Weather Forecast


Fifth-grade educator at Northern Elementary gets Teacher of the Year award

From left, Jeff Wade, a fifth-grade teacher at Northern Elementary School, accepts the Bemidji Education Association's Teacher of the Year Award Wednesday at a Bemidji School District all-employee gathering. Kate Pearson, a teacher at Horace May Elementary, presented the awards. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

A bear skin hangs from the ceiling of his classroom, which is also home to a hornet nest, aquariums, antlers and interesting objects in jars.

Jeff Wade accepted the Bemidji Education Association's Teacher of the Year Award Wednesday at the Bemidji School District's all-employee gathering in the Bemidji High School auditorium.

Wade is a fifth-grade teacher at Northern Elementary School.

Award presenter Kate Pearson said a few words about Wade before he received the award.

"One colleague shared some people might find Wade's room to be unorganized clutter, but when his young children walk through the doorway, they are mesmerized by what appears to be multiple science lessons taking place at the same time," Pearson said. "Our 2011 teacher of the year is known for giving 110 percent to the education of students. He is a person of tremendous character and the epitome of kindness and positive thinking."

Wade has a long list of involvements. He is the chairman of the Northern Elementary climate committee and supports anti-bullying initiatives. He assists with Kindness Week and leads the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Bemidji High School.

Wade also leads the math masters program for fifth-graders and a high adventure club where he teaches snowshoeing, fly-tying and archery.

He coaches girl's basketball and is a member of All Pro Dad, a program that advocates fathers being involved with their children.

Currently, Wade is the only teacher in Minnesota to implement the national Trout in the Classroom project while partnering with Trout Unlimited, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and a local fly-tiers association, Pearson said. He uses a comprehensive, multi-discipline approach to raising trout that includes math, science, English, history, art and verbal reporting.

"Wade is a person of faith and integrity who, by example, teaches respect, patience, compassion, discipline, courtesy and an appreciation for others," Pearson said. "He volunteers for many church and community projects. He looks for ways to reach out and help individuals. He is an excellent role model and an asset to our community."

After receiving the award, Wade said, "It's exciting. I think it's an award that could go out to many other people, too. I just appreciate the recognition. I love teaching."

Wade recited a quote he said he includes in a video clip he shows his students.

"Love what you do so you can do what you love," he said. "I love teaching. It's a pleasure."

Seeing students succeed and grow and believe they can accomplish their goals is what Wade said has been most rewarding for him as a teacher.

"And having them realize they have tremendous value," he said.

His advice for new elementary school teachers comes from another quote Wade recited.

"Before anybody cares about what you know, they have to know you care," he said. "I think the greatest thing is letting children know you care and keep being involved in their lives."

After high school Wade said he attended college to play football. It was not until later in college that Wade eventually figured out what he wanted to do.

"My football coach and teacher was a great mentor to me," he said. "Looking back, I now see the people that came across my path had an influence on me. It was that desire to be involved in the lives of kids."

His secret recipe to getting students to become interested in math, reading, science, writing and the outdoors is showing an interest in learning, he said.

"I think anytime you're excited about something it's easy to get kids excited," Wade said. "I love where we live because of the great opportunities we have in the outdoors. And I think helping kids realize those opportunities are there for them, too. It's an adventure."

Wade's former students have participated in the Radiothon to End Child Abuse for many years.

A Bosnian peacekeeper once paid a visit to his class, thanking them for their support while he was thousands of miles from home. Wade's students sent letters and candy to him while he was stationed in Bosnia for seven months on a peacekeeping mission with the National Guard's Charlie Company 136th Infantry.

Wade's students also organized Coins for Caring for Hurricane Katrina relief. Many students stayed after school, made baskets and then went into the community and asked for donations to fill the baskets.

Wade is now eligible to apply for the Minnesota Teacher of the Year Award.

The other nominees for BEA Teacher of the Year were Kimberly Coequyt-Hoff, Susan Flicek, Karie Hougard, Robert McKeown and Peter Sullivan.

Lay educators

This year's BEA lay educators of the year are husband and wife team Becky Marty and Paul Conklin.

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

Marty and Conklin were selected because of their volunteerism at Solway Elementary School.

Conklin, a professor of geography, and Marty, an ecologist with the DNR, share a love of science and nature, Pearson said.

Conklin and Marty help out at Solway's after-school science club and have been instrumental in making Solway's school forest and school garden projects successful. Throughout the years they have participated in back-to-school night, family night, winter carnival, school dances, Solway's graduation ceremony and other programs and events.

They have been active leaders in Brownies, Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts and are enthusiastic classroom volunteers. For eight years Marty has taught the junior-grade books program and for five years has taught students about the seasonal changes of natural resources.

Pearson said persons who wrote letters of nomination wrote that Conklin and Marty are positive role models and have enhanced the lives of students and everyone with whom they encounter.

"They are always willing to step up and step into a variety of initiatives that directly improve and enhance the mission of Solway Elementary," Pearson said.

Conklin said his favorite project at Solway has been working with students on learning claymation. Marty said she enjoyed teaching students about current happenings in nature.

Both Conklin and Marty said they have enjoyed lending a helping hand.

"For me it's something you do," Conklin said. "My mother was a scout leader and my father was the president of the (Parent Teacher Association). I just assumed it was something you should do."

Marty added, "It's your responsibility as a parent and citizen to volunteer."

Support person

Bemidji Middle School parent Jan Hunt received this year's BEA support person of the year award.

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.

Hunt has been a special education parent since 1994.

"Since that time she has earned a great deal of respect from her peers, students and their parents," Pearson said. "Jan has a great sense of humor, a positive outlook on life, and a superior work ethic."

Pearson said Hunt builds strong relationships with her students and, according to her colleagues, has a wonderful way of adopting to each new situation with patience and understanding.

"She is known for bringing out the best in students and redirecting student behavior in respectful, calm and caring way," Pearson said. "She is encouraging and supportive of her students, but also holds them accountable."

The parents of one of Hunt's former students said they find comfort in knowing their son is with Jan during the school day.

"They even consider Jan to become like a second mom to their son," Pearson said.

Lindsay Potter, a K-1 teacher at the Paul Bunyan Center and formerly a paraprofessional at J.W. Smith Elementary, was also nominated for this award.

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.