LKSD Educators nominated for National LifeChanger of the Year Award

by Brian Jordan

Tundra Swan Academy high school teacher Sarah Trieff and program coordinator Jaimie Kassman, as well as Gladys Jung Elementary School math and physical education teacher Rafe Johnson have been nominated for the 2016-2017 national LifeChanger of the Year award.

Sponsored by the National Life Group Foundation, the national LifeChanger of the Year program recognizes and rewards the very best K-12 public and private school educators and employees across the United States who are making a difference in the lives of students by exemplifying excellence, positive influence and leadership.

Trieff, Kassman and Johnson were all nominated by their colleague, Jerry White.

Trieff is a veteran teacher who has spent much of her career working with at-risk youth, including students at the McCann Treatment Center (MTC), a residential treatment center that provides psychiatric and substance abuse services for students aged 10-18.

“Many TSA students come to the program with academic abilities far below their age and grade level,” White said. “Mrs. Trieff has the uncanny ability to help these students become focused and motivated enough to learn two years’ worth of lessons in a calendar year. While many teachers can be tough or tender, she has the ability to be as tough or as tender as she needs to be to meet the needs of each student.”

Treiff took a leading role in aligning Tundra Swan Academy’s curriculum with state standards and helped secure accreditation through the AdvanceED Accreditation Commission. She spends many hours with students who need extra tutoring, and she also assists the night staff when a student is in crisis. As a result, Trieff has become one of the most trusted staff members in her facility.

Kassman has been teaching practical skills to students at MTC and TSA for fifteen years. A relentless worker and a mentor, he often helps find community service opportunities for the students he works with. On his watch, students volunteer thousands of hours to help the community while they learn to butcher meat, harvest and process fur, maintain conventional and hydroponic gardens, and catch and process salmon.

“Every service learning activity directly benefits the elders and less fortunate in the Bethel community and contributes to sustaining the TSA program,” White said. “With a seemingly endless amount of energy, Mr. Kassman works long days and often works for weeks without taking a day off. His dedication to the boys and the program is obvious. The lessons he imparts make positive, life-long changes in his students.”

In addition to teaching, Johnson is his school’s archery and wrestling coach. He single-handedly spearheaded a district-wide archery program. After receiving training and official state certification, as well as securing grant funding for the program, Johnson added archery to the PE curriculum and helped three students qualify and participate in the National NASP tournament in Louisville, KY. He became certified to train instructors and expanded the archery program into eleven schools across the Lower Kuskokwim district, four of which participated in the state archery tournament this year. These archery programs currently have 570 participating athletes, including his team of 112.

“Mr. Johnson is a LifeChanger because he brought archery to students and adults throughout the district, many of whom would never have had the opportunity to shoot a real bow and real arrows,” White said. “Students whom otherwise do not care for sports, would not have a sport in which to compete.”

Each school year, the LifeChanger of the Year program receives hundreds of nominations from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. For 2016-2017, there will be a total of 15 individual LifeChanger of the Year awards. In addition, a 16th prize, the “National Spirit Award,” is given to the school and nominee whose community demonstrates the most support for his or her nomination. Each winner will receive a cash award that is split between the individual winner and their school. The national Grand Prize award is $10,000. Winners are announced via surprise award ceremonies held at their schools. The top five winners will also be honored at a national awards ceremony in Naples, Florida. Winners will be announced in Spring 2017.

Winners will be chosen by a selection committee comprised of former winners and education professionals. Nominees must be school district employees. Award winners are selected based on the following criteria:

A proven ability to make a beneficial difference in the lives of students; An ability to positively add to the development of the school’s atmosphere; Is involved in leadership activities at the school and/or community level; A demonstrative record of excellent performance at the professional level; A commitment to producing a nurturing atmosphere; Adherence to high moral and ethical standards. A resource page with ideas for how to celebrate nominees can be found at

To view Mr. Johnson’s, Mr. Kassman’s and Mrs. Trieff’s LifeChanger of the Year nominee profiles, visit

Brian Jordan is the Communications Consultant for LifeChanger of the Year.