Teacher ‘shocked’ by honor

By Jason Arndt

A year after Wheatland Center School garnered its first recipient of the Kohl Teacher Fellowship, the school received another on March 20, when middle school science teacher Megan Zirbel was selected by a committee for the Herb Kohl Education Foundation Teacher Fellowship.

Megan Zirbel

The Kohl Foundation Fellowship program, created in 1990 by then-U.S. Sen Herbert Kohl, looks to recognize teaching excellence and innovation in Wisconsin.

Winners of the Kohl Teacher Fellowship, according to the foundation, were selected based on their ability to inspire a love of learning in their students, ability to motivate others and dedication to leadership and service inside and outside the school.

Zirbel, credited by District Administrator Marty McGinley for guiding the school’s Project Lead the Way curriculum from the start, has been an instructor at Wheatland Center School for seven years.

“She truly leads by example, and while some talk about what needs to be done, she rolls up her sleeves and gets to work,” McGinley said. “She has played a critical on our leadership team, in curriculum development, as a mentor to others, and as yet day to day gets tremendous results in the classroom.”

“Finally, she is incredibly kind, and truly works to get better every day,” he added.

Zirbel was just one of 100 educators to receive the award in 2018. Awards in the amount of $6,000 will be made to the teachers and their schools.

For Zirbel, meanwhile, she was stunned when she opened the letter to discover she won.

“I was shocked, honored, and humbled. It was a great time of reflection on the people that I have had in my life that have helped me to be successful, from family and friends, to former teachers, co-workers, mentors, school leaders, and the incredible community that Wheatland is,” she said.

Second in a row
As a school, the honor is its second straight, followed by Kandi Horton last year.

The second straight honoree, according to McGinley, is a testament to the school’s dedication toward student achievement.

“Wheatland teachers have a tremendous focus on students on it goes well beyond the school day,” he said. “One of the major factors in the selection process for the Kohl Fellowship is what the teacher does both within the classroom and outside of the school day to continue their teaching and expand opportunities for students.”

While McGinley acknowledged teaching is a challenging occupation, he said well-established teachers often go beyond what is expected of them, noting they contribute their “time, energy, and love to students in the hopes they can make a difference.”

Zirbel said the school’s second straight honor is indicative of a strong team-oriented staff which focuses on the needs of each student attending Wheatland.

“Each staff member, no matter position, at Wheatland works hard each day to ensure that all of the needs of students are met,” Zirbel said. “We worked as a ream to look at the whole child, be sensitive to their needs, and strive to do our best each day to benefit the families of our community and make them proud.”

Additionally, according to Zirbel, Wheatland staff looks out for another, noting they offer constant motivation.

“In mind, we push each other to be innovative, creative, and responsive to the needs of our future generations,” she said.

Equally inspiring
Project Lead the Way, a STEM-focused curriculum, is designed to allow students to learn through self-exploration and discovery.

The students journey through self-exploration and discovery, including trial and error experiments, has been inspiring to Zirbel.

“I am inspired by their creative ways to tackle a problem. I am in awe with the way they embrace a challenge,” she said. “It is the moment when all of their hard work pays off and they have a finished product.”

“Being able to celebrate their success is fun, but my favorite part is asking them questions to further their thinking, to watch them dive more deeply into the problem and to share in their struggle as they find a solution.”

Through her seven years at Wheatland, where she has seen students grow, Zirbel has developed a strong bond with other staff and the Wheatland community.

“What I love most about Wheatland is that it is more than my job, the students, the staff, the parents are my extended family and I am so blessed to get to work in such a dynamic place with even more amazing people.”

Zirbel will receive her award during an April 14 ceremony at Monona Grove High School.


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