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The "Jo Sanders Teacher of Energy and Passion Award” honors a K-12 educator of a language other than English who demonstrates the traits held by renowned Alaskan educator Jo Sanders. Sanders, a long-time Anchorage German teacher, epitomized both “energy” and “passion” in teaching.  The nominee should have taught at least five years and must have been an AFLA member for at least the past three years. The nominee and the nominator both must be members of AFLA.




Jo Sanders, known to her students as Frau Sanders, began work with the Anchorage School District in 1972, where she launched a thirty-year career in Alaska’s secondary education system.  After a year at West Anchorage High School, she joined the opening staff of Bartlett High School in the fall of 1973.  During her lengthy tenure at Bartlett she taught German, Russian, history, culture and modern events.  She also worked on several of the first content-based cross-curricular courses in the areas of history and language.  She served as department chair, led an active German club, directed theater pieces in German, and founded an immersion camp for high school students of German, Lager Nordlicht.  She was one of the original organizers of World Language Declamation, a competition that continues to benefit students statewide.  


In 1976 Sanders established the first German American Partnership Program (GAPP) in the state of Alaska. Under the auspices of GAPP she organized numerous exchanges between Bartlett and her German partner school and estimated that approximately 1,000 students had participated in the program. In addition, she lent her expertise to other partner school exchanges in Russian, Norwegian and Spanish. In 1991 the German government awarded her with the Federal Cross of Merit, the Bundesverdienstkreuz, the highest civilian award, for her decades of contributions toward German-American understanding.  


Sanders was a generous educator who mentored many incoming German teachers, shared curricular materials, led countless workshops across the country, and championed those pursuing language learning.  She stayed active at both the local and national level through her work with Alaskans for Language Acquisition (AFLA), the Pacific Northwest Council for Languages (PNCFL), the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), the National Network for Early Language Learning (NNELL) and the American Association of Teachers of German (AATG). Sanders received an impressive array of local, state and national awards for her innovative high school world language teaching methods. Notable awards include the Walt Disney Foreign Language Teacher of the Year in 1990 and the prestigious ACTFL Florence Steiner Award for Outstanding Foreign Language Teacher in the US in 2005.


After her retirement from the Anchorage School District in 2002, Sanders began work on initiatives with elementary-aged students.  In 2002 she founded Village Charter School, in 2006 the Otto Geist German Saturday School, and in 2007 the Rilke German School of Arts and Sciences. She served at the national co-chair of the ACTFL special interest group Kinder lernen Deutsch, a program designed to encourage elementary enrollment in German language as well as the co-chair of the special interest group Language Learning for Children.   As director of the Rilke Schule she helped create a school that has become the standard for elementary German immersion programs in the United States.  In 2017 a special retirement ceremony and celebration was held at the school to recognize her forty-five years of contributions to the field of German. The school’s library bears Sanders’ name to remember her dedication.  Sanders’ work as an exemplary educator and life-long service to students, colleagues, and community has lasting ramifications for language instruction in the state of Alaska.  Her leadership, vitality and dedication to the profession raised the bar for all who share her passion of teaching a second language.

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