In recognition of inspirational teaching nationwide, Janessa Bointy, a school counselor at Sunset Elementary School in Edmond, has been named a recipient of the National University System-Sanford Teacher Award for Oklahoma on a surprise Zoom announcement.

Head shot of Sunset counselor Janessa Bointy


During a year of unprecedented challenges for teachers nationwide, the Sanford Teacher Award honors the top teacher in each state and the District of Columbia with $10,000 for supporting student development and achievement in inspirational and harmonious ways. The award was established in the name of philanthropist T. Denny Sanford, who is committed to supporting inspiring teaching nationwide through PreK-12 programs focused on developing the social and emotional (SEL) skills of young people. Each teacher recipient is now eligible to be named the national winner of the Sanford Teacher Award, which comes with a total award of $50,000 and will be announced at a future date.

In Oklahoma County, where Ms. Bointy teaches, one in three girls, and one in five boys will be victims of abuse before their 18th birthday. As someone who experienced a turbulent home life, Ms. Bointy pours time and energy into her students, creating a positive classroom environment where students feel safe and are heard and helped. She has been a pioneer in using the Sanford Harmony social and emotional learning program to promote strong peer relations, self-regulation, tolerance, and understanding among students. She makes an effort to sit with her students at lunch, listening to them talk about problems at home or worries they have about school. Being the first in her family to go to college and earn a Master’s degree, she encourages her students to set high goals and bolster the social and emotional skills that will help them succeed in school and life.

Janessa Bointy and the other state awardees were selected before COVID-19 shut down schools, but have continued to use online settings to support the social and emotional wellbeing of their students during the current crisis.

The teachers were selected by a committee of educators and faculty based on an application process that included nominations and information provided by each teacher. Sanford Teacher Award winners were selected for demonstrating high levels of inspirational teaching practices by engaging students, building student confidence, motivating students to succeed, giving students a voice and creating an inclusive environment.

The qualities reflect the mission of education-focused programs based on the vision of Mr. Sanford that are being expanded nationally through the leadership of the private, nonprofit National University System. It’s anchor institution, National University, is home to the Sanford College of Education, which is one of the nation’s Top Ten Largest Schools of Education. The Sanford Programs include Sanford Harmony, a PreK-6 social-emotional learning program that helps children develop communication and collaboration skills, and the PreK-12 Sanford Inspire program that offers teachers research-based resources and lessons to create inspiring classroom experiences.

“The National University System is so pleased to be honoring the vision of philanthropist T. Denny Sanford by recognizing inspiring teachers around the country through the Sanford Teacher Awards,” said Dr. Michael R. Cunningham, Chancellor of the San Diego-based National University System. “Teachers give so much of themselves to their students, schools and communities, and the Sanford Teacher Award is a way for us to celebrate the contributions of inspiring teachers who encourage children to reach their greatest potential.”

The Sanford Teacher Awards is part of the national expansion efforts of the National University System-based Sanford Programs, which in addition to Sanford Harmony and Sanford Inspire also includes a national network of fundraiser training programs anchored by the Sanford Institute of Philanthropy at National University. All are based on the vision of Mr. Sanford, who has committed to giving away most of his wealth during his lifetime. Mr. Sanford has given to health care and education-related initiatives, including the Sanford Programs at the National University System.

“As a child, I was fortunate to have a few teachers who truly inspired me to learn and succeed. Educators have many similar opportunities to touch children’s lives and have had a profound influence on their lives and learning,” said Mr. Sanford. “As an entrepreneur and philanthropist, I can think of no better return on investment than inspiring students to embrace learning and their path in life.”

The 2020 awardees will join last year’s cohorts of awardees, continue to work with the Sanford Harmony and Inspire Programs and receive training in communications and advocacy for teaching that is inspirational and grounded in social and emotional development.


The National University System is a network of accredited nonprofit education institutions serving higher education and K-12 students that includes National University; John F. Kennedy University; City University of Seattle; and Northcentral University. NU was established in 2001 to meet the emerging challenges and demands of education in the 21st Century.  

About the Sanford Programs at the National University System
The National University System is leading the national expansion of the three Sanford Programs, which were established through the generous support of philanthropist T. Denny Sanford. The Sanford Institute of Philanthropy helps support the preparation of nonprofit frontline fundraiser leaders. The PreK-12 Sanford Inspire offers a toolkit of research-based teaching methodologies, and on-demand, self-guided modules that are accessible online to help teachers create inspiring classroom environments that encourage students to succeed. Sanford Harmony is a PreK-6 research-based social-emotional learning program that cultivates strong classroom relationships between all students. Sanford Harmony has been recognized by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) as a quality program.