Dr. Richelle Marynowski presenting the award to Sophia Larney. Photo courtesy of Megan Kienzle, August 2021.

Graduating with a Bachelor of Education Degree in Social Studies, Sophia Larney is this year’s recipient of the Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA) William Aberhart Gold Medal in Education, awarded to the graduating student who has shown the highest general proficiency in the final two years of the bachelor of education program.

Sophia completed her after degree in April 2021, excelling academically in all of her university courses, as well as in her field experience placements. At St. Paul School in Lethbridge, Sophia built deep relationships with her students, and Sophia’s teacher mentor described her as having “a strong presence in the classroom. She is poised and self-confident and approaches teaching with a creative spirit.”

She presented her professional inquiry project entitled A Breath of Fresh Air: Outdoor Learning in Core Subjects at the semi-annual PS III symposium, which investigated the role of outdoor, land-based learning on student engagement in core subjects. An administrator during her PS III experience said: “Her sense of humour, commitment to students’ well-being, and enthusiasm for learning make her an excellent teacher!”

Why did you choose to become a teacher?
For a long time, teaching was what I always came back to when I would think about how I could contribute to my community. As a young person navigating the world today, I often feel overwhelmed by what feels like a million unsolvable societal problems. When I think about the big issues that communities are facing today—issues like inequality, injustice, climate change—education seems like a pretty good place to start to work toward a happier, healthier, more equal, more inclusive world.

If our education systems can foster values of empathy, collaboration, and social awareness, then hopefully we can build communities where people work together and take care of the people and environments around them."

Teaching also just feels like a natural fit for me. I get to be on my feet, move around, make connections, be goofy, and work with some really incredible students.

What was your most memorable experience at the University of Lethbridge?
I took ED 2500 the summer before starting PS I. One class, our instructor, Jenna Lowe, took us up to The Buffalo—the sculpture on the top of the coulee next to the university – for a session of Indigenous Education and land-based learning. It was a powerful moment of connection—connection to my classmates, to education and learning, and to the place that I was born and raised that has been a place of learning for thousands and thousands of years. This class encouraged me to think about what it means to be a white educator on Blackfoot land and how land can be incorporated into learning for all ages and across all subjects.

Is there someone specific who had an important influence on your uLethbridge experience?
There are so many people that have guided and supported me throughout this experience. My parents are total rock star cheerleaders, and I’ve been very lucky to have them down the street for all the big and little celebrations along the way. My mom has again and again demonstrated the importance of continuously learning and trying new things, and this was a big influence in my decision to return to school for education.

My teacher mentor for PS III, Pierina Saler, is such an incredibly patient and welcoming person and teacher—I learned so much from her and her ability to teach and connect with students and am so thankful for the opportunity to work with her.

Lastly, my partner, Ian, is always there for every high and every low, and I feel unmeasurably grateful for his support, encouragement, and love along the way.

What advice would you give to those who are about to begin their journey in the Faculty of Education?
Don’t lose your non-teacher self. There is a huge focus on “teacher identity” in the program and in the world of education. The program is hectic, practicums are hectic, and teaching afterwards is hectic. Sometimes it feels like every day all day is spent teaching, planning to teach, or thinking about teaching. Slow down, go easy on yourself, and let yourself tap out sometimes. Continue doing the things you love to do outside of teaching. Build connections and relationships in the greater university and Lethbridge community beyond education.

You will hear a million times about teacher burnout and how draining teaching is. It can be if you let it be, but it definitely doesn’t have to be. At the end of the day, students just need to feel cared for and respected. Take care of and respect yourself so you can do that for them."

What does this academic recognition mean to you?
I feel absolutely honoured to be recognized with a Gold Medal award. I have felt so supported by the faculty throughout the entire program and I am very grateful to have had such incredible practicum experiences.

Being awarded this medal by the ATA—an association that has continuously advocated for well-funded public education and research-based curricula in the face of budget cuts and questionable policy decisions—feels big. I’m looking forward to continuing to teach in Alberta and building classrooms that are safe, welcoming, and supportive for all students."

Writer: CJ Tuff
Photo: Megan Kienzle


For more information on the Faculty of Education please see links below:

Education Undergraduate Society (EUS) website here
Faculty of Education Twitter: @ULethbridgeEdu
Education Undergraduate Society Twitter: @uleth_eus
A collection of stories about the Faculty of Education
Faculty of Education website here
Become a Teacher video stories here

For more information please contact:

Darcy Tamayose
Communications, Dean's Office • Faculty of Education
University of Lethbridge
Learn more about the Faculty of Education: Legacy Magazine (2008-2019)
Twitter: @ULethbridgeEdu Website: uleth.ca/education
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