By Jason Arndt

Rachel Hartley

The Herb Kohl Educational Foundation Teacher Fellowship has been awarded to a teacher for three consecutive years at Wheatland Center School, with Rachel Hartley as the latest recipient of the honor.

She was just one of 100 educators throughout the state to receive recognition in 2019, according to a school announcement. Winning teachers and their schools receive $6,000.

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.

Hartley, a middle school language arts teacher, said the honor helps accomplish a wild dream she has envisioned for the last few years.

“It was a surreal experience to see an email from the Kohl Foundation on (March 4) beginning with congratulations,” she said.

“I’ve had some wild dreams for Media Lab, my eighth grade elective, for the past few years that would require some equipment and resources that I don’t currently have in large enough numbers.”

The wild dream, she said, intensified last summer when she took a group of middle school students to a Click Youth Media Festival in Madison, where they worked with PBS mentors to create short features about current events.

“Watching the incredible work that these kids could produce in just one day really made an impression on me,” she said. “I wanted all of my students to have access to these tools, so it was worth it to submit an application in the hope that we could get a little bit closer to that vision.”

According to District Administrator Marty McGinley, Hartley has played a critical role in preparing students for high school and beyond. He credited her innovation and use of technology as an extension of her instruction.

“Rachel is able to speak the language of her students in text or technology because she is a multi-media consumer herself. Students see her as a genuine source for connecting their learning to their world,” he said.

Three straight
Hartley follows Wheatland colleagues Kandi Horton and Megan Zirbel as Kohl Fellowship winners.

She believes a team-oriented atmosphere, along with a supportive administration and School Board, as key components to the school’s recent string of winners.

“Wheatland is just such an incredible place, and you can feel it in the atmosphere from the moment you walk through the doors,” Hartley said. “Everyone you work with is truly invested in learning and reflective about their teaching.”

Additionally, the support extends beyond the confines of Wheatland Center School.

“We have a supportive School Board that puts students first, and we have fantastic family and community investment in our school. It’s just an inspiring place to be on so many levels.”

Early inspiration
Hartley, who hails from Iowa, taught in New Glarus her first four years in Wisconsin before she began her tenure at Wheatland about eight years ago.

She found the inspiration to teach within her childhood home.

“My mom, Margie Ryan, is a great elementary school teacher who inspires me, and although my dad, Greg Ryan, didn’t ultimately decide to work in education, he is a natural teacher who has always placed a high value on the profession.”

Hartley indicated her middle and high school teachers intensified her passion for the profession.

Initially, she admits she only wanted to write, attending Interlochen Arts Academy for creative writing before she studied writing and journalism at Beloit College.

“My parents urged me to double-major in education. I took their advice, even though I didn’t intend to become a teacher at the time,” she said. “It was the student teaching at McNeel Middle School in Beloit that really hooked me.”

Since then, she believes teaching has given her a great purpose, and has found joy in the profession.

“I love working with my students. Middle school students are some of the most fascinating people I know,” she said. “They are at a developmental stage where they’re really discovering who they are and how they fit into the world.”

Hartley will receive her award at a March 24 ceremony in Sun Prairie.

Wheatland Principal Drew Halbesma said Hartley’s achievement is a testament to her work ethic.

“The Kohl Fellowship recognizes only the best, and Rachel is very deserving. She lives teaching in all she does and creates connections to literacy across multiple content areas, making learning relevant for her students.”


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