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Leo Benardo Award for Innovation in K-12 Language Education

The Leo Benardo Award for Innovation in K-12 Language Education was established in 2014 through a vote of the ACTFL Board of Directors after a proposal was submitted and generously endowed by Stella Economou, a former student of Leo’s.

The award honors the many accomplishments of ACTFL’s second President, Leo Benardo. Leo’s long list of contributions to the field includes serving 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.

In addition, he used the 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.

Leo also was recognized for his accomplishments with numerous awards including the Chevalier des Palmes Academiques by the government of France, Medal of Appreciation from New York City Mayor Abraham Beame, the Nelson Brooks Award from the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, and the Distinguished Service Award from the Chicago Board of Education.

This award is established in Leo Benardo’s honor to recognize significant contributions that reflect innovative instructional practice and programs by individuals who teach or supervise in urban, suburban or rural districts that teach a majority of underserved students. The recipient of this award receives a $500 cash award and a plaque.

Criteria for Selection

  1. The nominee must be a current ACTFL member.
  2. The nominee must have a minimum of five years teaching and/or supervising experience with at least half of each year's assignment in the area of foreign language education.
  3. The nominee must submit evidence of innovation in teaching, such as program descriptions and supporting letters from students, colleagues, school or institutional officers.
  4. The nominee must submit evidence of service in a school or district with a majority of students who reflect underserved populations.
  5. In the case of administrators or supervisors, the nominee must submit evidence of instructional leadership that reflects innovative practice.

Procedures for the Nominating Organization

  1. Nominations may be made only by organizational members of ACTFL.
  2. Include the following items on the online submission form:
    a. Nominator and nominee information.
    b. Curriculum vitae of the candidate (not to exceed 10 pages).
    c. Letter of nomination from nominating organization (state, regional, or national) clearly explaining the rationale for nominating this individual.
    d. Supporting letters from supervisors, colleagues, students, or others who benefit from the nominee's services; a current supporting letter from the nominating organization; and in the case of a nominee who is in a supervisory position, supporting letters from those who work under the nominee's supervision. Supporting letters should indicate the nominee's innovative practice as a teacher and/or professional leader in foreign language education.
    e. Other supporting documentation (e.g., copies of newspaper articles or other materials, as appropriate).
  3. In letters and supporting documentation, include a brief description of the innovative curricular program or model that the nominee has inaugurated, along with any record of special honors and awards received.
  4. No member of the ACTFL Board of Directors or Officer may write a letter of support for any award nominee or actively shepherd the nomination of an award candidate. If an application is resubmitted that contains a support letter written prior to the establishment of these guidelines, that letter will be removed from the packet by the Committee Chair.
  5. No member of the ACTFL Board of Directors, Officer, or contracted employee is eligible for nomination for any award while holding these positions.
  6. Letters of recommendation are to be sent to the person submitting the nomination so that they may be included in the complete nomination submission package.


  • By May 29: Online nominations submitted.
  • September 1: Copies of all documentation pertaining to the winner(s) sent to the ACTFL Executive Director.
  • September 1: Copies of all documentation pertaining to finalist(s) returned to individual(s) who submitted them.
  • September 12: Winners and finalists notified.
  • September 30: Benardo Awards Chairpersons submit a 200-word statement on why the recipient was chosen.
  • September 30: Winner submits 150-word acceptance remarks to be printed in Awards Ceremony Brochure. 

For Selection Committee Members: Please visit the ACTFL Online Community for specific information.

Nominations will be judged on:

  1. Impact of the individual's innovative contributions to the profession at the local, state, regional and national levels.
  2. Quality and impact of innovative curricular/instructional projects developed by the candidate. The recipient must submit evidence of service in a school or district with a majority of students who reflect underserved populations.
  3. Quality and number of workshops and presentations in support of implementation of the strategy or program or disseminating the results of the strategy or program  given at local, state, regional, national, and/or international level.
  4. Support shown in letters of recommendation.

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Previous Recipients

2019: No Award Was Given; 2018: Akash Patel, Dallas Independent School District (TX); 2017: No Award Was Given; 2016: Katrina Griffin, North County High School; 2015: Gregg Roberts, Utah State Office of Education