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At the May 7 school board meeting, a very special award was given to a very special student. 

Heleana Backus, 17, is a graduating senior in high school and the class of 2018’s valedictorian. Heleana has a strong passion for literature, grammar, and English in general. Because of her desire and determination to learn and do more with English and Literature classes, she became part of the English Language Arts (ELA) Curriculum Committee. This committee comprises teachers from all over the district, with Heleana as the only student representative. Her role on the committee and within the meetings was to speak for the students, and to give insight on a student’s frame of mind. 

Amanda Adams, a distance literature and art teacher on the committee, describe Heleana as “incredibly insightful.” She “understands human nature much more in depth than many other students her age.”

In recognition of Backus’ hard work on the committee, Amanda Adams along with three other teachers—Meredith McCullough from Kenai Central, Sean Campbell from Homer and Trevan Walker from Seward—worked together and nominated her for the Golden Apple Award. 

“It is extremely rare for a student to be nominated for the award, much less receive it,” Adams said when explaining the award. It is traditionally given to a fellow teacher, or someone who has done tremendous work in making huge strides for English and Language Arts education. 

To quote from the award letter, Heleana  “attended every meeting, took time to ask questions and dig into the data … and engaged in difficult conversations about effective teaching and differing philosophies about students’ academic needs. Heleana remained open-minded, courteous, and professional, even as she stood her ground and brought up challenges she and her peers are facing in and out of school.”

Through her passion for English and Language Arts, Heleana put her newly developed expertise on writing curriculum to good use by co-designing an independent study with Amanda Adams as a mentor teacher, simply because she wanted to read and analyze “Anna Karenina,” a novel by Russian author Leo Tolstoy. 

Heleana is a truly incredible student, and all around person. Not only does she care for her education, but the education of her fellow students. She is by far the brightest person I have met, and I have never known someone to strive harder and longer for something they want than she. As she continues onto Whitman College, studying to become an English teacher, there is no doubt in my mind that she will thrive. I hope that one day, Heleana Backus’ future students realize that they could not have been taught by a better teacher. 

Elena Hamner is a graduating senior at Seward High School and friend of Heleana Backus. Find more of her writing at