A South Dakota high school math and science teacher has been named the Monsanto Fund National Rural Teacher of the Year.
Paul Kuhlman has taught at Avon High School in Avon, S.D., for the last 21 years. He earned his undergraduate degree in biology education from North Dakota State University and two masters’ degrees in secondary administration and natural science from the University of South Dakota. He was the South Dakota Teacher of the Year in 2009, and he’s also won a 2011 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching. The National Rural Teacher of the Year award is sponsored by the National Rural Education Association.
In his application, Kuhlman wrote that he tries to show students how their perception of a rural community’s weaknesses can be strengths.
“For example, we have an older, three-story building which some people view as archaic,” he wrote. “Using this building, I can repeat Galileo’s famous experiment by dropping objects off the roof to show that for falling objects, mass does not affect acceleration.”
He uses the school’s small size to his advantage by working individually with both advanced and marginal students. He can push some students to choose complex projects while working closely with IEP teams to adjust instruction for special needs students.
“I expect all students to reach their highest potential, no matter what level that might be,” he wrote.
Kuhlman created the Avon Science Fair, which gave his students the chance to compete in events nationwide, and he’s worked with teachers of other subjects on projects. His students have been recognized internationally and nationally for participating or winning awards at the International Science Fair and the National Youth Science Camp.
In rural South Dakota districts, one teacher often is responsible for math and science instruction in grades 7-12. Kuhlman worked with the University of South Dakota, his school district and others in creating and teaching two-week summer courses to help those rural teachers.
His commitment to his students goes beyond the classroom. He’s led trips to Alaska, served as a prom adviser, and been a clock keeper at basketball games for more than 20 years. He’s also been a member and past president of Avon City Council.
One of the most heartfelt parts of his application were the letters of support written by his superintendent, colleagues, and former students. They said he’s changed the culture of the school’s science program and raised thousands of dollars in support of it, which is considerable given the fact that only 600 people live in Avon.
Kuhlman will receive the award at the 105th National Rural Education Convention and Research Seminar on Oct. 19 in Branson, Mo. He will receive a $2,000 prize, and his high school will receive $1,000.
Other finalists for the 2013-14 Monsanto Fund Rural Teacher of the Year were:
- Marlene Armstrong of Payson, Ariz.
- Allen Dickman of Wisconson Rapids, Wis.
- Karmie Henry of Judsonia, Ark.
- Janis Hert of Vincennes, Ind.
- Cindy Hild of Neligh, Neb.
- Colleen Overcast of Chinook, Mont.
- Steven Thompkins of Turtletown, Tenn.
- Ellen Weeaks of Buffalo, Texas
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.