Denise Allen, a first-grade teacher at Langford School, has been named the State History Teacher of the Year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
"I was surprised, shocked and excited all at the same time," Allen said last week.
The award honors elementary teachers and secondary teachers on alternating years.
Harlan Heitz, a guidance counselor and science and math teacher at Langford School, nominated Allen.
"He sent me an email and I read about it and initially thought that it sounded like a lot of work," Allen said. "I really didn't expect to win."
Allen had about one month to complete the application.
Teachers must have at least three years of teaching experience and demonstrate a commitment to teaching American history. Upon nomination, they must also submit a resume, get a letter of support, write an essay on their teaching philosophy and submit a sample lesson plan and a sample of an extended student project.
"I submitted all the information and put it in the back of my mind," Allen said.
She was notified at the end of March of her award.
"I was just so shocked when the email came," she said.
She said she immediately emailed Heitz about the good news. She said it wasn't official until she saw a congratulatory note on the South Dakota Department of Education's website.
The Sturgis Brown High School graduate said she has always been interested in history.
Teaching is her second career. Allen worked for United Airlines for 16 years.
Allen graduated from Northern State University in 2009 and has worked at Langford School since then. She taught fifth grade for a year and this year will be her fourth year of teaching first grade.
Her favorite historical figure to teach about is Abraham Lincoln.
She incorporates science and math into the history lessons. During the unit, students complete a lot of Lincoln-related learning activities.
Lincoln was 6 feet 4 inches tall and Allen traced the figure of a Langford basketball player onto paper so students could measure themselves against his height.
"There are fun ways to learn about history," she said.
They also built cabins out of Lincoln Logs and attempted to read using primitive light of the time.
"I enjoy being with the little ones," Allen said. "I didn't know what elementary students would be like, but every day is a challenge and something new."
Students don't yet know about Allen's award, but she took pictures of their projects submitted with Allen's application.
Allen believes history is incorporated into every subject area.
"There's an emphasis on testing language arts and math, but history and social studies are just as important," she said. "I think I teach it throughout the whole day."
Allen's state award comes with a $1,000 award and a collection that will be presented to the Langford School library in her name. The school will also become a Gilder Lehrman Affiliate School, which means additional teaching resources will be available to teachers.
As the state winner, Allen is eligible for the National History Teacher of the Year award, which will be awarded in the fall.
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