Ziemnik, who was previously named Ohio History Teacher of the Year for her achievements in American history education, was one of 53 finalists for the $10,000 award. She will be honored at a ceremony at the University Club of New York on Nov. 8, where Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Eric Foner will present her with the award.
She began her career at Oak Hills High School, joining Rocky River High School in 2000 as a history teacher. Her love of history led her to participate in the collection of oral histories with a wide variety of subjects – a project she involves her students in, as well.
“When it comes to classroom instruction and content delivery, Sara Ziemnik is a master at her craft,” said Rocky River High School Principal Robert Winton. “Students are engaged through Socratic Seminars, role-playing and other creative ways to relay historical events to high school kids. She is able to teach rigorous content and hold high learning expectations all while keeping a smile on her students’ faces.”
Ziemnik said she does her best to make topics relatable and to show her students that people make choices, and choices make history.
“Nothing I do in my classroom is ever done alone,” she said. “I am very lucky to work with a staff that shares and collaborates and supports on another, as well as students and parents who value civic education and encourage discussion and debate in learning about our history.”
This is not the first time Ziemnik has been recognized for her skills. In 2002 she received a James Madison Fellowship and spent a summer at Georgetown University studying the Constitution.
Rocky River High School Assistant Principal Brian Gergely described Ziemnik as caring, creative and innovative.
“Her passion and enthusiasm is obvious, and her students subsequently share in her excitement for the content,” Gergely wrote in her nomination. “She challenges students to think abstractly but communicates a caring demeanor that yields outstanding results.”
Ziemnik said her love of history came from her parents. Family vacations revolved around checking out local history at their destinations. She credits her Miami University methods Professor Dr. Michael Fuller and former Rocky River High School teacher Barbara Boyle with mentoring her during her undergraduate studies and early teaching career, and supporting her over the last 19 years.
As part of her award for being named the state history teacher of the year, Ziemnik received a $1,000 cash award, an archive of books and historical resources, and an invitation to attend a 2018 Gilder Lehrman Teacher Seminar.