MUSCATINE — Earlier this month, it had been announced that Muscatine High School’s Heidi Kuo had been selected as one of the five finalists for the United States Heartland China Association’s (USHCA) inaugural U.S. Heartland Chinese Teacher Award.
As described by the USHCA, the award is meant to recognize the hard work done and the extraordinary efforts made by the region’s Chinese language teachers, allowing the current generation of students and beyond to then use their skills to form further connections between the U.S. and China.
In a public statement, USHCA Chairman and CEO Bob Holden said, “World languages are best taught early, but few American schools make it part of their K-12 curriculum. For this reason, we are proud to honor the teachers who have championed and built successful Chinese language programs at their schools and districts across the heartland region.”
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On Saturday, November 19, all five finalists were invited onto a virtual award ceremony with representatives from USHCA to learn which of them had won the three available grand-prize grants came with the award. It was here when Kuo learned that she had been selected as one of the three winners, earning $5,000 to be spent on her classroom and students.
Kuo was nominated for the award by fellow Muscatine resident Sarah Lande. Muscatine Mayor Brad Bark also gave his own recommendation, calling her a “pivotal role model” for her students. Kuo has since been applauded for not only teaching Chinese language in a variety of different ways, always taking the time to figure out which way works best for each student, but for also teaching Chinese history and culture in her class as well.
Additionally, Kuo goes out of her way to organize a field trip to Chinatown in Chicago in order to further her students’ exposure to Chinese culture, and actively seeks sponsorships for the trip so that her students don’t have to worry about paying for it. Recently, Kuo has also begun working with Susan Clark Jr. High in the hopes of starting a middle school-level Chinese language class for those who are already interested in learning.
All of this hard work has already seen other instances of praise and appreciation, with Kuo having previously been nominated for the Muscatine Community School District’s Employee Recognition Award by her students.
“I really love being a teacher, and I love having conversations with my students,” Kuo said previously when asked what she enjoys most about her job. “I like knowing more about the young people. They like to share everything with me, and I’m super happy to hear it.”
Alongside Kuo, the two other teachers who won the U.S. Heartland Chinese Teacher Award were Xin Yang Edens from Tulsa, Okla., and Yan Wang from Lexington, Ky. The two remaining finalists, Cindy Casto from Maumelle, Ark., and Tungfen Lee from Carmel, Ind., won the People’s Choice Award.
To learn more about the U.S. Heartland Chinese Teacher Award, residents can visit usheartlandchina.org/heartland-chinese-teacher-award.