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Olson ’16 receives prestigious teaching award

Barry McNamara
Amy Olson ’16 gives instruction to her physical education class at West Central Middle School in Stronghurst, Ill. In her first year, Olson has earned an Outstanding Beginning Teacher Award from the Illinois Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.
Amy Olson ’16 continually draws on the knowledge she gained at Monmouth College.

And with her Monmouth education fresh on her mind, Olson did so well during her first year as a teacher at West Central Middle School in Stronghurst, Ill., that she received an Outstanding Beginning Teacher Award from the Illinois Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

“While Amy was a student in our teacher education program, she consistently showed herself to be conscientious and dedicated to excellence,” said Assistant Professor of Educational Studies Michelle Holschuh Simmons. “We were confident that she would be an outstanding teacher. We are so proud that she has already distinguished herself in her first year of teaching, and we are confident that she will have a positive impact on her students throughout her teaching career.”

Olson, who teaches physical education at the 170-student school, said she has drawn a great deal on her Monmouth education during her first year in the classroom.

“One of the main lessons I learned was from Dr. (Sean) Schumm,” she said. “I had him for ‘Exercise Physiology,’ and we always had all sorts of questions for him. I remember him saying a lot, ‘It kind of just depends.’ That translates to, ‘Every situation is different and you have to be able to adapt.’”

From Schumm’s kinesiology department colleague Kari Shimmin, Olson learned about “being creative in the classroom,” as well as understanding the importance of fostering relationships with her students.

While a student at nearby United High School, Olson knew she wanted to attend college, but she wasn’t sure where. She especially wasn’t sure what to study, or where it would take her professionally.

Being recruited to play athletics at Monmouth helped with the first choice. Her high school pitching coach, the late Jeff “Fluff” Tyrrell, was on the Fighting Scots’ softball staff her freshman year, and Shimmin recruited her for volleyball. As Olson began to seriously consider her academic options, she realized she was drawn to teaching physical education.

“My high school P.E. teachers (including Lisa Gartelos and former Fighting Scots coach Dennis Mann) were big influences,” said Olson. “I fell in love with P.E. because of them, and I realized I would like to give back, like they did for me.”

That led Olson to major in kinesiology at Monmouth, with an emphasis on physical education, as well as a second major in Spanish. She graduated cum laude, with departmental honors in physical education.

At West Central, Olson said she has received a lot of support from her co-teacher, Josh Harris, a nine-year education professional.

During her first year as a teacher, Olson helped lead an initiative that raised $600 to purchase a new volleyball standard for the school. The West Central student council recently allocated the P.E. department funds to buy pedometers.

“I’m really running with that,” said Olson. “We got them kind of late in the year, but I’ve been thinking about all the ways we can use them next year – things like class-to-class competitions for having the most steps, and a challenge to see how long it will take the school to do the equivalent of walking around the world.”

Olson said she had a rewarding first year in the classroom, and receiving the beginning-teacher honor helped make it even more memorable.

“When I got the first email, I thought, ‘Oh, this is the kind of thing they send to everybody,’” she said. “But then I realized there was something to it, and I asked my principal (Julia Burns) to write a recommendation letter for me.”

Colleges can nominate their students every four years.

“So many good teachers come out of Monmouth College, so I didn’t even think I had a chance,” said Olson.

A few weeks later, she was proven wrong.

“I had told my mom about the nomination, and I remember being on the phone with her after I got the news. I said, ‘Mom, you’ll never believe this. I actually got it!” she said.

Olson and Burns attended a ceremony this spring in Springfield, where she officially received the honor.