AFA Announces 2020 National Teacher of the Year

July 21, 2020

July 21, 2020

AFA Announces 2020 National Teacher of the Year


Arlington, Va. (July 21, 2020) – The Air Force Association is thrilled to announce that Rachael Arens, of Omaha Northwest High Magnet School, in Omaha, Neb., has been named the 2020 AFA National Teacher of the Year presented by Rolls-Royce.

For the past seven years, Arens has taught 9-12th grade AP Environmental Science, Chemistry, Anatomy/Physiology, Biology, and Advanced Horticulture, along with acting as Omaha Public Schools science curriculum developer. Recently named a 2020 Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow, she will head to Washington, D.C. this fall where she will work at NASA. This summer, she is working with the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, as an Upward Bound in Math and Science Summer Academy adjunct faculty member for Biology and Chemistry.

“Our 2020 National Teacher of the Year is another great STEM educator selected to be a part of AFA’s prestigious Teacher of the Year program,” said Jim Hannam, AFA Vice Chairman of Aerospace Education. “As a strong proponent of equitable STEM education and opportunities for all students, Arens will be an exemplary representative of America’s teachers for AFA and Rolls-Royce.”

Arens teaches her students to become informed agents of change by encouraging them to use inquiry to find solutions to problems faced in their own communities. Her students engage in service-learning projects and participate in youth action research, teaching them to become civic advocates, oftentimes intersecting social justice and science initiatives. This past year, her students co-wrote a bill with a Nebraska state senator and testified at the bill’s hearing at the state capitol.

“In addition to Dr. Arens’ exemplary teaching, she has secured numerous grants to subsidize projects for students,” said Dr. Cheryl Logan, Superintendent, Omaha Public Schools. “One of her noteworthy achievements was earning the Natural Resources District BMP Stormwater Grant for rain gardens at Northwest High School. She and her students have also installed a composting program, solar panels, a vegetable garden, and designed and built a rain garden on campus.”

Arens has held numerous STEM education leadership roles, serving on two state science education boards, serving as a state advisor to the National Geographic Education Society, and developing Nebraska standards and district-wide curriculum for science courses. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Nebraska Association of Teachers of Science (NATS), as well as a Board Member on the Nebraska Green Schools Committee. She leads the Outreach Committee for NATS and sets up mentorship programs for new science teachers across the state connecting them with experienced science teachers within their content area.

“Congratulations to Rachael Arens for this well-deserved recognition as AFA’s National Teacher of the Year. With her leadership and support for her students, Rachael has demonstrated the qualities of a dedicated and successful proponent of STEM. Rolls-Royce is proud to support Rachael and the Air Force Association as we all work together to develop and support today’s STEM students — the science and technology leaders of tomorrow,” said Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson (ret.), Rolls-Royce, Senior Vice President, Business Development – Fixed Wing.

A lifelong learner, Arens earned a Master’s degree in Biology (emphasis in Toxicology), a graduate secondary teaching certificate, and is now a doctoral candidate in STEM education.

As part of AFA’s mission to promote aerospace and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, the Teacher of the Year program ensures America’s aerospace excellence by supporting teachers who carry out that mission in the classroom.

The second and third place winners for AFA National Teachers of the Year presented by Rolls-Royce are as follows:

Melissa Girmscheid

Second Place Winner
Centennial High School
Peoria, AZ

Kenneth Robinson

Third Place Winner
Kaiserslautern High School
Kaiserslautern, Germany

The Air Force Association is grateful to its Aerospace Education Program Platinum sponsor, Rolls-Royce, for their continued sponsorship of the AFA Teacher of the Year program, allowing the program to continue honoring educational innovators in STEM. The AFA Teacher of the Year program dates back to the early 1990s when the mission to recognize classroom teachers (K-12) for their innovative and successful instructional programs originally began.

The Air Force Association is a non-profit, independent, professional military and aerospace education association. Our mission is to promote dominant U.S. Air and Space Forces as the foundation of a strong National Defense; to honor and support our Airmen, Space Force Professionals, and their Families; and to remember and respect our enduring Heritage.

Bridget Dongu
Director, Communications
Air Force Association