Although the 2019-2020 school year has not exactly gone as planned due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that did not stop the Fillmore County Journal and the sponsors of the Teacher of the Year Award from presenting a very deserving educator, Gerri Nielsen, of Fillmore Central Schools, with the Golden Apple Award for Teacher of the Year 2020.
Nielsen grew up in Rushford, Minn., and graduated from Rushford High School, and then began working toward her career in teaching. Since graduating from Winona State in Winona, Minn., she has been living her dream of teaching students, for 24 years.
Nielsen teaches eighth, ninth and 11th grade English to Fillmore Central students who genuinely appreciate Nielsen and the hard work she puts in, while at the same time maintaining a sense of humor.
Her positive energy makes coming into class something that her students look forward to and it seems to rub off on them as well, which creates a wonderful learning environment for all of the kids. So, it is easy to understand why Nielsen has been nominated for Teacher of the Year four consecutive years.
The surprise Golden Apple presentation took a bit of skill this year as school is not in session, so fellow teacher Becky Mueller came up with a plan. She asked Nielsen to go for a walk — then she told Nielsen she would like to see her recently built deck, which was the ruse to get Nielsen to walk by her own driveway where the presentation was going to happen.
“I didn’t even think anything about it,” says Nielsen, “because we are trying to do some physical activity, get outside when we can to get away from the computer screens for awhile,” during the day.
Nielsen was very surprised when she saw people standing in her driveway, which included Jason Sethre with the Fillmore County Journal, Principal Heath Olstad, Superintendent Richard Keith and others.
Within seconds, a drive-by parade took place, which included the Harmony Fire Department, the Harmony Ambulance, Fillmore County Deputies and many friends and family who honked their horns and cheered from their decorated vehicles, congratulating Nielsen.
Along with the Golden Apple Award, Nielsen received some very nice items. For the fourth year in a row, the Fillmore County Journal has been fortunate to have generous sponsors for the Teacher of the Year Award.
These prizes include a $500 gift card donated by Harmony Foods, Preston Foods and Rushford Foods, Daniel Boone Green Mountain Grill donated by Ody’s Country Meats & Catering of Spring Valley, Minn., and a La-Z-boy recliner donated by Drury’s Furniture of Fountain, Minn.
“I can’t wait to get that plugged in and cooking some different things and trying out some new recipes — that will be awesome,” says Nielsen. She will be using her gift card at Harmony Foods very soon as she says, “I go in the store all the time and you know how it is, you go in the store for one thing and come out with 20, so I will definitely be able to use up that gift card for sure — that was wonderful,” Nielsen comments.
Nielsen looked very comfortable in her new recliner and said “I’ve never had a recliner and I’m excited about having that — that will be really, really nice,” she notes.
It is obvious how much Nielsen cares about her students and the school, but those who know her best know how much she truly loves the community of Harmony as well. She has been on the Harmony Ambulance crew for 23 years and is very involved in the community in many ways.
“We have so many good teachers in our building, both in Preston and Harmony buildings K-12, we have a lot of good teachers they just can’t go wrong no matter where they go, they have a good teacher — they have fantastic paras — they have so many people in the buildings that care about them and want them to be their best,” notes Nielsen, adding “I am not just the one teacher here, it’s all of us that make their year special and their year good.” And, she wants to recognize each and every one of them.
A few of the comments about Nielsen from those who nominated her include: “She is very easy to talk to and is very flexible. She is always in a good mood which makes it easier to learn in her class.” “She is loved by all the students. If a student ever has a question she will do the best of her ability to help them succeed.” “Ms. Nielsen is undoubtedly the most outstanding English teacher a student will ever come across.”
“She’s an excellent teacher,” states Olstad, saying, “It doesn’t matter what day, what time of the day, she’s always working on her schoolwork and being there for her students,” which the students see and appreciate. “The effort she gives day in and day out, year in and year out is second to none,” remarks Olstad.
When asked her top three things about being a teacher, Nielsen got emotional, saying, “I just love having the humor that we have in our classroom, joking around and having fun with the students — it’s one thing that we all really miss right now,” as she had to take a moment to compose herself, it’s easy to see how much she and all the teachers miss their students.
“I love to see someone who is struggling, or not sure, or lost a little bit, about something and then all of a sudden when you work on it, and you work on it a little more, and then you work on it just a tiny bit more and then they finally get it and they have that “Ah-ha” moment — that’s really rewarding for the students and for teachers I think,” states Nielsen.
She also loves that it is like a big family saying, “Good and bad everybody knows everybody -—we have so many connections in a positive way to help each other out through tough times,” which is what we are all experiencing right now.
Thank you Gerri Nielsen — Fillmore County Journal Teacher of the Year 2020!