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Innovative Educator: Mountain Home teacher named VFW National Teacher of the Year

For years, Lisa Russell has been teaching her first graders the importance of respecting and recognizing our veterans and active-duty military members.

MOUNTAIN HOME, Idaho — Editor's note: This content is sponsored by CapEd Credit Union

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra recently stopped by Lisa Russell's first-grade class at East Elementary in Mountain Home to make a big announcement. Russell had been named the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Teacher of the Year. Russell says it means so much to her to receive the award from the VFW.

"To just have a little bit of recognition from these people who have done so much for our country is just humbling and an honor," Russell said.

Russell is part of a military family. Her dad, husband and son have all served. She is a member of the American Legion Auxiliary. That, plus living in a town with a U.S. Air Force base, inspire her to pass her appreciation for veterans and active-duty military on to her first graders. She says 30 percent of her students are military children.

"Even in first grade, it's important that they recognize our country's history and what it means to be a veteran and how important democracy is," Russell says.

She passes on the appreciation through some fun projects, such as when the kids help prepare poppies for veterans.

"The kids unwind all the wire and take the petals and fluff them out just so they look presentable," Russell said.

They also stuff cookie bags for deployed airmen and make Valentines for Veterans at the VA home.

"They just think that's so special," Russell said. "They love giving to our veterans and our community."

Russell also holds a first-grade career day with several different professions, including the military.

"We want to recognize what they do, but we also want the kids to understand here's how STEM, the science, technology, engineering and math, play into the roles of what's happening in our military," Russell said.

She incorporates events with a deeper, more serious meaning, too. A Pearl Harbor survivor has spoken to her kids many times, and not just about the war and the trauma it caused.

"It's about recognizing differences, and that we were at war with the Japanese at that time," Russell said. "Now they're one of our best allies."

Veterans even teach the little ones American Flag etiquette and give them a small flag on a stick.

"And all the kids have to tell them this is never touching the ground. I'm going to put this in my room and take good care of it," Russell said.

Ultimately, Russell hopes the students ace the academics by the end of the year, but also that they take away fond memories of first grade.

"And that they've had positive relationships, they've had fun and they've had memorable experiences," Russell said.

VFW Post 5423 nominated Russell for the teacher of the year award. She wants to thank them for that, as well as for their service to our country and support of teachers and students.

If you would like to nominate an Innovative Educator, send us an email to innovativeeducator@ktvb.com.
Educators, for information on submitting an application for a classroom grant through the Idaho CapEd Foundation, visit www.capedfoundation.org.

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