Moundridge native, teacher picks up Horizon Award

Chad Frey
Elizabeth Ratzlaff was among 32 educators named by the Kansas State Department of Education as recipients of 2021 Kansas Horizon Awards.

MOUNDRIDGE — Elizabeth Ratzlaff did not choose to start her teaching career in the middle of a pandemic, but that was the hand she was dealt when graduating from Bethel College in North Newton seeking her first job as a teacher. 

She landed in Moundridge, the small town she grew up in, as a middle school language arts instructor.  

"I didn't think I would come back so soon right after college," Ratzlaff said. "I think I thought I would go somewhere else. The dream was to, hopefully, always come back. That was the little dream inside of my head. I did not know how it would all work out. I loved the community growing up and I wanted to be a part of that and give back. I think it is a special place."  

This year she was named a Horizon Award winner — one of 32 first-year teachers from across the state to be honored with the award. 

"It feels really good. I feel really encouraged and affirmed," Ratzlaff said. "As a first year teacher you know you are prepared, in a way. You  graduated from college ... I never felt 100% confident  that I knew what I was doing. This is affirmation and encouragement that you are doing some things right. That affirmation from Principal (Hillarie) Hecox and other staff was really nice."

The Kansas Horizon Award program identifies and recognizes representatives of excellent teaching in the elementary and secondary classrooms of the state. 

Novice teachers are eligible to be nominated for the award — that nomination comes from the school principal and is supported by references from other members of the school staff. 

"On a crazy year like this, with COVID and everything going on, I am grateful that people took the time to support me in that way. I know that did not have to," Ratzlaff said. 

The mission of the program is to recognize exemplary first-year teachers who perform in a way that distinguishes them as outstanding.             

Ratzlaff chose teaching, and her area of expertise, based on family history and her own passions. 

It was her grandfather who convinced her to be a teacher — though he didn't talk her into it. He convinced her by his example. 

"My grandpa was a teacher, growing up I had him as an example even though he was retired, the way he talked about his students and coaching with such fondness," Ratzlaff said. "That seemed so attractive to me. My parents were teachers."

She exprienced the life of a teacher early — helping her younger brother with school work.

"I loved to read and write. I was always trying to drag him along, and make him read things and write things with me. I always thought it would be a cool way to pull my passions  for reading, writing and young people together," Ratzlaff said. 

She plans on staying in Moundridge, where she has found contentment, "for a long time."

"I have kind of fallen in love with teaching middle school and I will always love reading and writing," Ratzlaff said. "So I am pretty darn happy."

The Kansas Horizon Award Program is a regional competition, with regions corresponding to the state’s four U.S. congressional districts. The Kansas State Department of Education appoints regional selection committees responsible for reviewing the nomination forms and selecting four elementary classroom teachers and four secondary classroom teachers per region for a total of 32 teachers.

Elizabeth Ratzlaff, center, celebrated being named a KSDE Horizon Award winner with Hilarie Hecox, principal of Moundridge Middle School, and former superintendent George Leary.

2021 Kansas Horizon Award Recipients

Region 1

Larrah Bills, Heusner Elementary School, Salina USD 305.

Hannah Lehr, Buhler High School, Buhler USD 313.

Shelby Mann, Norton Community High School, Norton Community Schools USD 211.

Sam Pahls, Prairie Hills Middle School, Buhler USD 313.

Nicholas Preheim, Hutchinson STEM Magnet School at Allen, Hutchinson USD 308.

Elizabeth Ratzlaff, Moundridge Middle/High School, Moundridge USD 423.

Paige Stewart, Hutchinson Middle School, Hutchinson USD 308.

Sarah Wedel, Park Elementary School, Lyons USD 405.

Region 2

Spencer Feldkamp, Ottawa High School, Ottawa USD 290.

Lindsay Francis, Lincoln Elementary School, Fredonia USD 484.

Allyson Gilmore, Lawrence Free State High School, Lawrence USD 497.

Sarah Kennedy, West Indianola Elementary School, Seaman USD 345.

Haydee Martinez Bretado, Scott Dual Language Magnet, Topeka USD 501.

Ruochen Shen, Eudora High School, Eudora USD 491.

Tricia Wyckoff, Southeast Elementary School, Southeast USD 247.

Dr. David Yoo, Baldwin High School, Baldwin USD 348.

Region 3

Sydney Clarke, Wheatridge Middle School, Gardner Edgerton USD 231.

Molly Dugan, Spring Hill Middle School, Spring Hill USD 230.

Kassidy Evans, Blue Valley Northwest High School, Blue Valley USD 229.

Rachel Leonard, F.L. Schlagle High School, Kansas City USD 500.

Kelsey Mackeprang, Junction Elementary School, Turner USD 202.

Emily Mauer, Timber Creek Elementary School, Blue Valley USD 229.

Abigail Morris, Stony Point North Elementary School, Kansas City USD 500.

Susan Specht, Shawnee Mission NW High School, Shawnee Mission USD 512.

Region 4

Micaela Heinrich, Maize South High School, Maize USD 266.

Brooke Hernandez, Andover Middle School, Andover USD 385.

Victoria Hoerst, Wheatland Elementary School, Andover USD 385.

Candice Michaud, Haysville West Middle School, Haysville USD 261.

Shonna Miller, Rex Elementary School, Haysville USD 261.

Alison Nikkel, Hesston Elementary School, Hesston USD 460.

Madison Sites, Pray-Woodman Elementary School, Maize USD 266.

Rebekah Wendland, Derby High School, Derby USD 260.