

Brendan Hunt: Bright Horizons, UIHC

Dominic Iannone: Teacher & Robotics Team Mentor, Iowa City

Terri Johnson: Kids World, Centerville

Sarah Kalsem: Shimek Elementary, Iowa City

Deanna Smock: Horn Elementary, Iowa City

Rebeca Yoder: Highland Elementary, Riverside

2016-2017 Honorees & Nominees

2016 Honorees selected for their outstanding contributions to active learning:

Fawn Boston-Halter: 1st Grade Teacher – Tiffin Elementary, Tiffin


Shawn Cornally: Director – Iowa BIG, Cedar Rapids


Christine Sobocinski: 1st/2nd Grade Teacher – Willowwind School, Iowa City


Ruth Temple: 2nd Grade Teacher – Borlaug Elementary, Iowa City

Special Recognition To All 2016 Nominees:

Ashley Bass: Hiawatha Day School, Hiawatha

Deidra Benser: Little Angels Learning Center, Iowa City

Katy Bolender: Borlaug Elementary, Iowa City

Carrie Glick: Penn Elementary, North Liberty

Jessica Kite: Grinnell-Newburg School District, Grinnell

Tara Luers: Stewart Elementary, Washington

Julie Madden: Van Allen Elementary, North Liberty

Colette Nakielski: Willowwind School, Iowa City

Jo Nowak-Thompson: Washington Elementary, Mount Vernon

Abby Papesh: Penn Elementary, North Liberty

Andrea Pieper-Askelson: Penn Elementary, North Liberty

Nicole Upchruch: Prairie Green School, Cosgrove

Beth Weis: Wendell Johnson, University of Iowa

Carolyn White: Shimek Elementary, Iowa City

Debbie Wilson: Willowwind School, Iowa City

2015-2016 Honorees & Nominees

2015 Honorees selected for their outstanding contributions to active learning:

Paula Boback: Educational Director – Prairie Green School, Cosgrove


Nichole Early: 2nd Grade Teacher – Heritage Christian School, North Liberty


Yukiko Hill: 3rd Grade Teacher – Lincoln Elementary, Iowa City


Lindsey Hoyt: 1st/2nd Grade Teacher – Willowwind School, Iowa City


Jill Owens: Preschool Teacher – Kirkwood Elementary, Coralville

Special Recognition To All 2015 Nominees:

Michelle Beninga: Willowwind School, Iowa City

Fawn Boston-Halter: Tiffin Elementary, Tiffin

Connie Craft: Essential Montessori School, Cedar Rapids

Lisa Foley: Arthur Elementary, Cedar Rapids

Judy Jenkins: Lincoln Elementary, Iowa City

James Jordan: Mark Twain Elementary, Iowa City

Nicole Kuennen: Solon Learning Academy, Solon

Marcus Kurtz: Wickham Elementary, Iowa City

Katie Laurson: Kids World, Centerville

Erin McDonald: Borlaug Elementary, Iowa City

Jenny Nace: Nolte Academy Preschool for Performing Arts, Coralville

Renee Person: Kirkwood Elementary, Iowa City

Jennifer Rose: Penn Elementary, North Liberty

Amanda Rushton: Regina Elementary, Iowa City

Doug Vollstedt: Regina Elementary, Iowa City

Lagkana Waters: Regina Elementary, Iowa City

Amber Wernimont: Penn Elementary, North Liberty

Debbie Wilson: Willowwind School, Iowa City

2014-2015 Honorees & Nominees

2014 Honorees selected for their outstanding contributions to active learning:

Lianna Cornally: Wondergarten Early Enrichment, Solon

Lianna Cornally was nominated by Katy Bolander, a parent of preschool age children, who writes “Exemplifying active learning is who Ms. Cornally is as an educator.  She follows the interests of her young students and creates individualized curriculum based on their needs.”


Dawn Johnson: Kids World Preschool, Centerville

Dawn Johnson was nominated by Terri Johnson, Director of Kids World Preschool and Vickie Parker, AEA Early Childhood Consultant, sharing that “Dawn is a master teacher who is passionate about Inquiry Based Learning.  Learning in Dawn’s class is very hands on, child directed and play based.  The children construct their own learning as they work together to solve problems in an atmosphere free of the fear of failure.”


Vicki Saunders: Borlaug Elementary, Iowa City

Vicki Saunders was nominated by John Dunkhase, University of Iowa Science Education Center Emeritus, who writes “Ms. Saunders has a 33 year history of being an exemplary science teacher and leader in promoting active learning for her students and colleagues.  Vicki provides to her students a student-centered cooperative learning environment that builds on student interest and gives them shared responsibility for their learning.”


Alicia & Shawn Weithers: Loving Hands Daycare and Preschool, Lambs Grove

Mr. and Mrs. Weithers were nominated by Jill Dodds, a 2013 Robert E. Yager Honoree, and writes that “Alicia and Shawn have over 20 years experience in the field, but feel they are continuously learning and evolving.  The children who attend Loving Hands are encouraged to explore, ask why, try again, and never give up.”

Special Recognition To All 2014 Nominees:

Shawn Perkins, Danville Early Learning Center, Danville

Karin Mullen, Bridgeview Elementary teacher, LeClaire

Kerri Bell, Kalona Elementary, Kalona

Brittany Busch, Unity School Preschool, Sioux City

Jan Grenko-Lehman, PE Coordinator, Iowa City

Leanne Amelon, Clear Creek Elementary, Oxford

Mary Zobeck, Grant Wood AEA VAST Center, Cedar Rapids

Jenny Lorch, Penn Elementary, Iowa City

Carrie Karr, Penn Elementary, Iowa City

Emily Ring, Borlaug Elementary, Iowa City

Tonya Thatcher, East Union After-School Program Coordinator, Afton

Janet Conrad, Lincoln Elementary, Washington

Chad Hippen, Lincoln Elementary, Washington

Jodi Swift, Lincoln Elementary, Washington

Angie Rhinehart, St. Joseph Catholic School, Marion

Meghan Meyer, Borlaug Elementary kindergarten teacher, Iowa City

Susan Boatwright, Prairie Crest Elementary, Cedar Rapids

2013-2014 Honorees & Nominees

2013 Honorees (selected for their outstanding contributions to active learning):

Jim Bezoni: River Valley Elementary, Washta

Valery Fuhrman, a fellow teacher at River Valley, nominated Mr. Bezoni for this award sharing that “Jim is a favorite teacher at River Valley because he infuses hands-on learning in his science classroom.  Last year his class learned about wind energy and how wind turbines create energy through designing and building model wind turbines through a STEM grant using the Kid Wind Program!”


Rachel DeMaris: Willowwind, Iowa City

Paul Pressler, Head of School at Willowwind, nominated Ms. DeMaris for this award sharing that “Rachel is an amazing example of a pro-active educator.  She challenges her students to become advocates, activists and collaborative, critical thinkers!


Jill & Jeff Dodds: Simple Abundance Childcare, Coralville

Alice Atkinson, a retired early childhood educator from the University of Iowa, nominated the Dodds for this award sharing that “Jill and Jeff provide an educational setting for young children guided by the philosophy that children learn best through play believing that childhood is a time to explore, create, and be joyful.”


Dawn Scholtens: Sunset Heights Elementary, Webster City

Annette Louk, an AEA consultant, nominated Mrs. Scholtens for this award sharing that “Dawn creates a classroom where all students feel valued and cared for as individuals.  She allows her students to constantly explore and learn in ways that work for them.”

Special Recognition To All 2013 Nominees:

Emily Mizer, Montessori Children’s Garden, North Liberty

Joy Lekwa, Colonel’s Kids Preschool, Columbus Junction

Chris Cahalan, Harrison Elementary, Cedar Rapids

Pam Hubbard, Lincoln Elementary, Iowa City

Kayleen Miller, Weber Elementary, Iowa City

Paula Boback, Prairie Green School, Cosgrove

Brooke Buxton, Shimek Elementary, Iowa City

Nicole Early, Heritage Christian, North Liberty

Sara McGee, Schuler Elementary, Clive

Amanda Stahle, Lakeview Elementary, Solon

Julie Dohman, Fort Madision Elementary, Fort Madison

Steve Sproule, Shimek Elementary, Iowa City

Karen Royer, Tipton Elementary, Tipton

Mike Wedge, Sibley-Ocheyedan, Sibley

2012-2013 Honorees & Nominees

2012 Honorees (selected for their outstanding contributions to active learning):

Sherri Clemence: Penn Elementary, Iowa City

Stacie Smith, a parent and Northwest Junior High Science Teacher, nominated Mrs. Clemence for this award sharing that “Sherri Clemence has made my child LOVE school by having him be an active participant in his own learning!”

Sarah Kalsem: Shimek Elementary, Iowa City

Vern Duba, a community member, nominated Mrs. Kalsem for this award sharing that “Sarah Kalsem’s science classroom is always taught with a hands-on inquiry-based process involving active learning.”


Ted Proctor: Horn Elementary, Iowa City

Laura Westemeyer, a parent, nominated Mr. Proctor for this award sharing that “Ted Proctor extends the curriculum with culmination activities, for example my son and his team built a replica of Kinnick Stadium using measuring, ratios, percentages, art and other concepts to better understand electricity.”


Connie Stusak: Jackson Elementary, Cedar Rapids

Robin Sempf, a parent, nominated Mrs. Stusak for this award sharing that “Connie Stusak incorporates hands-on activities that light the fire of learning in her students.”