The annual AAEC Champions of Arts in Education Award honors individuals and organizations from around Alaska whose efforts in teaching and supporting the arts across the curriculum ensure that all of Alaska’s students learn in and through the arts.

This year there were many nominations and the final selection was very competitive.

2020 Awardees

Cuungaq Melody Nolan

2020 Alaska Arts Educator, Alegnagik

Cuungaq Melody Noden has worked as the Yup’ik Studies Instructor since 2011 in her home village of Aleknagik. While teaching Yugtun classes and Yup’ik studies curriculum, she supports her students with the creation of visual, audio, and digital materials to enhance their learning.  She emphasizes connections of the students as members of their community through arts and language.

Southwest Region School District Director of Yup’ik Studies Arnaq Esther A. Ilutsik praises Ms. Noden as “a gifted artist who passes her unique gifts on to the students that she works with.  Her artist gift is embedded into the Yugtun classes that she teaches.  She is encouraging the students to continue to pursue the traditional crafts of their Yup’ik ancestors.”

Whenever Ms. Noden’s students complete an art project, the artwork is presented to the community members during a public gathering.  Sharing the importance of traditional Yup’ik chants and songs with the wider community is key to Ms. Noden’s work with students.  A series of posters based on her paintings have been published and are now being used in the Yup’ik Studies program throughout the school district and are available for use statewide.  She has contributed to the Yugtun App, an educational tool for language instruction and practice.  In addition, Ms. Noden has been a long-time contributor to several Yup’ik Studies curriculum committees.  She is a champion arts educator!

Reyne Athanas

Alaska Arts Leader, Bethel

For the past 45 years, Reyne Athanas has been at the forefront of celebrating the arts in Bethel and throughout the Yukon Yukon–Kuskokwim Delta.  Ms. Athanas highlights local artists, introduces the community to artists from around the globe, and creates special events that build community and often raise funds for good causes.  In nominating Ms. Athanas for this award, Lower Kuskokwim School District Education Specialist Julie McWilliams reports, “There are so many places that Reyne’s hand has touched in this community that it’s difficult to capture.  Reyne’s energy is tireless.  Advocating for the arts in all forms regionally, statewide, and nationally is an integral part of who Reyne is as an artist.”

Ms. Athanas’s community involvement includes the start-up of key Bethel arts organizations: The Kuskokwim Art Guild and The Bethel Council on the Arts.  Ms. Athanas also helped create a community economic development initiative, “Saturday Markets”, which provide a warmly social setting where artisans can sell their arts. As a professional artist, her pieces have been featured in numerous art shows and galleries. She also teaches arts courses at University of Alaska Fairbanks, Kuskokwim Campus.

Ms. McWilliams emphasizes Athanas’s skill in the arts classroom.  “As a teacher at Bethel Regional High School for more than 20 years, Reyne delivered a well-rounded arts education to many high school students and for some students was a key motivator to stay in school and graduate. She had a special way of reaching students that struggled academically and socially.  Reyne increased interest and engagement in the arts by bringing in native artists to teach soapstone and ivory carving, mask making, beading, and other native arts. She started an Art Club at the school that was popular and successful. She strongly encouraged and worked with youth at school and also community members on how to order materials and sell their art, showing them they could make a living.”

Reyne Athanas believes it is important to actively support fellow artists of all ages in all forms of expression, and is committed to keeping the arts alive and vibrant.  She is champion arts leader!

Marsha Williams

2020 Alaska Arts Advocate, Anchorage

Marsha Williams is a model for students by continuing to learn and improve her practice while contributing to the larger community. She has shared her knowledge of the impact of trauma on young learners and the healing that the arts can provide. Marsha advocates for and embeds continuous learning into her regular music instruction for students in preschool through 5th grade, including self-contained special needs classrooms for autism and hard of hearing students. She writes music and lyrics for school needs, such as songs to teach about the importance of attendance, school pride, and respectful behavior expectations.

Principal Likka McCauley cites the vibrant program Williams has created, which highlights and elevates student performance.  “In the five years I have been an administrator at Williwaw Elementary, Marsha Williams has had a profound impact on students and adults.  Extra-curricular opportunities she offers include a traveling choir during the holiday season and managing our school team and the district’s choral jubilee. Community members often take the time to let me know how impressed they are to see the level of performance when she brings our students to perform in various settings, including last year’s ASD school business partnerships luncheon. She extends her music lessons by teaching about important social emotional skills, the importance of being a learner, healthy life habits, and how to conduct one’s self in more formal settings.”

In addition to coordinating a school music concert to full houses twice a year, Ms. Williams continues to learn and improve her practice, and contributes to the larger community by providing professional development. She has pursued training opportunities for her instructional practices, trained adults during the school year and in the summer, and collaborated with the school PTA to expand musical opportunities for staff and students.  Always looking for more ways to include and advocate for the arts, she is a champion arts advocate!


Due to the pandemic the planned announcement at the Superintendent’s Legislative Fly-in Arts Celebration was cancelled.  However, we honor these three outstanding educators and all the other nominees.