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BEA announces lay educator and support professionals of the year

Bemidji Education Association president Paul Goodwin took to the stage as if he were Axl Rose himself, dancing to Guns 'N Roses' 1987 hit, "Welcome to the Jungle."

His boisterous opening act was a crowd pleaser, drawing laughs from all who attended the Bemidji School District's all-employee gathering Wednesday morning at Bemidji High School.

"It is a jungle out there," Goodwin said, referring to previous mentions of Annual Yearly Progress and ACT test scores. "But thanks to all your hard work, we're taming the beast."

Goodwin, along with Horace May Elementary School teacher Kate Pearson, presented the BEA award recipients for teacher of the year, support professionals of the year and lay educator of the year.

Nominations for BEA awards are accepted January through March and may be submitted by any employee of the district. The BEA executive board reviews nominations in April and votes by secret ballot at their meeting in May.

This year's recipients received an engraved plaque, an engraved silver and gold keychain, a gift certificate to a local restaurant and floral arrangements.

Lay educator

Lay educators are people not employed by the district, but who support public education and give freely of their time to further the mission of the school and district.

This year's BEA lay educator of the year is Allen Benson.

A former engineer for Boeing Airlines, Benson has worked with students at Horace May for nine years. He started when he and his wife, Linda, came to school through the RSVP America Reads Program.

As a retired couple they wanted to do something together to help area children read. They came to school one day each week to read with students in first and second grades. His wife died one year after they started, but Benson has continued to read to students since.

According to letters of nomination, Pearson said, Benson keeps a record of each student with whom he reads and makes it his goal to get to know each child personally. He has scripted more than 10 children's books for the RSVP readers theater, and he designs props, designs sets and includes costumes.

"Volunteer, mentor, educator, writer, director, reader, grandpa and friend, Benson is all of these and more," Pearson said.

Benson said one of the reasons he reads to students is because his own grandchildren live 1,500 miles away.

The other reason, he said, is because he believes reading is fun.

"It's not only important they have this foundation for the rest of their education, but reading is fun," Benson said. "When I can communicate to students that reading is fun, they will read the rest of their years. My mother, who is 98 years old, is still reading. Maybe it's in the blood."

Support professionals

Support professionals are employees of the district who work with and influence the education of students, but who do not hold a licensed teaching position.

Jill Hanson, secretary at Solway Elementary School, and Karen Tank, healthcare professional at Bemidji High School, both received the BEA's Support Professionals of the Year Award.

"The staff at Solway have tremendous respect and admiration for (Hanson)," Pearson said. "They say she helps set the tone for the building with her warm smile and gracious manner."

Pearson said letters of nomination cite that she is essential to the running of Solway Elementary and many depend on her expertise.

Karen Tank is a licensed registered nurse at BHS. She serves on the school's crisis team, on the district's health services advisory board and in the community as a first responder.

"Her colleagues say she always keeps her cool and remains calmly focused during the most stressful of situations," Pearson said.

Letters of nomination cite that Tank demonstrates the core values of loyalty, duty, selfless service and personal courage.