Sara Medalen’s classroom is a family — with one giant heart.  

“We have to reach the heart before we can teach the mind,” Medalen said. “And I really believe in curiosity and I think that learning needs to be joyful and I tried to bring that in every single day to this room.”

Medalen, a Title 1 teacher at Sunnyside Elementary in Minot, was named a finalist for 2019 North Dakota Teacher of the Year.



You may remember her Books and Braids program. It’s part of her mission to empower students of all backgrounds through literacy. Students read to her while she styles their hair.

“Kids really need to be listened to and understood before learning can happen,” she said. “And that one-on-one time also allows them a chance to just chat with me and have somebody really listen and understand and help build up their confidence. And I’ve seen a real difference in that.” 

The program has since grown to “Dudes and Do’s.”

“And, again, it’s not about the hairdo,” Medalen repeated. “It’s about the one-on-one time with a caring adult. And it’s it’s so it’s so fun. The boys like to read the joke books actually and what a great way for me to start my morning to just be able to hear jokes all morning and laugh with the kids so a lot of really magical moments happen in a lot of great memories are made in there.”

Medalen says she’s seen the power of books and how they can change lives and provide students with hope.

Medalen’s message and vision is representative of Sunnyside Elementary — to help all students achieve their dreams.

“Every single day that’s what we’re trying to do,” she said. “We are trying to give them hope to achieve their dreams and to work with the group of people that I do. This is not just me. For me to be nominated as teacher of the year. Every teacher in the school honestly has a huge part of this.”