Since she began teaching at the Mitchell School District in 1981, Cheryle Aslesen has had a hand in preparing young people for their first steps into a larger world. She has guided students from the head of her classrooms and has helped develop progressive programs that enhance the educational experience of both students and teachers.

And she was recently honored for her work in those areas when she was inducted into the Honored Women Educators of South Dakota.

“It’s always a nice honor to know that your hard work is recognized, and that you are rewarded for doing what you love,” Aslesen said.

Formerly known as the Annie D. Tallent Club of South Dakota from 1954 to 1993, the organization honors women who have been outstanding in their field of education and have given distinctive service. Educators are invited to join through a nomination process of current members.

Aslesen was presented her membership at a meeting of the organization in Faulkton recently, and while she said she is honored to be included among her fellow members, she was focused last week on getting her classroom ready for the 2019-20 school year at L.B. Williams Elementary School, where she teaches one of the 1st/2nd multiage classrooms in the district.

A graduate of what was at the time Huron College in 1980, Aslesen helped develop the program for the Mitchell School District. The concept brings students of first or second grade age into a single classroom to help them develop academic and social skills with children of different ages.

“Multiage is a philosophy of learning. You can have two to three grades together. It has academic and social benefits. Children can work at their own individual levels,” Aslesen said. “And we have the kids for two years, so half of them move on and half will be new, that way we build student relationships and family relationships.”

Students who may take longer to learn something have the benefit of an extra year in the class and can pick up where they left off the previous year and make continuous progress, Aslesen said.

“And the kids that are at a higher level will be able to progress to whatever standards,” Aslesen said.

Aslesen said the class concept is an option for parents who feel their child may benefit from the teaching and learning style. The program has been up and running in the Mitchell School District for 24 years, she said.

“And it’s growing. We have two first and second grades and two third and fourth grades. And it’s the parents’ choice,” Aslesen said.

Aslesen also helped launch the Mitchell School District Begindergarten program, a type of class for children who may need a little more guidance before entering a full kindergarten program.

“(Students) have to be kindergarten age and ready to go there, but it is set up for children that may be lacking in social or emotional skills. They just need another year to get schooling under their belt,” Aslesen said.

That program has been running in Mitchell under various names for about 27 years, Aslesen estimated.

In addition to her full-time teaching duties, she also teaches Math 150, a class for future educators, at Dakota Wesleyan University, preparing the next generation of teachers for their time at the head of the classroom.

“The class is undergrad students who are going into the educational field and helps them strengthen their skills so that they are prepared for the tests they have to take,” Aslesen said. “I enjoy it because I love what I do. My passion is teaching, so it doesn’t matter if it’s first grade or second grade or college students.”

Aslesen earned her master’s degree from South Dakota State University in 1986 and has been active in the South Dakota Education Association and Mitchell Education Association for years. And her time working with her fellow professionals has given her perspective on the changes in education and how those changes can affect the goals of a teacher. Finding the best ways to incorporate ever-evolving technology is one part of that, she said, but making sure students can utilize what they’ve learned in a real-world environment is key.

“The main thing we want for our students is to be able not only to learn the required skills, but also to become thinkers so that they can take information with them and to be able to take the skills they’ve learned and transfer them into any life situation,” Aslesen said. “We want them to be able to think beyond the basics. I think technology is great, but it should never be a tool to replace innovative thinking.”

Aslesen said she has no plans to retire anytime soon, as she takes too much pleasure in teaching her students and working with her colleagues to provide the best educational experience she can. That, as in past years, will be the goal of the 2019-20 school year, as well, she said.

“I feel that we have, in our district, a lot of good teachers. And it’s always exciting to be able to share and learn from each other,” Aslesen said.

As for new teachers just starting out? She recommends taking their own passion for the work and channeling it into the classroom while keeping an eye out for innovative methods.

“It’s a lot of work, because it is challenging. And you have to be open to always changing and improving and looking for those new techniques and strategies that will better education,” Aslesen said.