Leo Benardo Award

Innovation in K-12 Language Education

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ACTFL Leo Benardo Award for Innovation in K-12 Language Education

Leo Benardo
Leo Benardo

Established in 2014 and generously endowed by his former student Stella Economou, the Leo Benardo Award for Innovation in K-12 Language Education recognizes an educator whose work reflects innovative instructional practice supporting programs with of a majority of underserved students in a variety of educational settings—including public and private schools in urban, suburban, and rural districts.

This award stands as a testament to the many contributions that ACTFL’s second President, Leo Benardo, made to the profession. For Leo, ensuring inclusion and equity were paramount to our work as educators. As he shared, “It is essential first to agree—as I say, or believe—that no child should be barred from foreign language, and the reverse of that: Every child should have an opportunity to study another language.”

Having grown up in a trilingual home speaking French and Ladino with parents of Turkish origin, Leo served as Director of Foreign Languages for New York City Schools from 1966 to 1987. During those 20 years, he was responsible for introducing FLES programs in the schools, constructing and evaluating New York State Regents Examinations, and establishing the City University of New York Council on Foreign Languages to develop articulation between high schools and colleges.

Over the course of a passionate career spanning decades, Leo observed the language education field embrace new technology time and again and promoted the shift from more static methods to actively encouraging learners to use their skills in authentic, real-life settings in their local communities. He used the then-groundbreaking medium of television to demonstrate methods of teaching languages; instituted the recruitment of teachers from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Spain; and collaborated with the United Nations to bring attention to the importance of language education. Community engagement was a vital practice in his approach to innovation.

“Innovation means ‘new.’ There are those who say there’s nothing new under the sun, but there always is,” Leo asserted when asked about the guiding force behind this award. “When we talk about innovation, it’s any idea that will get students and teachers active and moving to improve their instruction. Any idea!”

Leo was recognized with numerous awards including the Chevalier des Palmes Academiques by the government of France, a Medal of Appreciation from New York City Mayor Abraham Beame, the NECTFL Nelson Brooks Award, and the Distinguished Service Award from the Chicago Board of Education.

The recipient of this award receives a $500 honorarium.

Procedures for Nomination

Nominations and self-nominations may be made only by ACTFL members.

  1. The nomination dossier must include the following documents (in order):
    1. A cover letter introducing the nominee and other dossier materials to follow, signed by nominator or by self-nominee (not to exceed 500 words).
    2. Curriculum vitae of the nominee (not to exceed 10 pages or 4500 words).
    3. A program narrative addressing the award criteria (not to exceed 4500 words).
    4. Letters of support – maximum of 3; including but not limited to colleagues, supervisors, current or former students, and administrators.
    5. Other supporting documentation not to exceed 10 pages or 4500 words (e.g., photos, artifacts, articles, etc.) that documents the nominee’s excellence in teaching of culture in world language education at the local, state, regional, national, and international levels (see rubric for specific criteria and indicators); supporting materials may include links to video and audio files. Complete nomination dossiers must be submitted through the online form in one PDF file by the deadline.
  2. Complete nomination dossiers must be submitted to ACTFL in one PDF file by the deadline.

NOTE: No member or officer of the ACTFL or Language Connects Foundation Board of Directors may write a letter of support for any award nominee or actively shepherd the nomination of an award nominee. No member or officer of the ACTFL or Language Connects Foundation Board of Directors, or ACTFL employee is eligible for nomination for any award while holding these positions.

Procedures for the Selection Committee

  1. The award Selection Committee will be chaired by a member of ACTFL, invited by the current ACTFL President.
  2. Committee members will be selected from those that apply as volunteers.
  3. Committee members rate and rank the dossiers using the award rubric and return their ratings and rankings to the Committee Chair or Co-Chairs by an agreed upon date.
  4. The Committee may meet as many times as needed to decide on the award recipient.
  5. At the discretion of the Committee, the award may or may not be presented during a given year.
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Leo Benardo Award Rubric