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Gretchen Lee named Minnesota FCS Teacher of the Year


Gretchen Lee works with Badger student Brooke VonEnde. Having earned the state’s FCS Teacher of the Year award, Lee explained how making connections with her students is important to her. It helps her develop that foundation to build on within the classroom. (photo by Val Truscinski)

Badger senior Hailey VonEnde has gotten to know Gretchen Lee as her FCS (Family and Consumer Science) Teacher and as an FCCLA (Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America) advisor at Badger School. During that time, she has gotten to know what she considers an “amazing” person.

“She’s just a spark. She really does light up your day. She’s so spunky and fun to be around,” VonEnde said. “When she teaches, she really tries to… make it understandable in a real life way, which is exactly what FCS is about. It’s teaching you real life stuff.”

Badger School Superintendent-Principal Kevin Ricke wrote a letter in support of Lee for the 2022 Minnesota Association of Family and Consumer Sciences Teacher of the Year and this “spark” of a teacher earned this recognition.

Lee discussed her reaction to earning this award, her passion from teaching, and her teaching philosophy. VonEnde, Ricke, Badger Dean of Students Stacey Warne, and fellow Badger School Social Worker and her husband John Lee also highlighted their reactions to her winning this award.

Lee would earn a Bachelor’s degree in secondary teaching, specifically Family Ecology, from Central Michigan University. She would do some substitute teaching spurts here and there, while working part time at a department store. After her boss retired, she managed this department store.

Then, she got transferred to Minnesota and when she started her family here, she wanted to get out of retail. Her and her family would buy a house in Badger across from Gwen Borgen, former Badger School Superintendent. Lee would let Borgen know she had a teaching degree and would happily make the switch to teaching if Borgen ever needed her. That day would come.

“She (Borgen) contacted me the day before Thanksgiving, and said, ‘Her FACS teacher walked out,’ (and asked), ‘Would I want the job?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely,’” Lee said. “You ask anybody before Black Friday if they want out of retail, they’re going to jump on it. So that’s kind of where my journey officially began.”

Beginning her work at Badger School in 2005— the year her daughter Greta, who is now a senior this year at Badger School, turned one— she started as a part-time teacher in Badger and then after that first year, she began on as a full-time teacher. Once she started, she also took over the FCCLA position.

At Badger School, she teaches seventh to twelfth grade students in a variety of classes, as she will teach 13 different classes this year. Some classes she teaches include: an Orientation Class (seventh grade), FACS Exploration (eighth grade), FACS for Outdoors, Consumer Math (seniors), culinary classes, French, Future Choices, Senior Strategies, Interior Design, Housing Design, Life Skills.

Where does the passion for her job come from— one that led her to the honor she received? It comes from the subject matter and the students. She loves how each day is different and how the subject matter she teaches allows her much flexibility in meeting student needs everyday and providing them lessons they can use well beyond school.

“If we have a tragedy or celebration, we take time, and we acknowledge it, and we can turn it into life lessons,” Lee said. “I mean, these are skills that kids are going to use, so they’re practical, and they’re applicable to their daily living.”

They’re learning how to cook, how to manage their finances, how to pick out supplies for their first apartment, how to buy a vehicle, what a mortgage is.

“It starts just so small and it can just extrapolate out into the bigger picture for them, and they don’t realize it of course, at the time,” Lee said. “They’re just making cookies maybe, but when they go on outside of the (school) doors, they’re going to be able to function and survive… That’s why I like it is because it’s just hands on. They’re learning skills they’re going to actually hopefully use later on in life, plus food makes everybody happy.”

As for the award, she was shocked when she found out she had earned it, considering she is not from a metro area where teachers there have access to commercial kitchens and endless resources, and where some teachers focus on one area of teaching.

“Here, I’m running around doing lots of different things, so it was just an honor and a surprise because I didn’t even know about the award,” Lee said. “So I was nominated by other FACS teachers that I’ve networked with through FCCLA, and they were from the cities. So it was just like, ‘Wow, they take notice of what we do up here.’… It was just humbling, I guess.”

To see the complete story, read the October 27 issue of The Tribune in print or online.

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