Two years after winning her battle with breast cancer, Kristi Luetjen won the 2010 Connecticut Teacher of the Year award for her efforts at the Whiting School in West Hartford.
Luetjen, who started as an assistant teacher in 2000, received her award and a bouquet of flowers from Dr. Mark McQuillan, State Education Commissioner to a round of applause from students and colleagues.
The award was recognition for her work with special education students and development of a co-teaching model to maximize inclusion of such kids.
"It's difficult to express my gratitude on one of the greatest days of my life," she said
Luetjen's colleagues commended her for her dedication to her students.
"She has this really innate ability to teach to the hearts of children. She's looking at their social-emotional development, as well as their academic development. She's really amazing that way," said Dr. Nancy DePalma, principal of the school.
Members of the Teacher of the Year Committee interviewed Luetjen's students as they evaluated the nominees, giving insight into why she was the right woman for the state's highest honor for educators.
Luetjen said that she was moved by what her students said about her.
"Just very personal things that have the committee insight into me," she said. "They talked about how much I loved yoga and how I always encourage them to do their best. It was beautiful."
When Luetjen was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, the Whiting School community helped her pull through one of the most difficult chapters of her life.
The students rallied behind her and help in in several ways, including by raising money for cancer research.
"I worked part-time during my treatments and surgeries, and when I was here, they sustained me," Luetjen said.
The students have helped raise $10,000 for Susan Komen Race for the Cure and say they're very proud of their teacher.