Kris McCarthy, seventh-grade American studies teacher at Westwood Middle School, has been selected as Spring Lake Park Kraus-Hartig VFW Post 6587’s Citizenship Education Teacher of the Year.
McCarthy is one of 26 post-level winners in the state.
“It’s an honor to be recognized by the VFW,” McCarthy said in an interview. “They do so much for the community.”
McCarthy will be honored for teaching citizenship education topics and promoting American history, traditions and institutions at a banquet Jan. 3 at the Kraus-Hartig post. At that time a district-level Teacher of the Year winner will be named among the 26 VFW posts statewide.
“Without her help, we wouldn’t be able to keep our charter,” said Don LaCroix, Spring Lake Park VFW post commander.
The national VFW organization mandates posts to participate in the Patriot Pen scholarship program, which McCarthy has tirelessly promoted over the years.
Usually, between six and 12 students from her classes step up to write an essay related to Americanism. This year’s essay theme centered on “What I would tell America’s founding fathers.”
LaCroix said McCarthy was selected for her participation for the last three years in the Patriot Pen program.
The VFW Teacher of the Year and Patriot Pen programs are part of the organization’s mission to work with the community, school, churches and local government, LaCroix said.
In addition to promoting participation in the Patriot Pen program, for citizenship projects, McCarthy invites veterans into her classroom to speak to her students. They might be World War II, Vietnam or Korean War veterans.
“They’ve been a great resource for us,” McCarthy said. “I think it’s important connecting the present with the past.”
In other patriotic activities, her students have written letters to soldiers in Afghanistan. She connected the lesson to the World War I home front and how people wrote letters to loved ones serving in France.
For Halloween, her students donated 50 pounds of candy to troops also serving in Afghanistan.
“Overall, Kris is an excellent teacher, whose engaging methods of teaching help material stick with students long after seventh grade is over,” fellow Westwood Middle School teacher Tricia Miller said in a nomination letter.
As VFW Kraus-Hartig post-level Teacher of the Year nominee, McCarthy has received a check for $100. She plans to use it for a toy and games drive her students are holding for Alexandra House, shelter for battered women and children in Blaine.
As a tie-in to the toy drive, her classes are studying the Great Depression and how people depended on others during trying times.
“It’s an opportunity to help out,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy is in her 10th year of teaching at Westwood Middle School. In 2011, she was named Spring Lake Park District 16’s secondary level Teacher of the Year.
McCarthy graduated from the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, with a bachelor’s degree in social work. She earned a master’s degree in teaching from Bethel University in St. Paul.
The VFW organization names Teachers of the Year in grades K-5, 6-8 and 9-12.
This year, Kraus-Hartig received no nominations at the local post level for the elementary and high school level Teachers of the Year, according to LaCroix. He welcomes citizens to step up and nominate a teacher for the 2014 program.
“This year Kris was heads above everybody nominated,” LaCroix said of the middle school teacher nominees.
The 2013 district winners will advance to the state level. A state VFW Teacher of the year will be named the end of January at the VFW’s Midwinter Conference in Minneapolis. The national Teacher of the Year winner will be named at the 114th VFW National Convention to be held July 20-24 in Louisville, Ky.
Elyse Kaner is at [email protected]