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 this year’s Champions: 

2024 AAEC Student Champion 

Marbella Martinez

West Anchorage High School, Anchorage School District

Marbella Martinez

Marbella Martinez | Arts Student

Through her years in high school, Marbella Martinez has been involved in a variety of classes and student activities that have included band, the visual arts, and photography. Described as a somewhat shy and caring student, Marbella has stepped up to challenges that have taken her out of her comfort zone and have helped develop her leadership skills with her peers.   One such challenge occurred when the student founder of the Photo Club asked Marbella if she would take on her leadership role after she graduated.  Megan Henry, the West High art teacher who nominated Marbella states, “Marbella was hesitant. It was a steep learning curve, but she has more than risen to the challenge. The club has flourished under her leadership, and she has brought new topics to me as the mentor that I hadn’t even considered before. She is truly the glue that keeps the club together.” Megan also shared that Marbella has volunteered with other activities that have impacted her fellow students. “In addition to giving a space to those interested in photography, Marbella often donates her skills. She has volunteered to take photos for the Yearbook when the staff was in a pinch, and she took beautiful photos for her classmates who are seniors and couldn’t afford professional senior portraits. Her classmates were so grateful to have artistic, professional looking photos to submit to the Yearbook without the stress of how they were going to pay a professional photographer. Marbella did this all with a smile, expecting nothing in return.”

As Arts Student Champion, Marbella will receive a $500 scholarship. Congratulations Marbella!

2024 AAEC Educator Champion 

Justin Somaduroff

Anchorage School District

Justin Somaduroff conducting

Justin Somaduroff | Arts Educator

Justin Somaduroff teaches band at South High School and is active in the Anchorage community as a member of the band Nervous Rex.   In his nomination letter, Christopher Lubken describes Justin’s dedication to his students, fellow educators, and the community at large, “He consistently stays after school to help his students learn a new instrument, learn how to operate sound equipment, and gives private lessons to his students as needed.  He inspires current and former students to continue their music education in college and even make a career in music or music education.  As a colleague he pushes me to be a better teacher myself and he is always willing to share his experience and knowledge with others.  He offered to do some joint concerts with our bands together so both programs could grow.”  Ben and Karen Johnson, members of the South High Music Booster Club added, “We are very fortunate to have him as the band director at our kid’s school. As we have worked with him one thing that has always stuck out to us is how much he loves music and the arts and helping his students develop their musical abilities.  Probably the biggest endorsement of Justin’s ability is the love his students have for him. The band room is usually full of students hanging out there during lunch, because it is a place they feel accepted, safe, and have a good time.”

Besides his work within the community of Anchorage, Justin has acted as the Alaska State Activities Association All-State Band coordinator, benefiting students from all over Alaska. As summed up by Christopher Lubken,  “Justin understands that a win for others (ie: all high school bands in Anchorage and beyond) is a win for our profession.”

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

Congratulations Justin!

The 2024 AAEC Advocate Champion 

Senator Gary Stevens

Alaska State Legislature

Senator Gary Stevens

Gary Stevens | Arts Advocate

Senator Gary Stevens has described his special interests as Alaska history and art.  It is evident through his career as a professor at the University of Alaska and his work as a public servant in the Alaska Legislature that he values Alaska history and art, not only for himself, but for all other Alaskans.  He has served as the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, Chair of the Task Force on Higher Education, served as the President of the Alaska History Society and is a member of the Alaska Humanities Forum.  Senator Stevens also has been a consistent supporter of the Alaska State Council on the Arts.  He has sponsored legislation over the years that has helped the ASCA increase the programs that it provides for Alaska’s students throughout the state of Alaska.

And a little trivia you may not be aware of.  Senator Stevens also has recently authored the one-man stage show “Uncle Ted” (about the late Alaska Senator Ted Stevens) that Cyrano’s Theatre Company in Anchorage staged in October of 2023.

Congratulations Senator Gary Stevens!

The 2024 AAEC Leader Champion 

Lorrie Heagy 

Juneau School District

Lorrie Heagy

Lorrie Heagy | Arts Leader

Lorrie Heagy has been an active member in the education and arts communities of Juneau over the last twenty years.  Her work has always been centered on the development of student talents and the love of learning new skills.  As Ryan Conarro noted in his nomination, “I believe one way that Lorrie stands out as an Arts Leader is in her intentional decision to remain rooted as a classroom teacher. Lorrie has tested and proven her belief that the most impactful and lasting change can start from, and always come back to, the individual classroom.”   

With her focus on the classroom, Lorrie’s leadership utilizes the importance of the arts as a means for developing student learning and having a positive impact on our society at large as Ryan describes, “As the music teacher-librarian at Sítʼ Eetí Shaanáx̱ Glacier Valley Elementary School, she steadily lead the process of creating a school-wide arts integration program that became, and remains, a model for Alaska’s schools and for others across the U.S.” Her impact on a wider level can be seen with her role in the creation of Juneau Alaska Music Matters. “Lorrie was a member of the first cohort of El Sistema Fellows in Venezuela and Boston, Lorrie returned to Juneau to start Juneau Alaska Music Matters (JAMM), a thriving music education program that supports young people, teachers, and community musicians all at once. Most recently, Lorrie has integrated Tlingit language education into the work of JAMM. She was adopted into the Kiks.adi (Frog) clan and is carried by the name, Gax.áansán. Her programs prove, year after year, the value and power and primacy of both the arts and of indigenous language education.”  The dedication she has shown to this program has resonated throughout the state and nation, with other communities looking at the success seen in Juneau, as they develop their own youth music programs. Lorrie has been a Teacher Leader at the Alaska Arts Education Consortium summer institutes for many years, impacting countless educators across the state. 

Congratulations Lorrie!

The Champions were recognized in Juneau on February 5, 2024, at the Alaska’s Heart through Student Art reception, an annual event held in partnership by the Alaska Council of School Administrators and the Alaska Arts Education Consortium.

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