2/10/2021

Horizons National Honors Warner Alumna Joyce Akwaa With Teaching Award

Joyce Akwaa with a Horizons student on River Campus

Joyce Akwaa ’05 (BA), ‘06W (MS), ‘14W (CAS) from Horizons at Warner has been selected to receive the national Lyn McNaught Teacher Award for Teaching Excellence. Each year, just a handful of teachers receive this prestigious award from Horizons National, and Akwaa is one of the four award recipients for 2021.
 
Named for the talented former executive director of Horizons at New Canaan County School District and first executive director of Horizons National, the award recognizes teachers who have excelled in Horizons' classrooms by providing exemplary opportunities for young people across the country.
 
Founded over a decade ago, Horizons at Warner was the very first Horizons National affiliate to be located on a university/college campus. The program is designed to maintain current academic achievements while providing opportunities to access enrichment in the areas of science, technology, engineering, the arts and culture. The academic enrichment program engages Rochester city students in meaningful and authentic learning experiences on the University of Rochester’s River Campus during the summer and ongoing engagement throughout the school year.
 Joyce Akwaa in 2019
Through the decade, Horizons at Warner has had many talented, passionate teachers on staff, and many return each summer to work with Horizons students. Akwaa has been working with Horizons for seven summers, first with grades 3-4 and now with the "Transition Team” of 8th, 9th, and 10th grade students. The Warner alumna, who studied in the childhood education, Urban, Teaching, and Leadership (UTL), and school leadership programs, has had a tremendous impact on her students and Horizons teachers alike.
 
“We would all agree we have learned something during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Julia Postler, executive director of Horizons at Warner, “and some would say we became better, stronger, more inspired. That is how Joyce should be described.” 
 
Faced with teaching middle school students remotely after they finished a difficult year of virtual schooling, amidst a pandemic, Akwaa was challenged with creating a relevant curriculum that would engage students and get them excited to log in to their Horizons class each day over the summer. She leaned into her 15 years of teaching and created a safe learning space for students to be themselves—and to learn about each other. During the summer, when the City of Rochester experienced a racial reckoning after Daniel Prude died after being in police custody, Akwaa led her students through a curriculum designed to empower and educate them about social justice and civic engagement. 
 
Joyce Akwaa with Horizons students A student describes her best: “Ms. Joyce looks out for you, she has your back and she hears you out!”
 
Akwaa is able to sharpen her skills and dig deep into her toolbox of what she learned when she was enrolled in the Urban Teaching and Leadership Program at Warner. Not only does she get to educate, she says, but she has the opportunity to engage and inspire these young leaders.
 
Joyce Akwaa with a Horizons student “Each summer, I reflect on what is going on in the world, how it may impact our young people, and how I can create a space for them to learn, engage, and also enjoy precious time with friends they may only see during Horizons because they attend different schools,” says Akwaa. “Horizons at Warner allows for teaching outside the box, so although students are learning, we as teachers are able to teach students about different topics and take them on journeys they may not otherwise get to experience during the school year. It is an honor to receive this award, but I am here because I had educators and professors who poured in me, which is something I do each and every time I stand in a classroom filled with scholars.”
 
Akwaa has taught her entire career at the Rochester City School District and was recently appointed Dean of Students at the Academy of Health Sciences Charter School. Akwaa will receive her award at a virtual ceremony on Friday, February 12. Learn more about the 2021 award winners.

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Media Contact: Theresa Danylak
tdanylak@warner.rochester.edu
585.278.6273 (cell)