As we wrap up this school year, it is a great opportunity to reflect on the opportunities staff across our district offer to students to help them personalize their learning. We are fortunate to have five staff members from across our district who were recognized as Teachers of the Year by various organizations. Any district would be happy with having one of their teachers recognized in such a way, and our district has had five in the same year. I would like to highlight each of them and share how they have been working to incorporate our district’s learner outcomes and personalize learning for their students.

Mr. Kevin Cooper, high school agriculture instructor and FFA advisor, received the Iowa Outstanding Ag Educator Award and the Story County Citizen of the Year Award. In addition to these two awards he was also the Ideas Unlimited Division Winner, which is awarded to an FFA advisor who creates something innovative for their chapter. The student learning opportunities that led to Mr. Cooper receiving the above honors are too numerous to list; however, here are a few that were listed when he received the awards. Mr. Cooper has created student enterprises utilizing the greenhouse where students plan, produce, and sell various plants and vegetables to the members of our community. The FFA chapter, under Mr. Cooper’s leadership, started a moving company that specializes in moving pianos for customers all across Story County. Students can be seen working late into the night to restore tractors within the Ag Mechanics lab. The tractors are used by students as projects for the Story County and Iowa State Fair, where our students are able to learn the value of hard work and responsibility by turning out quality projects that are sold for a profit; those funds are used to provide future learning and leadership opportunities for students. Finally, Mr. Cooper has partnered with local farmers and landowners to create a “Farm to Table” program where the produce from local farmers is harvested by our students and served in our food service program. The program has generated state and national recognition. The entrepreneurial spirit that Mr. Cooper models provides our students with the skills they need to be successful after they leave our schools.

Mrs. Kim Huegerich, high school Spanish instructor, was named Iowa World Language Association Secondary Teacher of the Year. The award is presented to the teacher who exemplifies the best in teaching at his/her particular level and provides evidence of leadership and contributions to the field of world language education. Mrs. Huegerich started the LAUNCH program this year in conjunction with Dr. Heather Ludwig. Students in the LAUNCH program identify an essential question that they investigate throughout the course of a semester or year, and then they present their learning to an audience outside of the school. Students have to find a mentor to work with as they investigate their essential question and conduct their research. Students earn credit based on the standards they demonstrate through their projects. Essential questions that students have researched this year include; How do medical schools in Latin Countries affect the United States? Why would the crime in Mexico affect the United States? How does one’s background affect the crimes they commit later in life? How can two cultures be blended through school activities? How can the medicines and practices that we have in the U.S. impact the equine population in other countries? Students get to explore topics that interest them and apply the knowledge and skills they are learning in the class to communicate effectively with a mentor. Several students reached out to mentors who only spoke Spanish. Students learned the importance of time management, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. Mrs. Huegerich’s willingness to lead the LAUNCH program and work alongside our students this year has created a class that is growing in popularity and is providing students with opportunities that they may not get in any other class.

Mrs. Tabitha Aanonson, high school family and consumer science teacher, was named the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (AAFCS) Iowa Affiliate Teacher of the Year. The award is given as recognition for innovative, creative programming and teaching methods in family and consumer sciences and for effectiveness in stimulating student motivation plus personal growth. Mrs. Aanonson has worked to create two student led enterprises, Cub Grub and Cub Creations, over the past 2 years. Cub Grub is a student enterprise where students create various baked goods for community members that can be used as birthday treats for elementary students. I recently had the opportunity to visit with students involved in this program as they were working on their largest order to date (400 iced cupcakes) and asked them what they have learned this year. They indicated hard work, time management, responsibility, collaboration, and integrity. As one student explained, “If we don’t have an order done on time and if the quality isn’t any good, we won’t get anymore business so we have to make sure we meet deadlines and turn out a quality product.” Cub Creations does custom embroidery of various items. Community members can bring in an item to be embroidered, and students will create the artwork and embroider the item for them. Mrs. Aanonson’s willingness to provide authentic learning experiences for her students is benefiting our students and our community. Students are developing problem solving and teamwork skills that will benefit them regardless of their college or career choice after high school.

Ms. Maggie Davis, elementary multi-age teacher, was recognized as Iowa Technology Education Connection’s (ITEC) Educator of the Year. The award recognizes the educator in Iowa who uses technology to improve instruction and student achievement. Ms. Davis routinely looks for and incorporates technology tools and resources into her classroom to create authentic learning experiences for her students that would not be possible without these tools. Ms. Davis has utilized virtual reality within her classroom for her students to take virtual field trips, explore the inside of the human body, and numerous other activities that allow her students to be creative and innovative in their learning. The utilization of innovative teaching practices has opened doors for her students to harness the power of technology to drive their own individualized learning experience.

Mrs. Tonya VanDam, elementary teacher, was recognized as the ARC of Story County’s 2018 Educator of the Year. The award recognizes an individual who has substantially contributed to the education, growth and development of person(s) with developmental disabilities. Mrs. VanDam works with students across our district who have developmental disabilities, and her focus on the whole individual has led her students to demonstrate outstanding academic, social, and emotional growth that many may not have thought was possible. Mrs. VanDam embodies the characteristics of empathy and compassion and works tirelessly with her students, never giving up on them and what they can become.

It truly has been a great year at Nevada CSD due to the incredible efforts of the educators who serve our students each and every day. The educators who have been recognized this year are representative of all of the educators we have across the district who are willing to be innovative in their approach to teaching and learning so that our students develop the learner outcomes we envision for them. Our work is certainly not over, but as you can see from the accolades several of our teachers received this year, we are definitely on the right track.

Justin Gross is Director of School Improvement & Innovation for the Nevada School District.