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Crosby teacher wins Innovative Teacher of the Year award

Allison Larsen is the technology and innovation teacher at Cuyuna Range Elementary School in Crosby and earned a $1,000 grant for her classroom.

Allison Larsen holds giant check with a surprised expression on her face.
Allison Larsen, the technology and innovation teacher at Cuyuna Range Elementary School in Crosby, was surprised Thursday, May 12, 2022, with the 2022 Innovative Teacher of the Year award from Innovative Schools Project. Larsen earned a $1,000 grant for her classroom, where she works with students in kindergarten through sixth grade.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
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CROSBY — She built the plane while flying it.

That’s how Cuyuna Range Elementary School Principal Kurt Becker describes Allison Larsen. Formerly a fifth grade teacher and a technology coach, Larsen worked as the school’s technology and innovation teacher for the last five years, essentially building a science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, or STEAM, program from the ground up.

She works with students in kindergarten through sixth grade, implementing elements of STEAM into their education. And she does it so well she won the 2022 Innovative Teacher of the Year award from Innovative Schools Project.

“It’s so exciting. It’s amazing,” Larsen said after being surprised with the announcement during a class Thursday, May 12.

A nonprofit working with the Region Five Development Commission and Sourcewell, Innovative Schools Project aims to inspire innovation in students by providing matching funds or grants to public school classrooms within the five-county region of Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd and Wadena. The nonprofit works to remove financial barriers to educational resources and materials that promote hands-on, experiential learning.

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Last year, Innovative Schools Project started the Innovative Teacher of the Year award, recognizing a teacher who has demonstrated innovative practices with students. The award comes with a $1,000 grant for the winning teacher to use in their classroom.

“I’m going to put the money to good use, continue to do innovative things, I’m excited,” Larsen said.

Clark Marshall, board chair of the Cuyuna Lakes Educational Foundation, nominated Larsen for this year’s award.

“What she’s done has had a remarkable impact and visibility, I think,” Marshall said, noting Larsen undoubtedly played a role in the school’s honor as the inaugural 2018 STEM Innovation Award winner from the Minnesota Elementary School Principals’ Association four years ago.

“She also participates in educational conferences throughout the country,” Marshall added. “... She passes on her knowledge and experiences to others, which is an important part of what she does.”

Allison Larsen stands between two students, using a computer.
Allison Larsen works with third grade students Emily Hurdlik, left, and Lily Kleineck Thursday, May 12, 2022, in her classroom at Cuyuna Range Elementary School in Crosby.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Over the past five years, Larsen looks back on a lot of 3D printing projects that have been popular with her students, along with laser engraving, ukulele building , circuitry and coding.

“It’s really valuable for them,” Larsen said of teaching students STEAM subjects early on in their education. “Especially because some students don’t thrive in the traditional classroom. This is something that they can excel at and I want them to be exposed to all different types of STEM concepts so that maybe if that’s something that they’re interested in, they could pursue it into their high school years and then beyond because it’s something they’re good at and something they might not normally figure out in a traditional classroom.”

For more information on Innovative Schools Projects and its available grants and programs, visit ispmn.org .

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More by Theresa Bourke
This week's holiday feature is "A Killer's Christmas in Wales" by Elizabeth J. Duncan.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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