Educators make the world a better place. That was the theme of a unique recognition banquet honoring teachers and classified staff of the Mitchell School District at the Mitchell Career and Technical Education Academy on Wednesday.

In a room full of co-workers, friends and family, Mitchell High School Principal Joe Childs presented the Teacher of the Year Award to Dina Vander Wilt, a kindergarten teacher at L.B. Williams Elementary, and the Classified Staff of the Year Award to Kristina Allen, a paraeducator at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary.

Nominated by fellow teachers, students and staff, an emotional Dina Vander Wilt stepped up to the podium where she spoke highly of the people she works with, passing off much of the credit to others. Her colleagues recognized Vander Wilt with a standing ovation and a long round of applause.

"All my friends expected me to win, but I didn't," Vander Wilt said. "My staff is amazing and I couldn't have done it without them."

Vander Wilt has been teaching for 21 years and has worked in her current position for 13 years.

Allen, who is in her sixth year at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary, described her work with special needs children as the highlight of her life.

"Receiving this award is very humbling," Allen said. "I am honored to be recognized by the school district. I love what I do and I love the kids and it's such a rewarding profession."

Childs made it a point to thank the entire staff and awards committee, as well as the event's organizers, students of the culinary school and food workers who decorated the room and served hors d'oeuvres.

"Before continuing to the awards, it is important to also recognize Lisa Heckenlaible, who put this event together," Childs said. "Because of her efforts, everything looks and smells as good as it does here."

Other nominees for the teacher of the year were Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary School physical education teacher Jeremy Borgan, Longfellow Elementary School band teacher Mary Krell, Mitchell High School English teacher Carli Flemmer and Joe Shepardson from Mitchell Middle School.

Nominated for classified staff of the year were Mitchell Middle School librarian Keith Christensen, Mitchell High School administrative assistant Donna Ellingson, L.B. Williams Elementary School custodian Gary Hieb and Longfellow Elementary School food service manager Debra Lunder.