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Willis Junior High teacher nominated for Patricia Behring Teacher of the Year

An image of Shandel RobertsShandel Roberts is a Gifted Social Studies Teacher for 7th/8th grade in the STEAM Academy at Willis Junior High School in Chandler Unified School District (CUSD). She is also one of just two Arizona educators named as a Patricia Behring Teacher of the Year nominee by the non-profit National History Day (NHD). The Award, also known as the National History Day Teacher of the Year Award, recognizes teachers who demonstrate a commitment to engaging students in historical learning through the innovative use of primary sources, implementation of active learning strategies to foster historical thinking skills, and participation in the National History Day Contest.   

Ms. Roberts said she loves teaching social studies because it allows students to make personal connections to the past, which helps create a future. "I get excited about how I can bring history alive and show that it surrounds us," said Roberts.

Social studies is not commonly tied to STEAM learning, but Roberts finds multiple ways to incorporate it into her classroom. "Many historical events are based on the science and technology of the time and how it impacted the people living then. Culture is the study of the arts, which makes us human, and math is used in economics, demography, and geography. One of my favorite lessons is when students use multiple perspectives to investigate 'Who is to Blame for the Boston Massacre.' Using primary and secondary sources allows the students to form their own opinion about this important event in our history. It becomes a platform for the rest of the year to always look at different perspectives before forming an opinion," she said.

More than 80 educators across the country in NHD Affiliate Programs were nominated for this accolade. With Roberts' dedication to challenging students and finding their strengths every day, it's no wonder she is a nominee.

National History Day is a competition established in 1974 that encourages critical thinking and personal choice for projects to fit the theme of the year. Roberts has been an affiliate since 2008, and it supports the project-based learning encouraged in Willis' STEAM Academy. This year’s theme is "Frontiers in History: People, Places, Ideas.” After investigating possible topics, students then work to create a project to showcase their understanding and connections.

The contest starts at school, then students compete in the East Valley Central Arizona Regional competition which has been at Willis for the last few years. Students then may advance to the State Competition and the National Competition, which is held each year at the University of Maryland, College Park for the week-long National Contest. Students have represented WJHS over the years at Nationals under her leadership as recently as 2022. Four students presented their project titled "The Equal Rights Amendment: Race to Ratification" and won in the Junior Group Performance category, qualifying for Nationals.

Hana Gerstberger, Abigail Johnson, Alexia Heaton, Clara Olpi (pictured): "The Equal Rights Amendment: Race to Ratification""Shandel is truly a master teacher. Students in her classes consistently engage in highly engaging, thought-provoking activities that give them a voice and choice in the classroom. Shandel’s ability to balance high learning expectations with empathy and support has earned her the trust and admiration of students, colleagues, and families. She is a positive leader in our school community and we are incredibly fortunate that she is a Firebird," said Willis Junior High School principal Jeff Delp.

Roberts started her teaching career in 1995 with a BA in Elementary Education at Arizona State University. She has a master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Northern Arizona University, and she's highly qualified in Middle School Language Arts and Middle School Social Studies with a Gifted Endorsement.

“This award recognizes the very best educators from across the nation and beyond. These educators are leaders and innovators in the teaching of history. They engage their students with hands-on, inquiry-based learning with primary sources. I congratulate them on their well-deserved nominations,” said National History Day Executive Director Dr. Cathy Gorn.

The national winner will be announced on Thursday, June 15, 2023 at the National History Day National Contest Awards Ceremony in Maryland. A winner is chosen after nominees present work that illustrates the development and use of creative teaching methods to engage students. Nominees' work will undergo a selection process with a committee of experienced teachers and historians.

National History Day is a non-profit organization based in College Park, Maryland, that seeks to improve the teaching and learning of history. NHD is sponsored in part by HISTORY®, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Park Service, The Better Angels Society, and the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation. For more information, visit

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