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NRHS teacher gains state honor

When Ann Scharfenberg opened an e-mail from the Wisconsin Council for the Social Studies, she thought it would be about her application to present at a convention -- instead it was a letter announcing she was selected as social studies teacher of the year.

"I was shocked," she said.

Scharfenberg, who has taught at New Richmond High School since 1994, knew she was being nominated for the award, but didn't think she had a chance.

"It's one of those things where you get nominated to get your name out there, then they watch you for a few years to see what you do," she said. "This was the first time I had been nominated, so I didn't think I would get it."

The nomination came from Brian Schultz, interim dean for the College of Business and Economics at University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

"I got to know Ann about eight years ago," he said. "I knew she was doing some good things and from the teachers I know, she's outstanding."

Scharfenberg's enthusiasm and dedication to her students are what make her stand out, Schultz said.

"She really goes above and beyond," he said.

Three teachers are honored as distinguished teachers of the year -- one at the elementary level, one at the middle school level and one at the high school level. In 2008, Valerie Elzinga, of Valkers High School, was honored with the award.

"This is great recognition," Scharfenberg said of her award. "But at the end of the day it's about the kids."

That dedication and commitment is what landed her the award, Schultz said.

"She's just great and she uses practical examples that allow her students to relate the techniques to their lives," he said.

Scharfenberg said her way of teaching is not unique at NRHS.

"We have quality staff here," she said. "The things Rachel Sauvola is doing with the ag department, our tech ed department, Project Lead The Way... we also have some of the strongest AP content in the state - and that's just the stuff I know about. I think it's a great reflection on the district and the community."

Scharfenberg said it's an honor that any teacher from New Richmond was chosen.

"We're almost considered more a part of Minneapolis than we are of Madison," she said. "I'm out of the loop in a lot of ways."

Being in the northwest corner of the state makes it harder for teachers to get recognition from their peers in Milwaukee and Madison, she said.

To be considered for the distinguished teacher of the year award, teachers must meet several qualifications. According to the WCSS Web site, teachers must:

• Be a full-time teacher teaching k-12 social studies.

• Be recognized by colleagues as an excellent social studies teacher.

• Utilize social studies strategies that foster inquiry and development of social studies.

• Have an ongoing interest in improving his/her knowledge and skills in social studies instruction.

Improving herself is something that has always been important to her, Scharfenberg said.

This summer she plans to attend classes at the University of Delaware in pursuit of a Master of Arts degree in economics and entrepreneurship for educators.

"I'm always trying to improve myself and be better," she said.

When the social studies teacher isn't in the classroom, she's serving on the Council for Economic Education - with economic study tours to Russia and economic curriculum writing in Romania; coaching the economics challenge team; is an AP reader for economics; presenter at the Wisconsin Council for the Social Studies Convention; UW-River Falls and Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College consortium; is leading the drive to bring a financial branch to the new high school; and working with her students to tap into renewable energy sources at the new high school.

Jackie Grumish
Jackie Grumish has been a reporter with the New Richmond News since 2008. She holds degrees in journalism and fine art from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill. Before coming to New Richmond, Jackie worked as the city government reporter at a daily newspaper in Aberdeen, S.D. 
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