LifeChangers Recognized

LifeChangers Karen Stark and Jamie Ryan
January 17, 2024

We all know teachers and school district employees who inspire us and go above and beyond for their students. They could be a physical education teacher who started a nonprofit to teach students about art and music, an administrator who visits the homes of students in need, or a maintenance worker who fundraises for school programs. They may have done something as simple as listening when the student needed to be heard or as life-changing as helping a student find their voice in student government or the boarding program or achieving their goal of graduating on time with their classmates. These educators and school employees are LifeChangers.


Under the direction of the National Life Group Foundation, LifeChanger of the Year is an annual program recognizing K-12 educators and school employees across the country. The program celebrates those making a significant difference in students’ lives by exemplifying excellence, positive influence, and leadership. Since 2011, more than 7,300 school employees from more than 2,000 school districts have been recognized, and more than $720,000 has been awarded to schools and school employees.  


This year, St. Johnsbury Academy is incredibly proud and honored to have two members of the community recognized as nominees for the awards: Jamie Ryan, Director of Residential Life, and Karen Stark, a teacher with the Boarding Guided Studies Program.


In their roles, Jamie and Karen interact with students daily, and the comments posted on the LifeChangers website prove the importance of those interactions to current students, parents, alumni, and co-workers.


Annie Angell, a former student of Mr. Ryan’s, wrote, “I was blessed to have Jamie Ryan as a Social Studies teacher at SJA back in the late 90s. He was one of my favorite teachers, and I learned so much from him about US History and life! He also helped his students work through some difficult stuff with his kindness and wisdom, and this is something that has never been forgotten. Today, I am his colleague at SJA and his friend in life. These particular roles bring me joy because I get to watch him help students grow into the best version of themselves, whether times are difficult, easy, sad, or happy. Students from all over the world attend our school, and Jamie Ryan’s mentorship guides them through their years here and permanently marks a place in their hearts. When things get tough, Jamie is there to encourage, advocate, and spoon out a little tough love when needed. SJA wouldn’t be what it is today without Jamie Ryan. I cannot begin to count the number of lives he’s touched while here, but I know there are many, and I know each of them is grateful.”


Nicole Biggie commented on Mrs. Stark, “I have had the pleasure of being a colleague of Karen Stark for many years, but have also been the mom to a student in her program. Karen is a teacher that every parent wants their child to have; she is kind, compassionate, understanding, and meets students where they are at in their academic lives. Karen works with students who have often struggled academically and feel they will never find success in the narrow scope of high school. Karen adjusts her approach with each student so they feel comfortable and can build a trustworthy relationship with each other. Karen has the ability to build confidence in students by showing them ways to overcome challenges and exhibit their true potential. She creates a non-judgmental environment where kids access the support they need to be successful. Karen is a tireless advocate for her students.”


Headmaster Sharon Howell announced the nominations during an in-service meeting with the following comments:


“Jamie and Karen, congratulations on being nominated for this award–you are two of the most thoughtful people at SJA. The amount of positive energy, gratitude, love and kindness you put out into the world every day makes all of us better. You both change lives by never giving up on any student you believe might be ready to learn something, even and especially tough lessons. You balance accountability with care and genuine education for students–instead of moving to exclude kids who are struggling from the community, your first instincts are always to move toward them, and to see if our help can make a difference. You have positively influenced the lives of hundreds of students in your careers, and we’re proud to have you recognized and grateful that we get to claim you as the life-changers you are. Congratulations!!”


As part of the process, judges base their decisions in part on comments left on each of the nominee’s page. To view the original nomination video and to leave a comment of your own, follow the links below.


Karen Stark

Jamie Ryan


The National Life Group Foundation created the LifeChanger of the Year program to shine a light on the field of education, celebrate school employees, and provide them with the resources they need to succeed while they’re in the classroom and beyond.


Cash prizes for the LifeChanger of the Year program are provided by National Life Group’s charitable arm, the National Life Group Foundation. Since its inception in 2006, the goal of the National Life Foundation has been to build solid connections and do good in the communities in which they live and work. This is done in a number of ways, such as by providing grants to nonprofit and educational organizations, giving their employees 40 hours of paid volunteer time annually, sponsoring events, and offering in-kind donations. They also support mental health and wellness programs for K-12 students and school employees.



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