The public is invited to attend the event April 25 at the Ross Ragland Theater

The Klamath Basin community is invited to celebrate eight Klamath County School District staff who have been chosen for the district’s top honor this year – a Crystal Apple Award.

The district’s Crystal Apple awardees personify employees who go above and beyond for students. They will be recognized Tuesday, April 25 at KCSD’s annual Crystal Apple Awards Gala. The gala begins at 7 p.m. at the Ross Ragland Theater. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free and the public is encouraged to attend. The Henley High School Advanced Chorale and the KCSD Elementary Ensemble will perform at the event.

Glen Szymoniak, superintendent of the Klamath County School District, said the Crystal Apple Awards represent a meaningful way to recognize and thank those who inspire and support students and coworkers.

“Throughout the district, staff members are dedicated to empowering all learners,” he said. “Their passion for positively shaping students’ futures inspires students to use their talents to improve their school and community.”

Following are the district’s 2023 Crystal Apple Awards winners:

Adriana Atwood

Paraprofessional, Peterson Elementary School

When Adriana Atwood isn’t helping Peterson Elementary School students with math and reading, she is translating for Spanish-speaking parents, operating a clothes closet, tutoring students after school, making cotton candy, and tracking laps for students participating in the before school Marathon Run Club.

Atwood’s work ethic and commitment to students doesn’t surprise Renee Criss. Criss, vice principal at Peterson Elementary, nominated Atwood for the school district’s Crystal Apple Award.

“Anything that will improve Peterson Elementary and help our kids, she will do,” Criss said. “She will always look for and find ways to help students out academically and personally.”

Atwood works with all grades and is assigned to different classrooms based on student needs. She can be found sitting on the carpet with kindergarteners, helping them manipulate small blocks to learn subtraction, and then less than an hour later, she is tutoring fifth-graders in the hallway.

Rachel Belenfant

Kindergarten teacher, Chiloquin Elementary

Rachel Belenfant’s first day in a kindergarten classroom was six years ago. She was the teacher.

“I didn’t go to kindergarten,” she said. “My first day of teaching, I was so excited. Then I thought. “Oh, my word. I don’t know what kinders do.’ ”

She figured it out – quickly, and successfully. Today, Belenfant, a member of the school leadership committee, is on the district’s math adoption team and is a reading expert involved in English language arts (ELA) expert trainings. She also helps lead family engagement nights and is credited with bringing the Klamath language to the school.

In award nomination, Principal Rita Hepper and Vice Principal Janelle Emard write: “Rachel is an incredible teacher who has poured her heart and soul into the children at Chiloquin Elementary. … Every year her kids grow leaps and bounds. She does not hesitate to help, and every kid at our school loves her.”

Christopher Benjamin

Chorale director, Henley High School

What drives Christopher Benjamin are his students – whether he’s directing them in his award-winning choir, helping them with study skills, or coaching them in sports.

“We often say this is the generation of tomorrow, but I say this is the generation of today because if we don’t love our kids today, there will be no tomorrow,” the Henley High School choir director said. “I find myself trying to really dig into these kids and let them know they’re cared for.”

Teacher and co-worker Leah Decker in her nomination of Benjamin described a man who embraced the lessons of his own tumultuous background so he could help young people.

“Chris is a teacher who wants to help every single student, not only academically, but personally,” she wrote. “He goes above and beyond to ensure all students feel safe and heard … he also has a wonderful rapport with all teachers on staff.”

Robert Chambrose

French, ELA, production teacher, Henley High School

Bob Chambrose is described as the “most dedicated ‘after hours’ employee who works tirelessly to improve the Henley High School atmosphere with his welcoming attitude, kindness, and generosity.”

A Henley educator since 2003, Chambrose currently teachers Senior English, French 1, 2 and 3, and yearbook and publications. He calls teaching a lifestyle.

“My greatest obligation is to help kids learn how to learn, to think critically, and achieve success and joy, however they define those,” he said. “I try to help anyone who will let me help them.”

“By entering his classroom, our students are whisked away to experience different lands, cultures, languages, and customs,” write Henley administrators Jesse Hamilton, Kathleen Todd, and Luke Hammond.

When he isn’t in the classroom, Chambrose announces athletic contests, takes pictures for yearbook and helps students with their projects. “Sporting events, theater performances, academic tournaments – you name it – he will be there,” his administrators say.

Shannon McDonald

Child development specialist, Keno Elementary School

Shannon McDonald a child development specialist at Keno Elementary School, specializes in social emotional learning skills, helping all grade levels of students be successful in and out of the classroom.

Her nominators, which include two parents and her principal, described her as an amazing educator who supports and values the Keno community.

“My child can be a challenge and Mrs. McDonald understands him and does everything she can to help him with his coping skills and calming techniques,” writes one parent. Says another: “My daughter now enjoys going to school because of Mrs. McDonald’s compassion and understanding.”

Keno Principal Sarah Shively said McDonald brings a level of expertise that allows her to be a bridge for students who are struggling with behavior or academics. “Shannon has a caring heart and a tremendous work ethic,” Shively said. “She teaches students to be assertive, use their voice, show kindness, and include others.”

Crystal Renslow

Paraprofessional, Klamath County Transition Program

Crystal Renslow supervises and mentors young adults in the district’s Klamath County Transition Program, helping with work experience, independent living skills, post-secondary education and community inclusion.

“I am inspired by the kids here,” said Renslow, who has worked for the past seven years as a paraprofessional with Transitions. “They all have challenges that make life a little tougher for them. They work hard and they are happy.”

Renslow is the one who inspires others, her coworkers say. She was nominated for the Crystal Apple by the entire KCTP team.

“Crystal’s presence creates an environment that is comforting and trusting, enabling her to build strong, lifelong relationships with our students and community members,” they wrote. “She is never afraid of a challenge and is open to new ideas. She takes the time and listens to students, considers what each student needs and goes above and beyond to make sure they feel safe, encouraged, and successful.”

Laci Teaters

Second-grade teacher, Merrill Elementary School

When Jodie Woodman’s daughter started second grade this fall, she was behind in reading and frustration would often bring her to tears.

But thanks to Laci Teaters, a second-grade teacher at Merrill Elementary School, that has changed.

“Not only has Mrs. Teaters brought her reading confidence up, but she’s instilled this whole new love of school back to her life,” Woodman writes in her nomination of Teaters. “I think a lot of our second graders were affected by (the pandemic). She approached their different learning levels with finesse and found a way to help each kid according to their individual levels.”

Margaret McCadden, principal at Merrill Elementary School, described Teaters as an “exceptional, natural-born teacher.”

“Her passion for education is contagious, and it ignites her students to strive to do their best each and every day,” she said.

In addition to her general classroom teaching duties, Teaters helps coach the afterschool robotics program on Wednesdays and supports the school and students outside the classroom.

Olga Wenick

Paraprofessional, Peterson Elementary School

Eighth-graders Montserrat Hernandez and Sara Lopez Cazares aren’t sure what they would do without Olga Wenick.

Both teenagers moved to Bonanza three years ago from Mexico speaking only Spanish. When they started attending school, they had to learn to speak and read English as well as the math, reading, and other lessons for their grade level.

Wenick has been there for them. A paraprofessional at Bonanza Junior/Senior High School, Wenick, who is from Bogota, Colombia, and speaks three languages fluently, works with newcomers, English language learners and migrant students with varying language abilities.

“When we’re stuck, she helps us read and understand,” Sara said. “Especially with math,” Montserrat added.

Jordan Osborn, principal at Bonanza Junior/Senior High School, describes Wenick as a “truly gifted educator who has a passion to serve, teach, and change lives. She is invaluable to the success of our students,” he said. “Her love and dedication to students is unmatched. Without Olga, our school would not function nearly as well.”

Adriana Atwood

Christopher Benjamin

Rachel Belenfant

Robert Chambrose

Shannon McDonald

Crystal Renslow

Laci Teaters

Olga Wenick