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Dedication sets BHS teacher apart

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Brainerd High School science teacher Nicole Harmer (left) embraces student Jessica Frank after Harmer was recognized Thursday as 2017 Brainerd Teacher of the Year. Frank was one of two students who nominated Harmer for the award. Steve Kohls/Brainerd Dispatch2 / 2

In the spring of 1991, Nicole Harmer graduated from Brainerd High School.

Thursday, she was recognized as 2017 Brainerd Teacher of the Year.

Andrea Rusk, BHS principal, and Chris Kelly, Teacher of the Year program coordinator, surprised Harmer Thursday afternoon with the announcement and a bouquet of flowers during one of Harmer's classes.

Harmer was honored during her Advanced Placement Seminar class. This is the first year the class is at BHS and there are only five AP Seminar courses in the state of Minnesota. The course asks students to investigate real-world issues and present solutions. Thursday, students were presenting their arguments to the rest of the class.

"It's not content- or curriculum-based, but they get to explore what they're interested in and they learn that process," Harmer said. "I didn't learn to do that until I had a master's degree."

Harmer wanted to bring the AP Seminar course to BHS in order to expose students to high-level reading, research and communication skills, she said. Students need to learn how to collaborate and communicate in order to excel, she said.

"I saw this as being the one way to tie in everything that they were doing in the classroom," Harmer said. "But bring it that step forward to 21st century skills."

Harmer had a wonderful experience when she attended BHS, she said, and knew when she went into teaching, she wanted to teach at BHS.

"To give back to my community and try to get the next batch of young people inspired to go forward," Harmer said. "I wanted to do it in my own community."

This is Harmer's 20th year of teaching at BHS and over the years, she said she saw the teachers who won Brainerd Teacher of the Year as role models to aspire to, but didn't think she would win the award. She would see what those teachers did to excel and incorporate those qualities into her own teaching.

Harmer's compassion is one of the reasons why she is a role model in education, Superintendent Laine Larson said.

"There's no more wonderful profession in the world," Larson said. "And to be recognized as a leader in this field is an honor beyond honors."

The high school is filled with excellent teachers, Rusk said, but what sets Harmer apart is the hard work she put in to bring the AP Seminar course to BHS.

Two students in Harmer's AP Seminar course, Jessica Frank and Eli Duininck, nominated Harmer for the award. In her nominating statement, Frank wrote about how Harmer puts all of her energy into making sure her students are the best they can be. Harmer's level of preparation for her AP Seminar class is unparalleled, she wrote.

"She is organized beyond belief and makes you want to go to class," Frank wrote. "I, as well as the rest of the class, can see the dedication she puts into her job everyday."

Because the AP Seminar class is new this year, Harmer completed more than 60 hours of training for the class, Frank wrote. Harmer routinely spends late nights and weekends preparing for class, Frank wrote.

"I do not know how she manages to keep her life all together with all that she has on her plate," Frank wrote. "Most of all, Mrs. Harmer is one of the most kindhearted people you will ever meet."

Harmer puts a lot of effort into teaching, especially in her Advanced Placement Seminar Class, Duininck wrote in his nominating statement.

"Her hard work has made the class a great experience, and her teaching and support have made success possible," Duininck wrote.

About 25 teacher were nominated for Teacher of the Year, with 12 opting to complete a questionnaire on their thoughts about education, their dedication to their students and preparing students for the future. A community selection committee evaluated those 12, and a release noted all the nominees were outstanding and singling out one teacher was very difficult.

The community selection committee was made up of Amy Borash, Kaylo Brooks, Dan Hegstad, Gary Bradshaw and Kari Frisch.

Statements from the committee indicated Harmer's "phenomenal zest for the subject she teaches and her complete adoration for her students" set her apart from her peers. It was telling Harmer's nomination came from two of her students, one committee member noted.

"Her unbridled enthusiasm for the profession was inspirational to me," one committee member wrote in a news release. "I can't imagine how profound it would be if I were lucky enough to be one of her students."

The Brainerd Teacher of the Year program is sponsored by Education Minnesota Brainerd with support from Brainerd Public Schools. The Teacher of the Year also becomes a candidate for Minnesota Teacher of the Year.

Spenser Bickett

Spenser Bickett covers the Brainerd City Council and education. A native of the Twin Cities, Bickett attended the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he majored in journalism with a minor in political science. After graduation, he worked for the International Falls Journal as a staff writer before coming to Brainerd.

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