The sum of the total amount of inspiration that Sara Medalen has instilled into thousands of students during her 27 years as a teacher is difficult to calculate or to put into words. She is a reading and math interventionist for grades K-5 at Sunnyside Elementary School in Minot, and on Wednesday, Oct. 16, she was officially named as the 2020 North Dakota Teacher of the Year at a ceremony in the state Capitol.
In attendance were Governor Doug Burgum, Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler, North Dakota United President Nick Archuleta and a group of fourth graders from Sunnyside, to let Medalen and all the teachers across our state know just how much they mean to the future of this world we all share.
“Fourth graders, you are my purpose,” Medalen said. “I can’t wait to see you every day. I’m so excited to go to school every day to see you. I believe in you. You guys are awesome. I wish you the courage you need to climb mountains. I wish you kindness to help others climb mountains. I wish you confidence to learn and grow.”
Governor Burgum started the ceremony by paying tribute to the innovative nature of Medalen and all North Dakota teachers. “The growth mindset speaks to people that, if they’re challenged, they think that’s a good thing, not a bad thing,” he said. “They have to try something new. They welcome it versus resist it. They know that and believe in themselves that, if something new is put in front of them, that they can rise to the challenge and that they can grow and learn from that. It would be impossible to be a teacher of the year and not have a growth mindset, and certainly our award winner today encompasses that great quality.”
“The best teachers challenge their students to be lifelong learners, not just about their interests or their subject area, but about their communities and themselves,” President Archuleta said. “They teach them to never give up, and they teach them to never give in. I know that happens in classrooms across North Dakota, because I’ve been there and I’ve seen it. But it especially happens in the classrooms of these individuals that we’re here to honor today.”
“So, on behalf of the 11,500 members of North Dakota United,” he continued, “I am extremely proud to congratulate the 2020 Teacher of the Year finalists: Jessica Brandt, Dr. Karen Chiapella, Susan McPherson, Sarah Thompson and the Teacher of the Year for 2020, Sara Medalen. Remember, as the superintendent said, no one gets to have their profession until they come through your profession. Thank you very much for choosing education, not as your occupation, but as your passion. And thank you for sharing that passion with the next generation of North Dakotans.”
Superintendent Baesler mentioned in her comments the efforts of the ND Department of Public Instruction to encourage more candidates from across the state to either apply themselves or be nominated for the state Teacher of the Year award.
“North Dakota’s Teacher of the Year is selected because they are a strong representative of our teaching profession,” Baesler said. “The Teacher of the Year is a spokesperson for the values that we have in education. She is an advocate for our students, families and our state. Sarah Medalen actually herself put it best when she was told that she was the 2020 North Dakota Teacher of the Year. Sarah said that she doesn’t consider the Teacher of the Year to be an award. She considers it a job, and she wants to do the best job that she can for all educators, students, families and communities in North Dakota.”
The ceremony closed with four brave students of Medalen’s, standing tall in front of an assembled audience of teachers, leaders and advocates of public education, and fellow students from Sunnyside. In turn, they listed off all that their teacher has done to help them find their place in this world. “We are grateful that Mrs. Medalen has been named North Dakota Teacher of the Year, because she cares about everybody and puts everybody first,” said Makenzie.
“We have been part of Mrs. Medalen’s Girl Power project for over two years, and it inspires us to follow our dreams to make a difference in our lives and in the lives of others,” Zoe said. She also said their group had raised over $5,000 by selling t-shirts and were using the money to send eight girls to school in Haiti.
“I used to not like reading at all until I started getting help from intervention and reading at Books & Braids,” Makenzie also said. “Now I love reading. Mrs. Medalen makes learning fun and she teaches us tricks to help us learn math. Oh, and she loves having dance parties.”
Makenzie wrapped up the ceremony perfectly with these words: “Like Kid President says, she makes everybody feel like somebody.” Thank you to Mrs. Medalen, her fellow four finalists and every teacher and educator in our state for making all of our students feel like somebody.
- Article and photos by Kelly Hagen, NDU Communications. Video and photos by Tom Gerhardt, NDU Communications.