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Eitemiller named Mitchell School District Teacher of the Year

Mitchell native is a 21-year educational veteran

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Heidi Eitemiller, a physical education teacher at Longfellow Elementary School and a Title teacher at the Abbott House, was named the Teacher of the Year for the Mitchell School District Wednesday at a ceremony at the Performing Arts Center. (Matt Gade / Republic)

The Mitchell School District named a Longfellow Elementary School Teacher as the district Teacher of the Year Wednesday at a ceremony at the school's Performing Arts Center.

Heidi Eitemiller, a 21-year educational veteran who teaches physical education at Longfellow and Title I at the Abbott House, was selected from five nominees throughout the district. Also nominated for the honor Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary teacher Gina Gulledge, L.B. Williams Elementary teacher Katie Schroeder, Mitchell Middle School teacher Cassey Ver Hey and Mitchell High School teacher Darrel Anderson.

Also announced at the ceremony was the Certified Staff Member of the Year Award. Terri Juhnke, a teacher at L.B. Williams Elementary, was named the recipient out of the five candidates that included Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary’s Judy Miller, Longfellow Elementary’s Patricia Sides, Mitchell Middle School’s Laura Estrada and Mitchell High School’s Mary Eliason.

Junke, another 21-year education veteran, was not present at the ceremony.

Mitchell High School Principal Joe Childs, who served as host for the event, said the award was a way to recognize teachers who make a difference in the lives of their students through their work in the classroom and their guiding hands in developing the character of the next generation of citizens.

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“I know that in every case of success, there is a strong educator. An educator unwilling to accept mediocrity and with an absolute gusto for teaching students. There is a facilitator of inspiration and knowledge, and a leader of hope,” Childs told the audience. “In fact, for this year anyway, you are most importantly a leader of hope.”

The recent challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the changes and adjustments that were needed to adapt to a new way of teaching show that skilled teachers are more important than ever in their leadership.

“Each of our educators, during a chaotic time that began way back in March, were able to reframe any negative thoughts,” Childs told the nominees. “You all were able to take a scary moment and look at it in a different way. You delivered lessons face-to-face and virtually, and often both at the same time. You also delivered lessons over the telephone, or by making a recording, and some of you even delivered your lessons by foot.”

The adaptability the candidates continue to show despite the difficult conditions is a testament to their dedication to their students and education in general.

“I also know you showed grace. You adapted plans, made all sorts of accommodations, forgave honest mistakes and rolled with the flow,” Childs said. “You were that steady guide that out students and community needed.”

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Heidi Eitemiller, a physical education teacher at Longfellow Elementary School and a Title teacher at the Abbott House, was named the Teacher of the Year for the Mitchell School District Wednesday at a ceremony at the Performing Arts Center. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Eitemiller said her teaching career has been rewarding in numerous ways, including how students discover physical skills they may not have been aware they possessed or would enjoy.

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“The rewards I find in teaching are numerous! It’s excitement when someone learns to jump rope, or finally makes a first basket in the hoop,” Eitemiller said in a statement. “It’s all those excited smiles, high fives and hugs when they enter and exit the gym, or see me anywhere else. It’s seeing them help, encourage and cheer for others. It’s seeing them grow from (Begindergarten) to fifth grade and improve in coordination, skill and become genuinely nice kids.”

The Mitchell native studied at Black Hills State University after knowing early on in life that school was a place she enjoyed being, sharing time with young people who eventually become friends in addition to students.

“I grew up always wanting to play school and always had jobs like teaching swimming lessons or doing Kids Club,” Eitemiller said. “I just love being with kids and teaching. I knew that was the way to go.”

Being nominated for the Teacher of the Year Award was exciting and an honor, she said, and the announcement on stage that she had been selected as this year’s recipient was not expected, she said.

“I was very surprised,” Eitemiller said with a laugh.

Eitemiller said she misses each student who moves on from Longfellow Elementary School, but cherishes the time she gets to spend with them and realizes that she is where she wants to be — teaching students important lessons that will serve them in their high school years and beyond.

“I am so blessed to get up each day and do something I love,” Eitemiller said.

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teacher-of-the-year-eitemiller.JPG
Heidi Eitemiller, a physical education teacher at Longfellow Elementary School and a Title teacher at the Abbott House, was named the Teacher of the Year for the Mitchell School District Wednesday at a ceremony at the Performing Arts Center. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at ekaufman@mitchellrepublic.com.
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