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North Park School for Innovation Educator Named Teacher of the Year

North Park School for Innovation Art Teacher Ariane Kokes has been named the 2021 Columbia Heights Public Schools (CHPS) Local 710 Teacher of the Year. Kokes is the 21st recipient of the award, representing all CHPS teachers. 

“I was extremely surprised and humbled [when I found out I had been chosen for this award],” said Kokes. “We have such an incredible community of teachers and staff and to be honored among your peers who know exactly what it means to show up for students and families every day kind of took my breath away.”

Kokes began serving as an art teacher in CHPS in 2005 where she has remained for more than 15 years. North Park has been her home since the beginning with the exception of one year serving half time at the high school. In addition to her teaching role, Kokes has worked in both the District’s summer school and ENCORE programs. She has also served as a Future Problem Solvers advisor and a Yearbook advisor.

“[Ariane’s] resume demonstrates not only a consistent involvement in the Art Department and her classroom, but across the District, community, state and nation,” said Local 710 Teacher’s Union President Karissa Ouren. She is committed to equity for all learners, social and racial justice, and represents others as a parent, teacher, community member and Local 710 member in many venues.”

In her application, Kokes wrote, “From my classroom, I take the time to advocate for my students by showing up from the school board meeting to the [state] capital.”

Those [who] know her, have seen her advocacy for all students as well as many others in the Columbia Heights community at large.

“Ariane Kokes is simply a treasure to the North Park School for Innovation family,” said North Park Principal Jeff Cacek. “Her development of relevant curriculum and engaging instruction makes artists of all of us. While she deserves this recognition on those merits alone, Ariane offers so much more. Her work in equity persistently pushes our staff to be better educators and people for all students. Her unwillingness to compromise her values when it comes to sustainable practices in [our] art studio influences our practices throughout the organization, and her ability and willingness to give of herself to support and help grow our programming makes North Park a better place every day that she is here.”

Kokes says she believes teaching is the opportunity to help in the growth and discovery of each child’s whole self. “As an art teacher, it is the chance to let a child explore the places in the world where problems don’t come with one correct answer, instead suggestions and ideas,” she said. “It is a place to offer children an opportunity to use their brain in a new way, discover what their own ideas can become and to take risks to share those thoughts with others.”

Superintendent Zena Stenvik says Kokes is one of the most caring and creative people she knows. “She is a leader in the District and a strong advocate for the benefits of arts education for students of all ages,” she noted.

“Teaching is so valuable; the ultimate exploration of community and the place where we can help students grow into their place within it,” Kokes said. “I love working in CHPS as [it’s] the intersection of urban diversity and opportunity, and a small community where we have opportunities to connect across building and with leadership to build strong relationships throughout the District.”

Kokes received her Bachelor of Administration in Sociology, with a minor in Visual Art from the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire and her Master of Arts in Education from St. Catherine's University. Throughout her career, Kokes has also served in art educator roles in schools in the surrounding areas.

“Those that know her, have seen her advocacy for all students as well as many others in the Columbia Heights community at large,” Ouren noted.

The award is sponsored by the Columbia Heights Federation of Teachers Local 710. With her selection, Kokes will represent CHPS for next year’s Minnesota Teacher of the Year award.