Stephanie Luedi’s classroom at Polk County Middle School is testament to the passion she brings each day to her students.
Amid the usual science fare such as lab benches and the periodic table of elements are photos of nature scenes, live plants, an aquarium where trout are grown. Their presence is driven by Luedi’s love of the outdoors and her drive to create a “classroom of curiosity” for her students.
“I strive to be more of a facilitator in my classroom than the ultimate source of information,” Luedi said. “I really encourage my students to try to think about information on their own instead of just coming from me. I try to guide them to make sense of the information in their way.
“I have a passion for learning and understanding as much as I can about the outdoors and our environment. I try to encourage students to learn more about what they see around them. You can’t appreciate what you see unless you understand it.”
Translating her love for science into a hands-on approach to encouraging and guiding students to develop that same understanding is just one of the reasons that Luedi has been named Polk County Schools 2018 Teacher of the Year.
One teacher from each school in the district was chosen as that school’s outstanding teacher, with a committee comprised of Polk County Board of Education representative Rhonda Corley, Director of Curriculum and Instruction Ronette Dill and 2017 District Teacher of the Year Jon Ezell interviewing each represenative as well as reviewing a submitted portfolio before choosing the 2018 winner.
Also earning teacher of the year selection at the school level were:
Polk County High School: Ashley Gilbert
Polk Central Elementary: Kelleigh Powell
Saluda Elementary: Stephanie Uhrich
Sunny View Elementary: Gina Kelly-Price
Tryon Elementary: Karen Prady
As the district teacher of the year, Luedi will next vie to be one of the state’s nine Regional Teachers of the Year. This selection process is led in each region by Regional Education Facilitators representing the Educator Effectiveness Division at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
“It is an honor to work with such positive, professional educators,” Dill said. “The 2018 Teachers of the Year are an incredible group of dedicated individuals who strive to meet the needs of Polk County students on a daily basis. These teacher leaders are to be commended for their accomplishments and passion for teaching.”
The district honor is especially meaningful for Luedi, a product of Polk County Schools. She attended Tryon Elementary and Tryon Middle School before graduating from Polk County High School in 2003. After earning an associate’s degree from Isothermal Community College, Luedi graduated from Montreat College with a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies and a minor in biology.
It was at Montreat where her interest in teaching began.
“I really developed a passion for teaching while attending Montreat,” Luedi said. “Students were encouraged to teach their peers information about the natural world around them.
“I did well and I liked it. A lot of people noticed and said, ‘you did really well, you should consider being a teacher.’ I’ve always enjoyed being around kids. Getting a boost in confidence in college, teaching my peers and doing well, that led me in that direction.”
The path returned Luedi to Polk County Schools, where she has taught for six years. She helps coach the school’s Science Olympiad team and also serves as an assistant coach for the boys and girls soccer teams. She is a common sight at sporting events and other activities on campus, usually surrounded by students.
The hands-on approach Luedi has taken with those students, fueling their curiosity, has made her class a popular one.
“The students come in asking me ‘what are we going to do today?’ because they are never quite sure of what they are going to get,” Luedi said. “My goal as a science teacher is to inspire students to investigate and appreciate the natural world around them. I encourage them to see how everything in the world is connected.
“I believe that this is the time to get students interested in the world around them. We discuss topics that we will rely on their generation to fix. The energy crisis, overuse of natural resources, habitat loss, biological diversity loss and degradation of water quality. I challenge them to understand the problems and to start thinking about solutions.”
Luedi hopes to continue to broaden student horizons and share her passions in Polk Cunty Schools for some time to come.
“So much of what I know about being a good teacher came from the many years that I was a student sitting in the classes of so many great educators,” she said. “The freedom and autonomy that Polk County allows its teachers to have, I believe, is the key to our success.
“We allow teachers to teach the way that they feel passionate about and this makes so many of our teachers successful.”