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April 30, 2001   Email to Friend 

Jeff Helms
April 30, 2001

A second-grade teacher at Hall-Kent School in Homewood has been named Alfa's Teacher of the Month for May. As this month's winner, Dee Hellmers and her school each will receive $1,000 from Alfa Insurance and the Alabama Farmers Federation. Ms. Hellmers joins the ranks of 40 outstanding educators from throughout Alabama who have been honored by Alfa since the program's inception in 1998.

A graduate of Concordia University in River Forest, Ill., Ms. Hellmers began her teaching career in 1984. She has since earned a master's degree in elementary education from the University of Montevallo and is currently a candidate for certification with the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards. During her career, Ms. Hellmers has developed a teaching philosophy that focuses on the individual abilities and needs of her students.

"I become a 'kid watcher' as I carefully observe each child throughout the school year," she said. "This gives me insight to the uniqueness of each student and tells me when to step in and give a nudge and when to hold back and allow the student to lead."

To get her students excited about learning, Ms. Hellmers has applied for and been awarded numerous grants for hands-on projects. One of her classes planted host plants in the school garden to attract two varieties of butterflies. The students kept records of the butterflies' visits and closely observed their development throughout the entire life cycle. Other classes expanded their study of the environment by taking on the task of cleaning up the school playground on a regular basis, and this year's class was inspired to earn money to send a gift of honey bees to a needy family in El Salvador.

Perhaps Ms. Hellmers' most innovative teaching method, however, involves the classroom teddy bear, Timothy. Over the years, Timothy has traveled with students, parents and total strangers to all seven continents. The students receive picture postcards of their bear visiting new places, and Ms. Hellmers uses his adventures to teach the class about geography and foreign cultures. Last spring, Timothy accompanied a University of Alabama professor on a research expedition to Antarctica.

Collaboration prior to that trip identified the need for students and the general public to interact with university scientists as they conduct research, which inspired the development of the University of Alabama at Birmingham's website, wow.uab.edu.

During 2001, the Alfa Teacher of the Month program will honor one outstanding public school teacher from each of the state's eight public school board districts; two private school teachers; and two principals. Each winner is chosen based on an independent committee's evaluation of the applications received. Program criteria and applications are available by clicking on "Alfa Teacher of the Month" in the "Ag Links" section of the Alfa Farmers website, www.alfafarmers.org.

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