By Lauren Brown
Each year Harney County School District No. 3 honors the hard work of three Educators of the Year, one each from Slater Elementary School (SES), Hines Middle School (HMS) and Burns High School (BHS). The staff members at each school nominate and then vote on the honorees. The 2009-2010 Educators of the Year are: Stephanie Lardy, fifth-grade teacher at SES; Dave Mues, language arts/American literature teacher at BHS; and Diane Ashton Rollins, language arts/home economics teacher at HMS.
This is Stephanie Lardy’s fifth year teaching in the Burns-Hines school district, but her first as a fifth grade teacher at SES.
Born and raised in Harney County, Lardy is thrilled to be teaching in the very community that educated her. In fact, her kindergarten teacher was none other than Diane Ashton Rollins, another educator of the year honoree. Lardy and her husband, Chris, live in Hines with their two children, Carter and Trask.
Lardy knew she wanted to go into education early on. “I believe it was in third grade that I came home and told my mom that I wanted to be a teacher,” she said.
She went to college at Western Oregon University and completed her student teaching in Canby. She noted that students in the bigger cities are a lot different from the students here. “They didn’t do 4-H or any of that,” Lardy said. Rural communities seem to be closer knit, she commented thoughtfully. “They are always pulling together when someone is in need,” she said.
Lardy experienced this firsthand this year as she and her students have been fund raising for an overnight field trip to Salem. “I know this community has been fund raised to death,” she said. But even so, they had a large turnout for a spaghetti feed and Harney District Hospital gave them a grant of $250. So far they have raised $2,700, and in May the class is looking forward to two full days of sightseeing in the state capitol. Lardy said that they’ll also hit the High Desert Museum and the lava beds on the way back.
Another aspect of teaching in her hometown that Lardy enjoys is knowing the families of her students. Come parent conference time, she already has a rapport with the parents.
She is honored to be the Slater Educator of the Year and said it is a reflection of the great teamwork she experiences working with other teachers in her building. “It’s nice to be able to come back to a community I had ties with and where I had such a wonderful childhood,” she said.
As a freshman English teacher at Burns High School, Dave Mues enjoys introducing students to the plays of William Shakespeare, specifically “Romeo and Juliet.” It’s often their first immersion into the language of Shakespeare, and one of the ways Mues attempts to remove students’ blinders to show that there is a big world out there beyond what is in Harney County.
“One of the things I just remind my students of constantly is that those four years of high school go by so quickly,” he said.
Throughout those four years, he stresses the importance of having the ability to read, write and communicate with others, as well as exploring society and oneself through reading and writing.
Having grown up in Burns, it’s relatively easy for Mues to put himself in his students’ shoes. After graduating from Burns High School 1977, he went to Mt. Angel Seminary College for a year a half before attending Oregon College of Education in Monmouth. He intended on going into language arts and leaving Oregon altogether.
However, Mues’ life took an unexpected turn. After graduating from college, Mues was planning to go to Wyoming and Colorado for job interviews. However, he found himself stuck in Burns when he hit a horse on the highway, totaling his pickup.
He then happened to get a call from Jim Courtney, who was then the head of the Education Service District in Burns. Courtney wanted him to fill in for another teacher working with developmentally disabled students.
Mues spent the next 16 years teaching special education in Harney County. He then decided it was time to return to language arts, and he has been teaching language arts and American literature at Burns High School ever since.
Along the way, he met and married his wife, Debbie, who teaches in Burns as well. They raised two daughters, Emily and Sarah. He noted that it was a treat seeing his daughters grow up in the very school system he grew up in. “Hitting that horse was a fortunate thing in many ways. It changed my life,” he said.
While Mues feels it is a blessing to work in the same community he grew up in, he didn’t realize the full generosity and compassion of this community until October 2007 when his daughter, Emily, was severely injured in a car accident.
While Emily has miraculously recovered from her traumatic head injury, in the days immediately following the accident, things were touch and go. It was during that time that Mues said he and his family felt the love and support of the people here in Harney County. “I have such an appreciation for this community for what they’ve done for us,” Mues said.
As for his job at the high school, Mues is happy in his teaching position. “I made the correct career choice. I love my job,” he said. Mues also enjoys the camaraderie among his colleagues at the high school. “Any one of those folks could be named Educator of the Year,” he said.
One of Diane Ashton Rollins’ favorite classes to teach is home economics, where the focus is on sewing and cooking. However, if HMS students think home economics will be an easy ‘A,’ they’d better think again. “I always tell them, if you’ve come to make cookies, try another class,” Ashton Rollins said with a laugh.
She likes home economics because it teaches students life skills. In addition to cooking nutritious meals and working within a budget, students make fleece hats, socks, quilts, aprons and pillowcases.
Ashton Rollins grew up in McCall, Idaho, later moving to La Grande and then went on to college at Western Oregon University in Monmouth when it was still called Oregon College of Education. In her 25 years with the Burns-Hines district, she has moved through the grade levels teaching kindergarten, first grade, third grade and now eighth grade language arts and Title I reading for all reading levels at Hines Middle School.
She and her husband have raised three boys, who have gone through the Burns-Hines school system.
To keep her students awake and motivated, Ashton Rollins said “I sing and dance.” When she taught kindergarten, she said the kids would sing along with her. Eighth graders tend to just sit and stare. “I think learning should be fun,” she said, noting that hand gestures and funny facial expressions help to make lessons more interesting.
Some activities she does with her Title I reading students include writing and illustrating their own books and readers’ theater. She encourages her students to branch out and try new genres.
Ashton Rollins is proud that her fellow teachers named her Educator of the Year at the middle school. “As a team, we’re all educators of the year,” she said. “It’s a team effort.”