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Montana Western alumna Rural Teacher of the Year

April 26, 2010

Not many teachers can say they used a sleeping grizzly bear as a teaching aid. Lydia Mild is a teacher who can.

Mild’s innovative approach to rural education just got some attention outside of the rural community of Dupuyer, Mont. where she teaches. A 2002 graduate of the University of Montana Western, Mild was just named the 2010 Rural School Teacher of the Year by the Montana Small School Alliance and the Montana Association of County School Superintendents.

When Mild was a student at Montana Western, the university’s block scheduling system was only an idea and several years away from reality. Regardless, Mild now uses that same experiential philosophy every day in her classroom at Dupuyer Elementary school.

“There is a lot of hands on teaching because of our size,” Mild said. “In Dupuyer, I have seven students in age from kindergarden to seventh grade.”

Teaching in a small rural school is nothing new for Mild. She was a student in a rural school and her mother was a teacher in a rural school. She performed her student teaching at Reichle school outside of Dillon, Mont. and then taught there for one year after graduation. Mild then moved to the Polaris school, also outside of Dillon, where she taught for three years. Though she follows a schedule, Mild said rural teaching also allows for a certain amount of wiggle room.

We are very flexible,” Mild explained with a chuckle. “You always leave time for teaching experiences that just show up, like the grizzly bear thing.”

In fall 2009, Mild and her class received word Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks trapped six bears near Dupuyer and were going to study the animals before releasing them back into the wild. When a Fish and Game official asked her if she would be interested in bringing her class to observe the process, Mild did not hesitate.

“I called the parents, who also happen to be the school board,” Mild explained. “In a short matter of time, we are up there taking temperatures of the sleeping grizzly bears, measuring paws, respiratory rates, watching them put chips under their skin and scan them.  Things like that are what are neat about rural schools. I wouldn’t have been able to do that in a lot of schools. You just don’t have the free reign.”

Mild will receive her award in White Sulphur Springs, Mont. at the annual banquet of the Montana Association of County School Superintendents on April 28. She will also represent Montana at the 2010 national convention in Missouri.