Since 2012, the Champions of Arts in Education Award has honored individuals or organizations whose dedicated efforts promote high quality learning in and through the arts for Alaska’s students.

This award is a celebratory action, aimed at highlighting the positive impact of the arts on the lives of our children and youth. The efforts of these champions in teaching and supporting arts across the curriculum reflects the mission of AAEC, which is “to promote learning in and through the arts for all Alaska students.” Each Champion was nominated by Alaskans who—like the AAEC—believe in the work of these Champions of Arts in Education to positively impact the lives of students and communities. 

Please join us in recognizing the 2022-23 school year’s Champions: Savanna Strongheart and Rhianna Herbert.

2023 AAEC Student Champion 

Rhianna Herbert 

West High School, Anchorage School District

Rhianna Herbert student championRhianna is in her senior year at West High School.  An avid dancer and visual artist herself, she promotes arts culture in her school and community.  She works daily to prepare materials for West High’s visual arts classes, and in her out-of-school time mentors younger dancers through community workshops. 

Her nominator, Megan Henry, shared the following about Rhianna:

“I first met Rhianna during her junior year when she took my Drawing & Design class. She was quiet but dedicated, always looking for ways to improve creatively and successfully applying feedback to her future pieces. She is a hard worker, and her paper cut architecture piece was included in our school’s installation in the Youth Art Month display at Anchorage Museum. 

As a senior Rhianna has met all of her graduation requirements for electives, and so could opt to have a free period in the morning, sleep in, and come in late. Instead, she’s here bright and early every morning, working as the Visual Arts TA. From cutting paper and wedging clay to putting together beautiful display cases, she helps promote the arts culture throughout our school and does a lot of the behind scenes work that helps the Visual Arts staff. 

In addition to her visual arts involvement, Rhianna is an avid dancer who participates in dance classes both at West and at a studio in the Anchorage community. Her dance instructor at West describes her as developing as an artist, and mentioned that she has created dances that inspire others in the program. 

She was also one of the West High students who participated in SoBroSol’s community theater production of “In the Heights” during the spring of 2022. SoBroSol works to empower the Latinx community to share their stories and culture through the arts, and “In the Heights” was produced in the hopes of bringing Anchorage’s diversity to the stage.

Rhianna Herbert

Outside of West, Rhianna has helped mentor younger dance students and even helped with the Miss Alaska Pageant, acting as the Underground Dance director’s assistant while helping coordinate the dance routines in the show. It’s clear that she loves dance and the arts in general and is dedicated to promoting creative pursuits in any format.”

As the Arts Student Champion, Rhianna will have a featured display space within the Alaska Council of School Administrators Alaska’s Heart through Student Art Show, an annual celebration held in partnership with the Alaska Arts Education Consortium and GCI Education.  She also will receive a scholarship from proceeds of the event’s art auction. Congratulations, Rhianna! 

2023 AAEC Educator Champion 

Savanna Strongheart 

Lower Yukon School District 

savannah strongheartThe Arts Educator Champion is Savanna Strongheart of Lower Yukon School District.  Savanna is the Yup’ik teacher for Nunam Iqua’s students K-12, teaching language and culture since 2014.  Raised in the community, Savanna partners with elders and families to provide exemplary instruction to students in traditional song and dance, arts and crafts, storytelling, and language.  

Her co-worker, Assiingaaq Janet Johnson writes: ” This recognition comes after years of hard work. Savanna has been taking Yugtun classes through University of Alaska, Fairbanks Kuskokwim Campus to increase her ability to speak Yugtun fluently.  She seeks elder knowledge and advice as she plans to teach Eskimo Song and Dance, Native Arts and Crafts, Yuuyaraq, and Health and Wellbeing.  Savanna also works with parents and grandparents to get even the youngest students interested in the traditional storytelling, teachings, and activities.  Her work day does not end when the school day ends.  She can be found in the classroom preparing students for the Yup’ik Spelling Bee contest.  Last year, two of Savanna’s students took first and second place at the state annual Yup’ik Spelling Bee contest where each student received a beautiful hand-crafted plaque depicting a Yup’ik mask.  She also coaches junior high girls basketball.

savanna strongheart teaching

One of the most memorable moments in Savanna’s teachings was during the Regional School Board meeting which was supposed to be held in Nunam Iqua back in October 2022.  Students from her Yup’ik class introduced themselves all in Yugtun as well as principal Samantha Afcan who stated, “I was told by Savanna to also introduce myself in Yugtun.” 

As the Arts Educator Champion, Savanna receives complimentary attendance at one of AAEC’s Summer Arts Institutes.

The Champions were recognized in Juneau on February 27, 2023, at the Alaska’s Heart through Student Art reception, an annual event held in partnership by the Alaska Council of School Administrators, the Alaska Arts Education Consortium and GCI Education.

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