Niwot High math teacher honored by district


April 29, 2020

Courtesy photo

Niwot High math teacher Megan Schlagel was honored as the school's 2020 Teacher of the Year and was a finalist for district Teacher of the Year. Niwot science teachers Zachary Coffee and Kane Hollins were also considered for the honor.

The socially distant version of the annual Tribute to Teachers awards may have lacked the glamour of a gala, but that didn't make it any less special to Megan Schlagel, recipient of Niwot High's 2020 Teacher of the Year award and a finalist for St. Vrain Valley Teacher of the Year.

"I was really honored by the recognition," Schlagel said of hearing the news of her award. "I'm not usually a crier, but I was crying. I've been teaching 11 years, and it's definitely the highlight, I would say, just to receive recognition for my work."

Sponsored by the Education Foundation for the St. Vrain Valley, the Tribute to Teachers is an awards program that aims to recognize district educators "who have an extraordinary impact on the achievements of students." Teachers are nominated by peers, students, parents, volunteers, school staff or community members, and winners are typically announced at a formal dinner each spring. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the 2020 awards were presented by video on April 18, as Schlagel watched from the comfort of her couch.

All told, the EFSVV received nearly 900 nominations for this year's tribute, then a committee of volunteers and staff members selected the top three nominees from each school, designating a winner and two finalists. The committee also selected four finalists for 2020 SVVSD Teacher of the Year, Schlagel among them, making her the first Niwot High faculty member to receive district-wide recognition since Ken Benson in 2013. This year's winner was Joe Revere, a technology teacher from Trail Ridge Middle School.

"The fact that Megan was chosen as one of four, out of 900 nominations, is something pretty special," Niwot Principal Eric Rauschkolb said of Schlagel's honor. "She's just an amazing teacher and person."

Schlagel, a mother of two toddlers, has been on staff at Niwot for the past eight years, and currently serves as head of the math department. Describing herself as a "very logical, sequential thinker," Schlagel said she has always had an aptitude for the subject, and decided to teach it after elementary education proved to be a bad fit. "I was too bored and needed a challenge," she said. "And so I appreciate the challenge and the reward that teaching math has brought."

For the 2019-20 academic year, Schlagel is teaching Algebra I and AP Calculus, classes at extreme ends of the learning curve, but about equal in their challenge-to-reward ratios, she said.

"For subject matter, in math especially, it's [gratifying] when that light bulb goes off for kids after working and struggling so hard, and they make a connection. And math, I always say is such a beautiful subject because all of these concepts and skills that you've been learning all through your academic career have culminated in calculus, and you can see the connection and how everything fits together. You finally get to figure out why it's all important."

This year, a few of those light bulbs went off over the head of calculus student Milo Ostwald, who called Schlagel "my favorite teacher of all time." The senior is planning to pursue engineering at CU after graduation, and credited Schlagel with bolstering that decision.

"I think she is 100 percent teacher of the year worthy and not just this year but every year," he said while taking a break from studying for his upcoming online AP test. "She really pushes me in math, which I love, and she makes some of the most abstract concepts easily understandable, which I don't know how. She's also a very energetic person every single day, and she's always in a good mood and excited for every class, even though I'd be willing to bet she gets about four hours of sleep per night with her kids."

Rauschkolb echoed those sentiments in praising Schlagel's "super-motivated" approach to both of her roles at Niwot, calling her a "hard-worker" and "team-oriented." But it is her ability to reach students on a "deeply personal level," that makes her stand out among other educators in St. Vrain, he said.

"Number one, her students know that she cares about them as individuals. It's not just about understanding the content, she wants to see 'are you thriving as a person, what are your future plans, how is your family doing, how can I help'. She's just a very kind-hearted teacher who works incredibly hard at helping her students understand complex math formulas and equations."

Over the years, Schlagel has found that establishing that personal connection with students and helping them understand math have a positive correlation.

"Math is a challenging subject and there's a lot of anxiety and fear that comes along with it, mostly in Algebra I," she said of her teaching philosophy. "But even the calculus kids come in and they're not sure what to [I try] being approachable and building up those relationships first, and having students be able to ask questions and feel comfortable enough to take risks in the math classroom."

Schlagel takes seriously the role her gender plays in establishing trust with her female students, especially in advanced math classes, where girls have been underrepresented in the past.

"I think the gender imbalance has started to break down a little bit in school, as far as the calculus kids, but in the workplace, and with engineers, I think we still have a ways to go there. But one of the first things I do in calculus is have my female students read an article about just that, gender inequality."

These days, Schlagel's math classrooms are behind a screen, thanks to SVVSDs April 20th order to cancel in-person instruction for the rest of the school year. She said that the district's transition to full-time remote learning, which began on March 30th, has been "seamless" from a technology standpoint, but less so when it comes to building those important all-important connections with students.

"Without face-to-race time, how do we make them feel that they're super important, and we care, and we still want them to do well," she said. "In Algebra I, they need a trusting adult that is right there in front of them, so they can take a risk, and try a problem, get it wrong, and know there's somebody there with them. But when they're on their own at home, with little to no support, that's difficult."

Schlagel and the other winners will be recognized at EFFSVs fall fundraising gala in November. For her award, she received a $100 gift card for classroom use and a certificate of recognition.

For more information about the Tribute to Teachers event or to watch the video announcing the 2020 winners, visit EFSVV's website.


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