FARGO – Leah Juelke, a Fargo South High School language arts instructor who helped her students tell their immigrant stories to the world, has been named North Dakota’s Teacher of the Year for 2018.

The award was announced by Gov. Doug Burgum and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler in a ceremony Thursday in the school’s gymnasium.

“I’m kind of still in disbelief. This is amazing,” Juelke said immediately after the ceremony. “I am truly honored.”

Juelke said it’s important for people to learn about different cultures.

“I’d like to encourage people to be open-minded, and to know that diversity is a wonderful thing,” she said. “By being educated more about other cultures, it just opens a lot of doors. And getting to know our neighbors is very important.”

Juelke has taught at Fargo South since 2013 and was named the Fargo School District’s 2017 Teacher of the Year in March.

She is a 2001 graduate of South High and a North Dakota State University alumna.

“Every teacher in North Dakota can create a love of lifelong learning, and encourage the kind of courageous curiosity that will help our students succeed in a 21st century economy,” Burgum said. “It is with tremendous gratitude that we thank Leah for her role inspiring students to learn more about themselves - and the world around them.”

Juelke’s varied international teaching experiences show her openness to diverse perspectives, and a willingness to learn more about the world of her students, Baesler said.

“Mrs. Jeulke is genuine. Her students sense that. They understand that. They respect that,” Baesler said. “And Mrs. Juelke’s willingness to go the extra mile is essential in helping her students to learn.”

Juelke was one of five finalists for the award. The other finalists were Heather Jane Tomlin-Rohr, a kindergarten teacher at Louis L’Amour Elementary School in Jamestown; Sandra Evenson, a sixth-grade science teacher at Cheney Middle School in West Fargo; Thomas Klapp, a science teacher at Northern Cass High School in Hunter; and Lynae Holmen, who teaches special needs, and deaf and hard-of-hearing students at Longfellow Elementary in Minot.

Juelke considered a career in education after joining the Minnesota Army National Guard as a medic during her second year at college. She originally intended to complete a nursing degree, but her Guard unit was deployed overseas, leaving her back home and responsible for training new recruits. Juelke said she found the role fulfilling and realized she “was making a difference. At that point, I decided to change my major from nursing to teaching.”

Juelke’s resume includes working as a long-term substitute Spanish instructor with the Moorhead School District, teaching three years at a private school in Ecuador, teaching for a year at a school in Taiwan, and teaching for a year at a middle school in Colorado. She also volunteered at a rural school in Costa Rica. And she’s trained teachers in Tanzania on a method for teaching English to non-native speakers more effectively.

Three years ago, Juelke began a writing project called “Journey to America” for her immigrant students at South to help them strengthen their ability to write English, and to assist the students’ teachers and peers to better understand their backgrounds and cultures.

The students wrote about growing up in refugee camps, hiding under beds while their villages burned, and having family members killed in wars. Anthologies of the Fargo students’ “Journey to America” stories have been published.

That project led to 31 South students’ stories being included in a new book, “Green Card Youth Voices: Immigration Stories From A Fargo High School,” published by Green Card Voices, a Minneapolis nonprofit.

Juelke earned a master’s degree in education from North Dakota State University in 2012. She was a medical specialist and training instructor in the Army National Guard from 2003 to 2008.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

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