US Teacher Leah Juelke Makes Final Ten For Us $1 Million Global Teacher Prize 2020

09 Sep 2020 |

In a moving tribute, Stephen Fry announces Leah Juelke as a top ten finalist.

US teacher Leah Juelke has been named a top 10 finalist for the Global Teacher Prize 2020, in partnership with UNESCO. Now in its sixth year, the US$1 million award established by the Varkey Foundation is the largest prize of its kind.

In a special video message announcing Leah Juelke as a top ten finalist, comedian, actor, writer and presenter Stephen Fry paid a moving tribute to Leah Juelke’s work. He said:

“Today I am delighted to announce that Leah Juelke from the USA is a top ten finalist for the Global Teacher Prize 2020. Leah, you teach at a school where most of the students are refugees from countries ravaged by war, whose formal education has been traumatically interrupted and who may have little or no English fluency. Your ‘Journey to America’ project, which encourages refugee students to document and share their stories has resulted in a powerful vehicle to empower them. Three of your students were even invited to testify at the state capital in North Dakota which helped overturn a proposed ban on refugees coming to the state. Congratulations Leah and thank you for everything you do”.

Leah Juelke, who teaches English at Fargo South High School, North Dakota, was shortlisted for the Global Teacher Prize 2020, after being selected from over 12,000 nominations and applications from over 140 countries around the world.

Leah Juelke started on the road to becoming a teacher thanks to her childhood friendship with a family of refugees from Sudan. Seeing their struggles fuelled her passion for helping others, and she set out to find ways to make a difference, teaching at a school where most of her students are refugees from war-torn countries with interrupted formal education, traumas and little to no English fluency. Almost all live well below the poverty line, and
40 per cent of the school’s population is considered low-income. Learning disabilities can go undiagnosed because of low language ability and the age of the students.

One of Leah’s biggest successes has been her Journey to America project, where refugee students document their travels from dangerous places, teaching the community about diversity, resulting in a vehicle for building relationships and empowering students to advocate for themselves. The project became a published book of refugee and immigrant stories and poems, featuring 31 of her Fargo South students from 21 different countries. Her classes have now published six different volumes of the book over the last six years. At the culmination of the project, students perform public readings of their stories and poems at local universities, spreading awareness of important global issues to young American audiences, contributing to a culture of understanding, empathy and tolerance.

This all led to three of her students testifying at the state capitol to help overturn a proposal to ban refugees in North Dakota. Leah was honored at the White House as 2018 North Dakota Teacher of the Year.

Leah Juelke joins South Korean teacher Yun Jeong-hyun as a top 10 finalist. The remaining eight top 10 finalists will be announced one each week in the run up to the Global Teacher Prize ceremony, which will be virtual for the very first time in its history due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Global Teacher Prize is also delighted to announce that this year’s virtual ceremony, expected to take place on December 3rd 2020 where the overall winner will be announced, will be hosted by English comedian, actor, writer and presenter Stephen Fry from the Natural History Museum in London. The ceremony will also include a special recognition for one teacher – a COVID hero – who has gone above and beyond to keep young people learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With ten years to go to meet UN sustainable development goal 4 - providing a quality education for every child - the Global Teacher Prize has partnered with UNESCO to ensure teachers are right at the top of governments’ agendas.

Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director General for Education at UNESCO, said:

“Congratulations to Leah Juelke for being selected as a top ten finalist from such a huge number of talented and dedicated teachers. I hope her story will inspire those looking to enter the teaching profession and also highlight the incredible work teachers do all over the United States and throughout the world every day.

“The Global Teacher Prize helps put the teacher voice at the heart of our mission to champion inclusive learning opportunities for children and young people all over the world, especially the most marginalised and disadvantaged, during this sudden and unprecedented disruption to global education.

“Since the coronavirus pandemic first emerged, we have seen 1.5 billion learners across the world impacted by school and university closures. But not all learners are being impacted equally. Governments must learn lessons and act decisively to ensure all children receive a quality education in the age of COVID and beyond”.

Sunny Varkey, founder of the Global Teacher Prize, said:

“The Global Teacher Prize was set up to shine a spotlight on the important role teachers play in society. By unearthing thousands of stories of heroes that have transformed young people’s lives, the prize hopes to bring to life the exceptional work of teachers all over the world.

“This year, more than ever, we have seen teachers go above and beyond to keep young people learning throughout the world. Teachers everywhere should be applauded for their creativity, compassion and resolve to fulfill every child’s right to a good education”.