Kate McNulty said a way she inspires students is modeling her own love of learning, which is easy because her students find ways to teach her something every day.

Connor Steinke organized a town hall event at Whitewater High School last year about heroin and opioid abuse. He wants to go into international affairs or public health because of the service aspects to those fields.

Carmen Behrens said the average middle schooler’s attention span is 10 to 12 minutes, so she designs her lessons to stay in line with that.

McNulty is a Spanish and speech/oral communication teacher at Whitewater High School, where Steinke is a senior. Behrens is a French teacher at Whitewater Middle School.

All three are 2018 Herb Kohl Foundation scholarship or fellowship winners from Whitewater. The foundation announced the winners March 20.

“Excellence Scholarship recipients have demonstrated excellence in the academic arena and high motivation to achieve, have displayed a broad range of activity and leadership outside the academic setting and have shown strong promise for succeeding in college and beyond,” the foundation announced.

“Fellowship recipients are educators who have been chosen for their superior ability to inspire a love of learning in their students, their ability to motivate others, and their leadership and service within and outside the classroom.”

Last year, Whitewater featured three winners too: Whitewater High School senior Mitch Dalzin and the Whitewater Middle School’s Rosalinda Martinez and John Schimming.

Teachers won $6,000 to spend at their schools, and Steinke received a $10,000 scholarship. Steinke plans to attend UW-Madison next fall.

The foundation announced awards to 100 teachers, 16 principals and 191 graduating high school students.

The foundation has invited the local winners to a recognition luncheon on Sunday, April 14, at Monona Grove High School.

‘The best teachers’

During a recent discussion of current events, McNulty said her students were more knowledgeable about the subject than she was.

Students are some of “the best teachers,” she said.

McNulty, who has been teaching for 25 years, works with Spanish Club and the Lead Dogs peer mentoring program, she said.

Equity and personalized learning are most important to her as an instructor, she said. All kids don’t learn the same, and she needs to discover what they need to thrive.

With her $6,000, McNulty said she wants to get flexible seating for her classroom. Some students are fidgety, or some would better learn at standing desks, she said.

Nothing is better for her as a teacher, she said, than when she looks at her classroom buzzing with students excitedly learning.

‘Everyone has a story’

Steinke saw a town-hall event about heroin and opioids in his native town of Johnstown and thought he should bring something to Whitewater.

“My eyes were opened,” Steinke said.

Last May, local police, prosecutors and medical examiners told guests of a Students Against Destructive Decisions event about how the drug epidemic was closer to home than people realized.

Service is important to Steinke, he said, as it’s the thread that connects a lot of pieces about him. Whether it’s his extracurricular involvements or his future plans, serving his community as his community has done for him is key.

Steinke praised the high school’s “amazing” staff. When he goes off to college next year, he said he will miss the school’s “close-knit community.”

“Everyone has a story,” he said.

‘The pillars’

Keeping in mind her students’ short attention spans, Behrens said she gets students out of their seats and teaches them the real-life context of what they’re learning. This instills a love of learning, she said.

She, too, is a lifelong learner. Behrens said she pursues more licensures and attends extra workshops. She has a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction and participates in several world language professional organizations, she said.

Behrens knows her work affects students not just academically but emotionally as well.

“That awareness shapes everything I do as an educator,” she said in an email. “Student leadership, mutual respect, and academic excellence are paramount. I consider these to be the pillars of what I strive to achieve in my classroom.”

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