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Excellence in Teaching Winner Thrives by Building Lasting Bonds

Note: This is one in a series recognizing winners of the 2021-22 NHA Excellence Awardsa program that honors educators, deans, and administrative teams across our network.

Getting through that first year is a challenge for any teacher. Sierra Anthony’s first year teaching had the added complication of coinciding with the COVID-19 pandemic.

As someone who had wanted to be a teacher since she was in second grade, it certainly wasn’t what she had envisioned. During the 2020-21 school year, she experienced every model – hybrid, in-person, fully online – teaching first grade at Knapp Charter Academy, which has outperformed the local district for 13 years.

Sierra Anthony smiling with Angie Spears..
Sierra Anthony and Knapp Principal Angie Spears.
“It was a lot of hoops to jump through, but as a first-year teacher I came out of that year feeling like I had been teaching for five years,” she said. “That was a big accomplishment for me, making it through that year with 30 kids on my own. I learned a ton – communicating with parents, maintaining relationships with kids throughout such a traumatic life situation for a year or more.”

Anthony just finished her third year at Knapp, and still is enjoying the unpredictability each day. She was honored as an Excellence in Teaching winner as part of the National Heritage Academies (NHA) Excellence Awards for the 2021-22 school year.

Sierra Anthony with her students.
Sierra Anthony has taught first grade students at Knapp for three years.
The surprise announcement came under the guise of an assembly for a guest speaker with the Young 5s to second grade students gathered in the gym. Anthony and second grade teacher Lindsay Vanstensel were announced as finalists for their grade levels, and Anthony was announced as a winner as confetti flew into the air. Her dad and husband were on hand to join in on the surprise, as Anthony and her students celebrated the moment together.

Anthony got her look at NHA schools through a partnership program during her time at Cornerstone University. She liked how the classrooms were run, the curriculum structure, and the way teachers’ needs are met across the board. Her time at Knapp has reinforced those values.

“(At Knapp, we) have a wide variety of ethnicities, cultures, and backgrounds,” she said. “It brings a fun variety and environment to the classroom with so many kids from different stories, different walks. The staff is amazing.”

Sierra Anthony speaking to a crowd of students.

Angie Spears, Knapp principal for the 2021-22 school year, said Anthony is gifted at building strong relationships with her students. Spears praised Anthony for her positive outlook while holding her students to a high standard in a caring way.

“Continuing that relationship I’ve had with kids in the past is my favorite part of my job,” Anthony said. “I can teach the ABCs and addition and subtraction all day, but the relationships are what keeps me here.”
Keep up the excellent work, Ms. Anthony!

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About Knapp Charter Academy
Knapp Charter Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, serving students in Young 5s through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes more than 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit

Visit Knapp Charter Academy's blog to read more stories like this.