- Associated Press - Saturday, March 29, 2014

MCCOOL JUNCTION, Neb. (AP) - “My opinion basically is - Mrs. Nickels is the best teacher in the world,” said Aja Jones, a fourth grader at McCool Junction Public School.

Lori Nickels, fourth grade teacher at McCool, was honored for being the Nebraska Rural Community Schools Association (NRCSA) teacher of the year in Kearney last week.

“I am honored just to know that the Mustang family nominated me,” Nickels told the York News-Times (https://bit.ly/NVm5O3). “It is a bonus that I was selected out of so many deserving candidates.”

Nickels won the award after more than a decade’s worth of educating youth at McCool.

“Lori makes sure her kids learn,” said Teresa Kapperman, McCool’s guidance counselor. “She doesn’t just teach.”

NRCSA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the needs of rural schools and communities. Since 1981, NRCSA has been committed to protecting the well-being of public education and implementing its mission of providing quality education for all children.

NRCSA consists of 180 school districts and ESUs in the state working together to support and promote quality educational programs for students in rural Nebraska. NRCSA members serve the interests of more than 67,000 children in 87 counties and 24 legislative districts.

Nickels was nominated for the award by school district. Dr. Curtis Cogswell, McCool’s superintendent, said only he and a few other staff members were first made aware of her receiving the award. In fact, Nickels did not know she was named Teacher of the Year until they called her on stage.

“So many people were involved in keeping it a secret and getting her to the event,” Cogswell added.

He said Kapperman had Nickels convinced they would be attending a writing conference similar to the one they attended earlier in the year. Other McCool staff members, like Mindy Mertz, picked up Nickels’ sons, Jeremy and Jameson, from York Public Schools so they would attend, too. They, along with others close to her, attended the ceremony but were asked to stay out of sight until the award presentation so Nickels would not suspect anything.

“It was neat to look over and see the look she gave when she saw her friends and family there,” Cogswell added.

Nickels nearly thwarted the plan when a dental issue arose. She told Kapperman she may have to opt out of the writing conference she thought she was attending.

Kapperman said she was glad to see Nickels power through the dental pain to make the trip to Kearney.

“I didn’t suspect a thing,” Nickels said.

She credits her success in the classroom to an outstanding support system found in McCool’s school board, administration and staff.

“It’s not one person alone, but the teamwork of many who make others shine,” Nickels added. “I also have the aid of skilled paras, resource personnel, an excellent counselor, office support and .”

Cari Farley is Nickels’ para and said her time spent inside the fourth grade classroom has been rather pleasant.

“I’ve never heard a bad thing about her,” Farley added.

Nickels is quick to reciprocate the feeling by saying, “Cari is my right hand, I can’t fully express all she does for me.”

Her enthusiasm for teaching stems from the fact she believes every child has the potential to do great things. Nickels said she especially enjoys watching and guiding children to reach their goals. This is most notable when they have struggled but did not give up. At this point Nickels often tells them to just keep trying, that it’s OK and whatever they are struggling with will come.

“You can tell she puts a lot of work into her teaching,” said Eliza Lott, one of her fourth grade students. “She gives us potential.”

The potential she provides to her students is seen in the comments they are quick to share about her teaching method.

“When you’re really stuck on something, she’s there to help,” McKinzy Miller said.

“She encourages us and she is nice,” ShiAnn Houck said.

“Mrs. Nickels is a nice teacher because she helps us with math and science,” Madi Stacy said. “My favorite part of the day is when she reads to us.”

“She gives awesome hugs,” Carryna Light said.

“When some people don’t get math, she explains it and helps us with re-dos,” Tyleigh Kirkpatrick said.

“She’s a great teacher because she lets us do fun stuff like field trips,” said Jake Hoarty.

“When we’re nice we get to watch educational movies and eat in the room,” Noah Jensen said.

Nickels said she gives children the opportunity to do things like eat in the classroom and watch educational movies because it’s a way for them to enjoy themselves while they are learning.

Even though she is excited about the award, Nickels readily admits it was a group effort. “I have said it before - it takes a village to raise a child and we have that in our school community.”


Information from: York News-Times, https://www.yorknewstimes.com

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