Sara Ziemnik was named Ohio History Teacher of the Year for her achievements in American history education.
The award came from a panel of teachers, administrators and scholars from across the state that chose Ziemnik’s application through the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. She will receive a $1,000 cash award, a certificate of recognition, an archive of books and historical resources, and an invitation to attend a 2018 Gilder Lehrman Teacher Seminar. She also will be recognized at a ceremony in Columbus.
Ziemnik also is one of 53 finalists for the $10,000 National History Teacher of the Year Award, which will be announced this fall.
This is not the first time Ziemnik has been recognized for her skills. In 2002 she received a James Madison Fellowship and spent a summer at Georgetown University studying the Constitution.
“I have always thought of teaching history as teaching understanding,” she said. “I feel very strongly that it’s absolutely vital to understand our past and how it has shaped us in order to make sense of the world around us today. I’m honored to be able to share this understanding of history with my students who inspire me to strive to be a better person and educator every day.”
Ziemnik began her career at Oak Hills High School, joining Rocky River High School in 2000 as a history teacher. Her love of history led her to participate in the collection of oral histories with a wide variety of subjects – a project she involves her students in, as well.
“I do my best to make each topic relatable and show my students that people make choices, and choices make history,” she said. “By focusing on the power of individuals to make collective change, this hopefully shows my students that these stories from the past are echoed today, and individuals from the past had the same fears, goals and dreams that many of my current students do. For me, teaching history is to teach understanding, and I think we all could use a bit more of that in our world.”
Rocky River High School Assistant Principal Brian Gergely described Ziemnik as caring, creative and innovative.
“Her passion and enthusiasm is obvious, and her students subsequently share in her excitement for the content,” Gergely wrote in her nomination. “She challenges students to think abstractly but communicates a caring demeanor that yields outstanding results.”
Ziemnik said her love of history came from her parents. Family vacations revolved around checking out local history at their destinations. She credits her Miami University methods Professor Dr. Michael Fuller and former Rocky River High School teacher Barbara Boyle with mentoring her during her undergraduate studies and early teaching career, and supporting her over the last 19 years.
Ziemnik said she plans to pull paragraphs and pages from historians from the resources she will receive from the award into her AP US History class and World History classes to get students thinking and talking about the different lenses of history.