Remarkable people, remarkable work

Today found me and photographer Michael Gallacher at the Early Learning Preschool at Jefferson School to interview Janice Nugent, who has been a speech therapist with Missoula County Public Schools for 41 years and is retiring in June.

Nugent has raised five children; advocated for people with disabilities; takes care of her brother, who has Down Syndrome, during summers; and earned her PhD in special education in 2011 at the age of 61. (“I wanted to prove that I could,” she said about writing a dissertation.)

After our interview, we followed her into a classroom, where she worked with a small group of students — in a coat closet.

The location seemed appropriate, she said good-naturedly.

“Speech therapists never have rooms,” she said.

It just reminds me how amazing the quality of work is that Nugent and others are able to do with limited resources.


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Educator Appreciation Weekend coming up at Big Sky

The snow is still coming down, down, down and the kids at my house are happy to play outside in it all day. Last night Willow rolled a giant snowball down the length of our street. Landon spent hours hard at work with a shovel building some sort of trail that winds through the yard.

The folks at Big Sky Resort want Montana’s educators to plan on spending some snow play time with them. They’re offering another Educator Appreciation Weekend from March 21-25 that includes discounts for teachers and their families. Kids 10 and younger ski free if their families are lodging at the resort, and educators get discounts on lodging and group lessons.


Educators are eligible to receive over 50% discount lodging rates at the slopeside Huntley Lodge, including breakfast, and save 15% on snowsport lessons. Identification of employment for education institution will be required at check in. Kids age ten and younger ski free when lodging with Big Sky Central Reservation properties and have free access with reservations at the Big Sky’s Kids Club.

In conjunction with the Educator Weekend, Saturday, March 22, is Big Sky Resort’s Sunset Saturdays when the Ramcharger chairlift stays open until 5:00pm. Friday, March 21 and Saturday, March 22, Jerry Joseph & Jack Mormons will be playing at Whiskey Jack’s.

To learn more about the Educator Appreciation Weekend, visit for more information.



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Educators invited to ski for free at Big Sky

For the sixth year, Big Sky Resort is hosting an Educator Appreciation Weekend. It’s Big Sky’s way of saying “thanks for the great job teachers and education assistants do for our children’s futures.”

It’ll be from Dec. 20-22, so that all you educators out there some time to plan for it. Stay at Big Sky on Friday or Saturday night, bring proof of employment at any educational institution, and get a free lift ticket on Saturday and Sunday.

Educators who opt not to stay at the resort can still get a half-priced lift ticket for either day for themselves and their family members. Plus, Big Sky is also extending discounts for educators interested in lessons, base camp activities or rentals.

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When students love their teacher/coach, and the teacher/coach has cancer, this is what can happen

Today – this afternoon – the Beavers from Beaverhead County High School in Dillon will face Billings Central for the Class A state football title. The game will be in Billings, and coach Steve Vezina will be there.

Word is that Vezina wouldn’t miss it for the world, even though he was recently diagnosed with prostate, colon and liver cancer, and he just returned to Montana from another round of chemo in Salt Lake City.

This guy is clearly dedicated to his students and team. And they are very clearly dedicated to him.

Yesterday, a five-minute video made by his students – actually, it looks like every student, member of the faculty and staff at Beaverhead took part – was posted on YouTube. They’re singing Katy Perry’s “Roar,” and it’s inspiring to say the least.  You can tell just how much Vezina – they call him “Vez” – means to them all.

The video is meant to inspire Vezina to keep up his fight against the cancer – but it’s also inspiring a lot of people to donate to a fund that was set up to help support Vezina’s family during this financially trying time. The Vezina page at gofundme lists a fundraising goal of $5,000 – but the total amount raised so far is more than $27,000. Wow.

Watch the video, and you’ll see why. Be sure to have a hanky ready – the video is making everyone cry buckets.

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77 million students getting ready to go back to school

Back to schoolThe always timely U.S. Census Bureau has the latest figures in for all your back-to-school questions.

How much money was spent at family clothing stores last August? $7.4 billion. How much was spent at bookstores? $2.2 billion.

The lion’s share of this money was presumably spent by the families of the nation’s 77 million students – both children and adults enrolled in one of the nation’s  schools, from preschool to college.

That’s roughly 27 percent of the population.

For the kiddos, the United States was home to 98,706 public schools at last count, and 33,740 private schools.  They employ some 7.2 million teachers – nearly 3 million of which teach elementary or middle-school.

Public school teachers make an average annual salary of $65,800 – in California, which has the highest pay rate. The lowest rate is in South Dakota, where teachers make an average annual salary of $36,700. In Montana, the National Education Association has the average annual salary of a public school teacher in 2008-’09 at $42,874.

So parents: Ask your teacher how you can help out with school supplies this year, and remember to remind your child to bring in that apple.

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Young writers invited to summer camp just for them!

Ever heard of the Montana Writing Project? It’s a part of the National Writing Project, natch, which encourages teachers to help their students become better writers.

And one way for young people to become better writers is to write often and share their writing with others. While summer and the start of summer vacation would seem to work in opposition to this goal, that’s not necessarily the case in our neck of the woods – thanks to the Montana Writing Project.

This summer marks the seventh that the professional development organization is offering a Young Writers Summer Camp. It is specially geared toward youth who will be starting sixth, seventh, eighth or nineth grade when the school year starts.

“The program is designed for students who are interested in devoting time to their nonfiction, poetry and fiction; participating in a writing workshop; publishing in an anthology; and being members of a writing community. Participants receive individualized writing instruction, engage with other writers, and have opportunities to share their work.” So says the informative email sent to me from Merrilyne Lundahl, program coordinator for the Montana Writing Project.

The camp will be offered from June 20 to July 1, from 9 a.m. to 12:30, and it will take place in Liberal Arts Building Room 210 0n the University of Montana Campus, which houses the Montana Writing Project.

The cost is $175, which includes materials, instruction and snacks.

To sign up your kiddo or to learn more, shoot an email at or call 243-4680.

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Missoula’s peacemaker of the year is a fourth-grade teacher

Congratulations are in order for Jane McAllister, a fourth-grade teacher at Lewis and Clark Elementary who was named Missoula’s 2011 Peacemaker of the Year by the Missoula-based Jeannette Rankin Peace Center and the Missoula Peace Quilters.

McAllister“I never considered myself a world peacemaker, but I really do feel that if I can make a difference with my little fourth-graders – even one or two of them – that it will make a difference for our community, our nation and our world,” says McAllister in today’s story in the Missoulian.

She also passes along the credit to teachers Kathy Dungan and Dorothy Morrison, pictured with her in this photo.

“I cannot say that I do this by myself,” she says in the news story. “It’s not just me doing this work. We feed off one another, and we get our energy from one another. I honestly don’t think I would be able to stay as motivated if I didn’t have people to play off of.”

But the official award goes to McAllister, who has been inspiring students to reach for peace for 17 years.

And it officially goes to her tonight, some time between 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. at the Lewis and Clark school, where she will be presented with a peace quilt and anyone attending will be presented with coffee, cake and other edibles.

It’s free and open to the public.

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Saturday is deadline for A+ List nominees

For the past month or so, the Missoulian has sponsored the 2011 A+ List School Awards Contest to find Missoula’s “Most Influential Educator,” “Outstanding Student” and “Best Extracurricular or Classroom Project.”

Missoulians were invited to submit their nominees in each of three categories – elementary school, middle school and high school – to the website,

If you haven’t yet put in your submission, you might want to take note that the contest closes this Saturday. So hurry up and get those nominees named!

The winners will get prizes and be featured in a special section of the Missoulian that will run on May 3.

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Missoulian looking for A+ students and educators to honor

The A+ List School Awards Contest is now officially underway and actively soliciting submissions for Missoula’s “Most Influential Educator,” “Outstanding Student” and “Best Extracurricular or Classroom Project.”

The Missoulian-sponsored contest is broken out into three categories: Elementary school, middle school and high school submissions.

I’m sure the website,, is going to be flooded with submissions.

Students, parents and educators themselves are encouraged to participate. The Missoulian also plans to partner with businesses in the community to provide prizes to the winners.

And, of course, the winners will also be featured in a special section in the Missoulian on May 3!

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Missoula educator to discuss new parenting/teaching book today

“Parents should think strategically, that what they’re doing affects the kid the rest of his or her life,” says Al Yee. “It lays down the foundation and affects their habits, motivation, sense of fairness and decency, their love of life.”

Al Yee

The Missoula educator is the author of a new parenting book, “Raising and Teaching Children for Their Tomorrows.” In it, Yee categorizes parenting and teaching styles into four categories: indulgent-permissive, authoritarian-dictatorial, neglectful-indifferent and authoritative-engaging. The fourth category, he says, strikes the proper balance and is healthiest for children.

“Authoritative-engaging parents and teachers believe that youths should be raised to become thoughtful, self-sufficient people,” Yee writes in his book.

You can meet the author and take a look at the book today at Fact & Fiction in downtown Missoula. At 1 p.m. Al Yee will be at the bookstore, located at 220 N. Higgins, to talk about the book and sign copies.

If that’s too short of notice, other opportunities will take place on March 26 (2 p.m. at Barnes & Noble) and April 23 (11 a.m. at the Red Willow Learning Center).

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