Houlton Middle High School Spanish teacher Traci Storti (right), with students Hope Royal (left) and Ellie Grant in the Algarve region of Portugal in 2022. Credit: Courtesy of Traci Storti

HOULTON, Maine — An Aroostook County Spanish teacher is among 10 educators from around the U.S. recognized on Monday as guiding forces in students’ lives.

Academic publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced the 10 winners of its inaugural Lighthouse Awards on the first day of Teacher Appreciation Week.

Traci Storti, who has taught grades 9-12 at Houlton Middle High School for 26 years, was nominated by a colleague and selected from 500 national nominees as a winner. She is the only Maine teacher recognized. The others hail from states including Texas, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Washington and Kentucky.

“I want to change the world for my students,” said Storti, about her bi-annual student trips to Europe inspired by her own trip to Mexico when she was a Houlton Middle High School student. “If a poor kid from northern Maine could go to Mexico, it was very powerful and it changed my world.”

The award is inspired by Steve Pemberton’s book, The Lighthouse Effect, a collection of true stories of ordinary people he calls human lighthouses, who made extraordinary impacts in the world. Pemberton is a philanthropist, motivational speaker, best-selling author and has been a senior-level executive for Monster.com, Walgreens Boots Alliance and Workhuman.

Human lighthouses are ordinary people who come along and make an extraordinary difference in someone’s life, he said.

Award winning Houlton Middle High School Spanish teacher Traci Storti, center, with students in Park Guell, Barcelona in 2022. Members of class of 2023 pictured left to right, Madison Marino, Hailey Quint, Madalyn Quirk, Kayleigh McNinch, Storti, Riley Sylvain and Natalie DeLucca.  Credit: Courtesy of Traci Storti

Pemberton credits his resilience and success after growing up in an abusive foster home to John Sykes, a teacher who took him in as a teenager and helped him turn his life around.

The 2017 film, A Chance in the World, highlights Pemberton’s relationship with his teacher.

Nominators were invited to write about a K-12 teacher who embodies one of the key characteristics of a lighthouse teacher, who is humble, does not seek recognition for the work they do with students and a teacher who uplifts their students and community.

Students, families, colleagues, and school and district administrators nominated the 10 winners, who are identified as humble, steady and seek no recognition for their work, according to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Storti said it was amazing to be nominated by a colleague. There are so many good teachers in the district, she said.

Adventures with Houlton students to countries like Portugal, Spain, France and Italy, to name a few, have taught students about other cultures while also giving them opportunities to use their Spanish, Storti said, enthusiastically detailing the trips and student reactions.

“These students have gone on to do wonderful things,” she said. “I appreciate this work so much. It is the fabric of who I am.”

According to the publisher, Storti is one of the first candidates to work toward national board certification in her school district and she works relentlessly to expose her students to the world around them.

Storti ensures that students from a small-town, rural school can see the world, the publisher said.  

All winners will receive a visit from Pemberton at their school in the 2023-2024 school year and an all-expense paid trip to the 2023 Model Schools Conference, June 25-28, in Orlando, Florida.

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Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli

Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli is a reporter covering the Houlton area. Over the years, she has covered crime, investigations, health, politics and local government, writing for the Washington Post, the LA...