LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Sara Medalen

Position: Title I Reading and Math Teacher
School: Sunnyside Elementary School
School District: Minot Public Schools
City, State: Minot, ND

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Sara Medalen was nominated by her principal, Cindy Cook.

Cook has worked with Ms. Medalen for the past 18 years and has always been impressed by her passion for teaching and learning, as well as her compassion for children. She is an exceptional Title I teacher who has used her position to make an impact on the lives of hundreds of students and staff.

Ms. Medalen sees each child as a puzzle and lovingly brings the pieces together to create a beautiful picture. Her gift to children is that she allows them to see a glimpse of the picture and find the beauty in themselves. She empowers children by teaching them about reading, math and how to become lifelong learners. Ms. Medalen takes time to develop positive relationships with students and respects each child’s individual needs and learning styles. She is empathetic, yet maintains high expectations for each child.

As a Title I teacher, her role includes communicating with staff frequently to discuss student concerns and progress. She works closely with teachers to coordinate interventions and is highly respected by staff and parents. She is continually working to create a caring, respectful environment by modeling the behaviors that she expects from staff and students.

Ms. Medalen is always willing to try something new or spend the extra time in order to make a connection with students. Her latest adventure is opening a shop called "Books and Braids."  She has been a CLC tutor for many years and has recently created a morning reading group. Children can make an appointment to see her in her “shop”.  They spend several minutes reading to her while she braids their hair. This provides some tender loving care that can make any child’s day.

"Teaching is often a high energy and often stressful position, but Sara knows the value of taking care of herself," Cook said. "She is able to come to work every day ready to care for others because she takes care of herself. She models a healthy lifestyle for others by spending time teaching muscle pump class, enjoying time with friends and valuing the moments with her family. It is a privilege to nominate Sara for this award."



Comments (27)


Sharon Snowton Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Medalen, I read your story on Life Changer of the Year web with your Strong Girl, Strong World video. Thank you and your students for the wonderful things you are doing for the children of Haiti. ???? You and your students are so inspirational! I also am an educator, and my motto is "We come to school to learn and leave school to serve", you have taught that belief to your students. It warms my heart to know your students too want to carry on the legacy of helping the world to be a better place. Kudos to all of you. May God always bless you for the wonderful work you are doing with the students in your care. Keep up the good work!

Janet Salyards Posted over a year ago

I had the privilege of working with Sara for 10 years. I have since moved to Utah. I was thrilled to see an article about her in my NEA Magazine. Over the years, Sara has worked to foster relationships and help her students make connections with the written word. Her new endeavor, allows students to practice their reading while she helps them with their self-esteem. Students who feel good about themselves have more confidence to try to do hard things. I am thrilled that she has been put up for this award. There is no one who deserves it more.

Sarah Presby Posted over a year ago

Sara is a volunteer mentor in the Companions for Children youth mentoring program. She has committed one year of her life to spending 4 hours or more per month with her mentee. Sara has been matched with her mentee since August of 2017 and continually comes up with creative and fun ways to spend time together. They have been active in the community by going swimming, out to eat and having movie dates, to name a few. Sara has proven to be a reliable and accountable mentor who is easy to communicate with and we are honored she chose to volunteer in our program! Thank you, Sara! Mission: Companions for Children provides youth with a one to one relationship to increase their opportunities in life. Vision: Companions for Children youth will have a better opportunity to become emotionally healthy, productive adults in our community.

Tauni Jean-Georges Posted over a year ago

Sara has been partnered with my daughter Jolesa through the Companions for Children program for the past while now. It has been the absolute best match and one of the best things for Jolesa as she struggles with ADHD, DMDD, is in ELL, and is HOH. With Sara being such a great Title 1 teacher she knows how to defuse certain situations before they start and how to get through to Jolesa. Sara also used to be very involved in gymnastics which is so awesome because Jolesa hopes to someday take lessons, so Sara gives her tips. Before Sara was having visits with Jolesa there were many more fits every day, we are so incredibly blessed to have Sara in Jolesa’s life! She has already been a “Life Changer” to our family through our lovely daughter Jolesa. Thank you Sara! Forever you have our thanks!

Staci Kenney Posted over a year ago

This bio is the tip of the iceberg in regards to the impact Sara has made on the community and in so many children's lives. My first interaction with Sara was a high energy, passionate idea to place "My Little Free Libraries" at all of the schools within the Minot Public School District, and additional ones in the community. For those unfamiliar with "My Little Free Libraries", these are standalone libraries that are constructed, looking similar to a bird house, and put up outside different businesses. Inside each one is a selection of books that any community member can take to read. The concept is that people will take a book and replace it with another one. This was highly successful when started at the Elementary School where Sara works, so we were thrilled to take on this project with her when she wanted to make it accessible for everyone in the community. Sara's ability to excite others about a project and feel her passion is the reason that she deserves the Life Changer award. Sara's mission is to truly change the life of one child at a time, and in the short amount of time that I've known her, it is clear that she has already made a huge impact in our whole community. Congratulations to Sara for this amazing nomination, and know that we are all so proud to have someone like you in our community!

Jayne Fuhrman Posted over a year ago

Congratulations, Sara. From this bio, it is certainly clear you deserve this award. Good luck.????

Britany Miller Posted over a year ago

The saying, "They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel" is how Sara Medalen approaches everything she does. She is all about building relationships, not only with the students she works with, but with her co-workers and even people in her everyday life. Sara strives to make every person feel special and loved and is leaving a path of kindness wherever she goes. She is changing lives every day. Lifechanger of the Year is lucky to have Sara as nomination!

Norma Bachmeier Posted over a year ago

I cannot think of anyone more deserving. Her smile and vivacity create an instant change when she greets you. I have great admiration for her. Congratulations Sara!

Rachelle Fimreite Posted over a year ago

Sara Medalen is a tremendous teacher who has always gone above and beyond for the kids she serves. She readily shares her knowledge and enthusiasm with other educators to promote a love of learning and educating children. Mrs. Medalen embodies the term “life changer” and has shown us what excellence in education can really mean.

Lynae Holmen Posted over a year ago

I love the name of this award, and I love that Sara was nominated. Sara is a ball of passionate energy when it comes to kids. She sees each child as the blessing they are, and she blesses them with kindness, creativity, and “arms wide open” love.

Patrice Mitchell Posted over a year ago

Sara brought her children to swimming lessons with me. A mother that stayed and watched her children the whole hour. She took pride in them than and continues to. This summer Sara brought an underprivileged child to the outdoor pool for some fun. She got into the water an spent quality time with them. Sara is very deserving of this award. Thank you Sara and Mrs. Cook.

Kim Phillips Posted over a year ago

I have known Sara for more than 20 years and she is definitely a "Life Changer"! Her friendship means the world to me! Her creativity and out-of-the-box ideas are always benefiting others...especially children. Sara's positive energy is contagious to everyone around her. She has such a wonderful sense of humor with many stories to tell that warm the heart or make a good laugh. Her conversations with strangers make it look as though they've been longtime friends. Sara is such an inspiration to so many people.

Mark Berntson Posted over a year ago

I love Sara's story! What a fantastic way to connect with kids and give them something to look forward to while learning at the same time. Awesome lady!

Kelly Hagen Posted over a year ago

I had the extraordinary privilege and pleasure of meeting Sara Medalen for the first time when I interviewed her last year, in her classroom at Sunnyside, for an article I wrote about her Books & Braids program. https://medium.com/united-voices/books-braids-makes-big-impression-7f3e71fd09db I was just amazed by her from that first meeting, and she continues to absolutely floor me with her passion and dedication to education and her students. As a parent, she injected into me an enthusiasm for reading to my own kids every day. I can't thank her enough for setting such a positive impression for all of the amazing educators we have in the state of North Dakota, and for the work she does with her students. She is a LifeChanger. I know for a fact that the students she is working with now, and all those she's taught in the past, and the students who will walk through her classroom door in the future, will all grow up never forgetting her smiling face, positive attitude and the deep impact she's had on their development and their love for learning. She's changing lives, every day.

Nick Archuleta Posted over a year ago

Sara is clearly engaged in the teaching profession for exactly all the right reasons. She fully understands that creating strong, healthy relationships with students is a vital factor in ensuring their academic success. She continually models kindness, empathy and understanding that young people associate with trust. It is no wonder, then, that she is beloved by the students she works with every day. Forest Witcraft's assertion that, "A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove, but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child," applies equally well to Sara Medalen. She is important in the lives of children and they will be all the better for having known her.

Lori Mosser Posted over a year ago

Sara is an amazing member of Sunnyside staff. She is always coming up with new and exciting ways to interact with the students. Such as her role in the "Girl Power" and "Books and Braids" projects. She has a fun and energetic personality. The students are always so excited when she walks into a classroom. You never see Sara without a smile on her face and a friendly hello.

Shannon Routledge Posted over a year ago

I have taught with Sara for 10 years. Sara Medalen is the definition of a Life Changer. My classroom is next door to Sara's, and I witness everyday the impact she has on students and co-workers. Sara has the most amazing attitude. She is constantly thinking of ways to make students feel loved and special. She genuinely cares about each of her students. I am 100% sure her family, friends, and co-workers would also say the same thing about the way she cares for each of them. Sara goes above and beyond in so many aspects of her career and daily life. She is an inspiration, humble and kind in everything she does. I thankful every day that I have the opportunity to work with Sara, and most importantly, I am thankful to call her my friend.

Britt Valdez Posted over a year ago

Sara is a life changer in so many ways not only at her job but also in her personal life. Sara's upbeat and loving personality fills any room she walks into with warmth. You can just feel the love she gives to each and every one she meets. I have been Sara's coworker and friend for 7 years. She invests so much more than what is required of her in every student she works with. Sara has started a Books and Braids to encourage girls to read while making them feel great giving them a cute hair style before the day starts. She also has a girls empowerment group with 2nd grade girls in our school who have a special connection with some 2nd grade students in Haiti. She had t-shirts made for the girls in our school and also sent the same to the girls in Haiti. Sara will go have lunch with previous students who have moved to other schools to stay in touch with them and she will also welcome them into her family home to spend time with them. Sara is always looking for ways to boost morale around our school, to show our students what love feels like, and to make everyone feel they are important. My life along with everyone else life she touches is definetly better having her a part of it.

Amber Sluke Posted over a year ago

Sara is a life changer for many reasons. Sara has the most amazing connections with students. Any time you see her passing through the hall there are sure to be several kids following or running to her wanting to give her a hug. She is a powerful role model to young girls at our school by promoting her Girl Power project. Sara's mission statement is this is to "promote global literacy for all children, especially girls, to fulfill their potential and improve their future." I have been lucky enough to partner with her in this project. Sara comes into my second grade classroom to discuss the importance of girls empowering themselves. Through one of Sara's friends we are able to Facetime & write to girls in Haiti. Our girls learned that most girls there only go to school until they are seven years old. Sara organized for a local reading counsel to donate money so we could send over $200 worth of books to our Haiti friends because she believes that literacy is one of the keys to empowering young girls. We were also able to send over "Girl Power" shirts to our friends. Our girls have learned that girl power does not mean girls are better than boys, but that they are equal to boys. It has been so powerful to see these young girls learn that they, too, can be anything in the world if they believe in themselves. Our girls truly believe that "strong girls equal a strong world." Sara's positivity is contagious. She always has a smile on her face and an ear to listen. I always leave a conversation with Sara feeling inspired to do better. She is absolutely deserving of this Life Changer award.

Caitlyn Vogel Posted over a year ago

I have not been one of Sara Medalen's students, but she still inspires me each and every day. I have had many, many talks with Sara, and each time, I am truely inspired by the way she talks about everything, especially her career and students, with such care and passion. I strive to be as hardworking as Sara. I hope to be as excited as her to go to work each and every day. Sara did not start Books and Braids and her Girl Power Program because she wants to be recognized; She started them because she genuinely cares about each and every one of her students. I believe Sara Medalen is a natural "Life Changer of the Year" extending from the classroom. This award was made to recognize people like Sara Medalen. Sara not only is creative, enthusiastic and kind to each of her students and teachers, but she is encouraging, supportive and optimistic to everyone around her. Her positivity is contagious. Sara looks for the good in anything and everything, and I feel that is a quality of a role model that is vital for children to see. Sara Medalen is the type of person that will motivate you without trying. Sara has inpsired and impacted me as well as many others. She is an exceptional life changer.

Emily Medalen Posted over a year ago

Sara Medalen is a life changer for more reasons than this comment box would ever allow me to describe; so much so that I truly do not know where to start. Everything she does is for others, and she goes the extra mile for everyone but herself every single day. From taking in foster kids, to opening her classroom door for students before school hours, to starting a girl power movement... she has touched countless lives - young and old. Her "Books and Braids" reading program allows little girls to feel beautiful, while brushing up on their reading skills at the same time. Her "Girl Power" movement has left me speechless... teaching young girls that they are absolutely equal to boys and inspiring them to grow up and spread the message to women all over the world. All of the students at the school she teaches at have their own special bond with Mrs. Medalen. This is because she makes every single one of them feel important, empowered, and most of all... loved. Walking through a short hallway with her feels like it takes about 20 minutes because she gets stopped by so many kids that want to say hi and give her a big squeeze. She wants to see her students and children succeed, and directs them in the right direction to do so. Her heart is bigger than anyone's I've ever met.... and I'm barely scratching the surface with why. If you want to see more reasons why Sara Medalen is a life changer, click the links below. I promise, you won't be disappointed. http://www.scarymommy.com/teachers-books-and-braids-classroom-salon-promotes-literacy/ https://www.cbsnews.com/news/teachers-books-braids/ https://www.babble.com/parenting/sara-medalen-books-and-braids-program/ http://aplus.com/a/sarah-medalen-teacher-books-and-braids?no_monetization=true https://medium.com/united-voices/books-braids-makes-big-impression-7f3e71fd09db

Ann Guler Posted over a year ago

You don't have to 'move mountains' to be a LIFE CHANGER! You can be an ordinary teacher with a touch of 'extra' and a lot of PASSION! Sara Medalen has been my 'teacher friend' for over 20 years. She has shared amazing ideas with me that I have wholeheartedly accepted! Her love for ALL students is admirable! She believes in kids and goes out of this world to make sure kids believe in themselves. She has a unique way of setting them 'up for success' which we know all kids deserve! Her 'Books n Braids' reading program has gone viral! Can you imagine how this awesome program makes struggling readers feel? Their confidence SOARS sky high and that's a huge piece to developing successful readers! She has inspired many with her life changing ways such as Companions for Children / Little Free Libraries / Child Learning Center Tutor / Positive relationships with her community and with parents (we know it takes a 'village') and her list goes on ...! This is the recipe that I believe makes Sara a true 'life changing' person ... She is in love with her job and life! She brings a tornado of happiness to her school and her school families and to her own family! It all seems to easy and simple ... 'Change the world by being a warm ~ kind hearted ~ compassionate person.' That is Sara Medalen. She is a 'life changer' and a 'day maker' all the way around ... in my eyes and many many others!

Mark Medalen Posted over a year ago

Why is Sara Medalen a life changer? She always tries to help students in and out of the school. The week of Christmas this year, one of her students went into foster care and we helped the foster family out by having her spend time with us and that's not the first time we have helped her students out. Sara is a mentor for a girl for Companions for Children and spends time with her outside of school trying to help make a difference in her life. She worked with other teachers, students and groups to have over 20 Little Free Libraries built and put up at every elementary and middle school in Minot Public Schools and local parks so that kids would have free access to books. She started a small project called Books & Braids that grew quickly and went viral, she was on local and national news as well as featured in many different magazines. She goes to school early and gives kids extra special one on one time with her and at that time she is not their teacher but their 'stylist'. She makes her room feel like a salon and braids kids hair while they read to her. How do I know Sara Medalen is a life changer? Well, it's because she is my Mom and I've seen it all firsthand. She is passionate about making a difference in the lives of children.

Cindy Cook Posted over a year ago

This is why Sara is a Lifechanger!! Books and Braids Gives Students a Stress-Free Start to Their Day Before school starts Sara's not a teacher, she's a hair stylist, with open ears and arms. "Welcome to Books and Braids Salon!" She said she started Books and Braids to create a comfortable atmosphere for her students, a place that completely removes any pressure from a typical school day. http://www.myndnow.com/news/minot-news/books-and-braids-gives-students-a-stress-free-start-to-their-day/694220391

Alicea Hiller Posted over a year ago

Sara Medalen was always a shining face to see around Sunnyside. She is truly an inspiration to anyone who has ever had the pleasure of meeting her. While I never one of her students, I saw the way that she touched the lives of people around me.

Mitch Medalen Posted over a year ago

I’m biased because she is my Mom but we just found out about this because she said she didn’t want to be a self promoter. My Mom loves her job so much…lots of teachers do, but how many teachers actually bring their students home with them? A couple of years ago, one of her students was in foster care and the foster care family had a death in their family and had to leave the state. The foster system had such a shortage and the student had a good relationship with Mom so he came and stayed with us for three weeks. To this day he is like family to us. He has switched schools but Mom still goes and has lunch with him when she can. She goes to school early every day to braid kids hair while they read to her. Her Books & Braids program went viral and has had 42k likes and has been shared over 19,000 times - I think that makes her a Life Changer!

Anna Bauer Posted over a year ago

My name is Anna Bauer and I had the privilege of having Sara Medalen as a teacher my 4th and 5th grade year at Sunnyside Elementary in Minot, ND. Today I’m currently in my senior year of high school and 7 years after having Medalen as a teacher I can confidently say she made a huge impact on my life. She’s the teacher who not only teachers you your school work, but sits down and talks with students through their problems. She doesn’t just do the bare minimum to get through the day but goes above and beyond to meet each child’s individual needs to allow them to succeed and thrive. When I was at Sunnyside, she not only taught during the school day, but stayed after school and helped children, during Sunnysides after school CLC(child learning center) program, struggling with math and reading even after the school day. During my time there she was the only teacher who did that and the children would beg to go spend their afternoons/evenings with her. If that’s not a testiment to how her students feel about her I don’t know what is. Since my time at Sunnyside, Sara Medalen has also started “Books & Braids” which has gone viral and appeared on CBS news. Yet another way she has gone above and beyond for her students. Sara Medalen is a great role model and having her as a teacher changed my life.