Janine Kirstein, a choral music teacher at Gresham High School in Gresham, OR, was named 9-12 Educator of the Year in 2018. Janine’s OnPoint Prize nomination highlighted her skill, patience and dedication to engage and inspire her students. She uses her passion for music to teach her students teamwork, perseverance and a love of the arts. Janine’s mortgage was paid for one school year by OnPoint, plus her school was awarded $2,500 for resources and supplies.
A year after winning the OnPoint Prize for Excellence in Education, we talked with Janine about what the experience meant to her and what advice she has for other educators interested in the OnPoint Prize.
Why did you decide to become a teacher?
Originally, I thought I would become a pharmacist because my father wanted me to follow in his footsteps. I have a lifelong love of music, but I never thought about pursuing it as a career. I considered majoring in performance, but then I tried a practicum at a middle school. Teaching instantly clicked, and it was the perfect way to share my love of music with others.
What is your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of teaching is building relationships with the kids. I have the opportunity to spend four years getting to know the students, helping build their character and realize their potential. Sometimes a student doesn’t know they can sing, and I am able to help cultivate a talent they didn’t know they had. I have seen music change lives and give students a sense of belonging and purpose. For some kids, choir is what keeps them invested until they graduate. Students are required to have a certain grade point average to participate in competitions, and choir gives them a reason to perform well in school. I also love teaching at the high school level because we get to perform some really complex and beautiful musical arrangements.
What was it like to win the 2018 OnPoint Prize Educator of the Year award?
I was very surprised and humbled when I learned I had qualified as a finalist for the OnPoint Prize. My daughter submitted the nomination and I felt so grateful for the amount of time and effort she put into the application. When I read letters from my colleagues and students, I was able to see the difference I’ve made during my 37 years of teaching. I never expected to hear that much positive feedback, and it meant so much to me.
Winning this prize meant you had your mortgage covered for a school year—how has that impacted your life?
Having my mortgage covered was such a blessing. I’ve been able to make improvements to my home. The money was wonderful, but honestly the most rewarding part was receiving the feedback from my students. It was an honor to hear how I changed their lives. The additional $2,500 awarded to the school will be used to provide scholarships for students who plan to pursue music education.
Do you have any advice for teachers who are interested in applying for the OnPoint Prize?
I would encourage educators to apply because hearing from the students was priceless. I felt lucky to have the opportunity to be acknowledged by my past and present students sharing their individual stories about how my teaching had impacted and changed their lives. For those thinking about nominating someone, I would recommend including personal stories. Every teacher changes the lives of others and we need to tell those stories.
Is there anything you want to add?
One of the really wonderful things about winning the OnPoint Prize is how great it made my students and fellow teachers feel. We so appreciated that the award recognized someone in the arts. I heard from my fellow music educators that they felt as though it was a win for them too. I was so glad we had the opportunity to talk about what a difference music makes in kids’ lives. The mayor of Gresham also told me how proud he was. It felt like a win for our entire community.
Celebrating 10 Years of Excellence in Education
Support for education has been the cornerstone of who we are since our founding by 16 schoolteachers in 1932. We know that strong communities are nurtured by the meaningful work happening every day in local schools. Today, the OnPoint Prize for Excellence in Education is the centerpiece of OnPoint’s commitment to education and the communities we serve.
This year, we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the OnPoint Prize, which will award up to $85,000 to deserving educators at K-12 public, private and charter schools, including paying the mortgage of our two honorees for one full year. Over the past 10 years, the annual campaign has awarded nearly $300,000 in prizes to 236 local educators and schools.
Educator of the Year nomination forms are now available at www.onpointprize.com and will be accepted until 5:30 p.m. on April 15, 2019. Anyone can nominate an educator, and educators may also nominate themselves. Applicants must be a full-time or job-share classroom teacher, counselor or librarian of grades K-12 in an accredited public, private or charter school located within any county that OnPoint serves (Benton, Clackamas, Columbia, Crook, Deschutes, Jefferson, Lane, Linn, Marion, Multnomah, Polk, Washington, and Yamhill counties in Oregon and Clark and Skamania counties in Washington). Please see www.onpointprize.com for additional qualifications and contest rules.