Students find treasures in learning in the classroom of River Heights Elementary Teacher of the Year, Breauna Jelke


Breauna Jelke reads to students


Congratulations to River Heights Elementary Teacher of the Year, Breauna Jelke! Jelke is from Shelley, Idaho, and has been teaching at River Heights Elementary for ten years. After graduating from Utah State University, she began teaching at Nibley Elementary. Then, she taught at Sunrise Elementary before moving to River Heights Elementary. 


When Jelke first started teaching, she knew she wanted to teach younger grades because she loves the enthusiasm and energy of kindergartners. Her favorite part about teaching kindergarten is seeing her students progress throughout the year. She loves helping her students progress from not knowing how to hold a pencil at the beginning of the year to writing stories and learning to read and socialize with their peers.


Jelke strongly believes in mixing fun with education. When you walk into her classroom, you feel like you have just entered a pirate ship. There are palm trees and pirate flags in the reading nook. Tying into the pirate ship theme, Jelke emphasizes to her students that they all need each other as part of a crew. “It’s just neat to see them start to cheer each other on,” Jelke explained. “There’s the sense of adventure and exploration. I think there’s a lot of that in education—that sense of wanting to explore new things and try more things and search for treasures.”


Breauna Jelke and student


On the first day of school, Jelke’s students make pirate hats and spy glasses and explore the school. As they meet the principal and the librarian, they discover that treasure is not necessarily gold and jewels, but it can be people and places throughout the school. “You create an environment where we’re all working together, and we are all part of that crew, and learning just comes naturally,” Jelke observes.  


Every week, a student in the class has the opportunity to be the VIP or “Very Important Pirate.” The VIP makes a paper representation of himself or herself, along with their very own pirate flag, and Jelke assigns them special jobs throughout the week, such as line leader. On Friday, the VIP gets to choose a pirate hat before walking across a balance beam while their peers cheer them on as they “walk the plank.” Jelke then spotlights them as a fun way for their peers to get to know their classmates. 


To ensure that students continue to seek adventure and try new things, Jelke makes a point of teaching her students that mistakes are normal and that everybody makes mistakes. Jelke points out her own mistakes and teaches students how they help her fix them. She assures them that she is always there to help them when they make a mistake. When students understand that they can make mistakes, they are more willing to try new things and take leaps, knowing that it is all part of the journey. 


River Heights Elementary principal, Stephanie Adams, described Jelke as someone who impacts other teachers, as well as the school community. “One of the biggest telltale signs of the impact a teacher has on a child is what happens on Back to School Night,” Adams said. “When, instead of going to their new teachers' classroom, they go to their kindergarten classroom to hang out with their kindergarten teacher again, because that is the place where they really felt the magic of school. And that happens in her room—her kids absolutely love being in school every day as they get that foundation for their education.”


Breauna Jelke with River Heights Principal Stephanie Adams and board member Jef Nielsen
Jelke (with River Heights Principal Stephanie Adams and board member Jef Nielsen)
was honored at the Feb. 17th Board Meeting