Horizon Award

Today, on January 11, 2024, Fort Larned USD 495 administration and Dr. Randy Watson, Commissioner of Education for the Kansas State Board of Education,  proudly surprised Jami Dryden, a dedicated 3rd-grade teacher at Fort Larned Elementary School, with the 2024 Kansas Horizon Award. This award, sponsored by the Kansas State Department of Education, highlights outstanding first-year teachers in K-12 classrooms statewide. Jami, now in her second year of teaching, earned this recognition for her exceptional contributions.

A familiar face in Larned, Jami, a 2007 Larned High School graduate, began her journey with USD 495 in 2013 as a Kindergarten paraprofessional. Over the years, she held various roles within the district, including the position of a library aide at Phinney. It was in this role that she discovered her passion for teaching and learned a lot about classroom management. Transitioning into education, Jami embraced the Teacher Apprentice Program (TAP) at Wichita State University, where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Education. The TAP program allowed her to work full-time while completing her student teaching experience and provided a perfect opportunity for her to learn online while still raising two young children at home.

"I love USD 495 because it is home" Jami said, emphasizing the invaluable support and mentorship she received from her coworkers, shaping her into the educator she is today. “When it came down to looking for my first teaching position, I just couldn't fathom going anywhere else. I'm incredibly grateful that I get to be a part of this team.”

Currently pursuing a master's in education in learning and instructional design, Jami's commitment to continuous learning reflects her dedication to providing the best education for her students. You can take the girl out of the library, but you can't take the library out of the girl. When not in the classroom, you can find Jami with a good book. Most of the time, however, you will find her spending time with her family at the river, the lake, or whatever kind of adventure they can come up with.

Jami's advice to a first-year teacher would be that every student wants to be noticed, and every student wants to feel important. You can watch a student sit up taller just because you told them they’re doing a great job. It’s also okay to make mistakes in front of them. You may be overwhelmed by test scores and data, but your students aren’t going to remember that. They will, however, always remember how they felt in your room. Nine months go by in the blink of an eye, so love them hard while you can, and they will learn more because of it.

Kansas Horizon Award Program winners will be recognized at a special ceremony during the 2024 Kansas Exemplary Educators Network (KEEN) Conference, which is scheduled for February 2024, in Topeka. Congratulations, Jami, on this well-deserved recognition, and thank you for your dedication to education in USD 495!