LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Connie Michael

Position: Fifth Grade Teacher
School: Crow Agency Public School
School District: Hardin School District
City, State: Hardin, MT

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Music that Describes Connie

Connie Michael was nominated by her spouse, Ed Michael.

"For the last 30 years, I have watched my wife give her heart to thousands of students. Connection is her priority," said Mr. Michael. "In all of her years of teaching, she has taught students from challenging homes, students who are new to the country, and students with special needs. Every year, she takes the time to learn each student's interest. If she doesn't know about the topic, she learns it. She has learned about her students' favorite teams, watching football and basketball games to be able to talk with them about it. She has learned about everything from bull riding to ballet. Connie goes to her students' games and dance recitals.  Connie has learned Spanish to better meet the needs of her families and students, and she's currently working on learning the Crow language at her school."

Mrs. Michael uses a project-based learning style that works best for her students who are culturally tied to the land. Every year, students are asked what problem they want to solve in their community, and they work throughout the year to try and solve it. Mrs. Michael has received grants and partnered with state universities and local organizations in order to give the students agency in solving problems in their community. Often times, students in her class are underestimated and misunderstood.  She has given them the opportunity to talk about these misunderstandings on a national level. Her class received 3rd place in NPR's Podcast challenge, when students had the opportunity to talk about misconceptions and tell the county they are just like other students their age, loving video games and pizza.

There aren't many opportunities on the reservation, and Mrs. Michael brings in resources to expose students to careers and education they might be unaware of. Her students learn that although others think they live in poverty, they actually have it pretty good. Students in her class have helped sponsor children in other countries through UNICEF, providing them with food packets and clean water. Students use physical activity to earn points which turn into donations. After discovering clean water problems in other countries, the students began looking at their own water issues. For the past three years, her classes have worked to test their water, learn about where the pollution is coming from, and come up with solutions. Using robotics, the students have gone through the engineering and design process to begin to figure out how they can solve the problems in their own backyard. 

In addition, the community is considered a food desert. The nearest grocery store is 15 miles away. This doesn't seem far, but many students' families do not have vehicles. Students have worked to build hydroponic gardens and grow healthy food for the community. Mrs. Michael has inspired her students to be climate conscious as they tackle ths issue of food waste and trash in their town.

Mrs. Michael has been recognized as Environmental Teacher of the Year for her state, as well as the recipient of the Bob Thompson Excellence in Energy award. She is the author of the NEA Microcredential on Diversity, Equity, and Acceptance, and she mentors new teachers in the state of Montana. She sees herself as a learner; she never stops taking classes and finding out new ways of exciting her students and meeting their needs. Mrs. Michael has given her students confidence in their abilities to do anything. She inspires them to be advocates for themselves and their culture.