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For Angela Engelhardt, connecting with students comes through a passion for conservation

  • Building Community

For nearly 20 years, science teacher Angela Engelhardt has used the important work of animal conservation to inspire and guide her students. In doing so, she’s become a leader and a role model to students and teachers alike at Burnsville Alternative High School (BAHS). 

Since 2007, Engelhardt has embarked on nine overseas trips, volunteering and teaching with various conservation groups. She brings back to her classroom what she has learned in the field, giving students a small glimpse of the efforts involved in protecting animals and their habitats and the impact that work has on a global level. 

Each year, Engelhardt works with a group of students on a global action project to support an animal conservation organization. She steps aside, though, and lets her kids take ownership of the project, from choosing an organization and learning about its work to creating presentations, visiting classrooms and fundraising for the organization. Her students become school leaders in the process. They encourage their peers to participate and donate to organizations like Free to Be Wild (Zimbabwe), WIRES and the Animal Rescue Craft Guild (Australia), Appalachian Wildlife Refuge (United States), La Senda Verde (Bolivia), Wildtracks (Belize), Sloth Sanctuary (Costa Rica) and Colobus Conservation (Kenya).

“I love watching kids connect with a project. You can watch them really feel pride in what they are doing,” said Engelhardt. “They feel good about having an opportunity to make a difference and have a positive impact. All of these small acts add up and help create meaningful learning experiences for the students.”  

Making connections, building skills through conservation projects

The projects allow students to build on their leadership and organizational skills. They use their creativity to design posters and flyers. They practice their public speaking skills when they share with other classes what the project is about. Students brainstorm and develop ideas on how to tackle the project, and they collaborate to form a common goal. As their project develops, students tap into their compassion and empathy. Students are empowered when they are encouraged to assist in the creation of something for the greater good.

Engelhardt finds it extremely rewarding to watch students step into their strengths. 

“What really amazes me is when formerly disengaged students approach me about starting a project or wanting to work on a project,” said Engelhardt. “Something just clicks and they make a connection. I am also very humbled by their generosity.” 

“I love the variety of ways Ms. Engelhardt teaches us about the awareness of what's going on in animal life,” said BAHS student Tessa Antilla “She's so passionate about what she teaches and I find that very inspiring!” 

BAHS Principal Kelly Ronn said: “Angela is a very dedicated teacher at BAHS. She has created many opportunities for students to fundraise for science related organizations and is truly a lifelong learner, always embarking on new and exciting projects and professional development.” 

Engelhardt continually implements new and innovative instructional practices and differentiating instruction to meet each student's individual needs. She is willing to try new techniques and strategies to keep students engaged, working hard to ensure they are successful.  

As the school’s AVID professional developer, Engelhardt implements AVID strategies every day in her classroom to help her students build skills that they can use throughout all of their classes and in the real world. The strategies she teaches help prepare students for greater academic rigor as they move through high school and begin thinking about college or post-high school plans. 

“Angela goes above and beyond every day in the lessons she teaches,” said Angela Sloneker, friend and colleague. “She establishes positive relationships with her students and many of them keep in touch long after they graduate. They look to her as a role model!” 

“I have a really deep appreciation for the sense of community we create at BAHS. We are small so you get to know many of the students that you don’t necessarily have in class,” said Engelhardt. “I really love how it feels like it is something that we just innately do as a staff. It starts with just greeting kids each day as they get off the bus or enter the classroom. I think it is important to really work on building relationships with students so they develop trust.”  

Another colleague, Amy Kirchner, said: “Angela builds relationships with students that last a lifetime. They know they can count on her support while a student at BAHS and after as they navigate the world of adulting.” 

The teacher becomes the student

Students have helped shape Engelhardt into the educator she is today. They have challenged her in ways that have allowed her to grow and learn, but they have also softened her. She has gained a better understanding of her students and meets them in a place of compassion. 

“Every student has their own story and their own reason for landing at BAHS,” said Engelhardt. “I love the diversity of our student body and the opportunity to work with students who did not experience success in a mainstream school.”

Engelhardt wants her students to know that she sees them and believes in them. This helps create a safe space for students to attend, make mistakes and grow. 

“I know I have to dig a little bit deeper to learn more of their story, but they have taught me how important those authentic connections are.”

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