By Kristen Miller
DASSEL, HUTCHINSON, MN Jean Schultz of Dassel was recently named Educator of the Year by the Hutchinson Jaycees for her dedicated work as a second grade teacher at Park Elementary in Hutchinson.
Schultz and her husband Keith, have lived near Long Lake for 37 years. She has been an elementary teacher in Hutchinson for 36 years.
Each day, she wakes up excited to go to work, and try and make a difference in her students lives.
“It’s nice to have a job where you can make a difference,” Schultz said.
Though she understands she can’t be all things to every child, Schultz tries to give each of her students a change and encourages them to do their best.
Schultz was nominated by a second grade student she had more than 30 years ago; a student she knew needed extra attention in his life.
This student is Chad Harlander, the FOCUS coordinator at Dassel-Cokato High School from 2006 to 2008. He is currently the REACH coordinator at Hutchinson High School, a similar program that reaches out to students in need of support academically, socially, and/or emotionally.
Harlander nominated Schultz because of the difference she made in his life growing up.
“She is the person who reached out to me early in my life at a needed time,” Harlander said.
From the beginning, Harlander had a special place in Schultz’s heart, but what “cemented” their relationship was when Harlander was in fifth grade.
It was the night of his class Christmas program and Schultz asked Harlander if he was excited for it. He told her he wasn’t going to go because he didn’t have a ride.
That’s when Schultz offered to pick him up on her way to the program, though she had already seen it that day.
“I wanted him to be a part of it,” Schultz said.
She even took him out for pizza following the program. The bond grew from then on.
“When he needed someone, I was there,” Schultz said.
This bond continued throughout his college years, with Jean and Keith traveling to Aberdeen, SD, where Harlander was attending college, to watch him play football.
“She had a way of being there always at the right time,” Harlander said in his nomination letter.
In it, Harlander recalled his senior year of college, when he was injured during a championship football game.
“Jean rode in the ambulance with me and was there to provide comfort when news of a shortened season was given,” he said.
Jean just says, “it’s the little things that make a big difference.”
Being a teacher is all about the kids for Jean. She never went into it hoping to receive an honor such as Educator of the Year.
“It was never a goal of mine,” Schultz said. “I just wanted to make a subtle difference in kids’ lives.”
Not only was the award an honor for Schultz, but it was also a surprise.
The night of the awards ceremony, Keith told her it was for his work. He works for Ideal Lumber in Litchfield.
When Schultz arrived, she thought something might be up when her principal and colleagues entered the room.
The presenter began describing an excellent teacher, which she thought fit that of her friend and colleague.
Then, buying pizza and giving her student a ride came up.
“It took me about 15 seconds to realize it was me,” Schultz said.
“It’s really an honor . . . a big honor,” Schultz said.
During the awards ceremony, Harlander read: “Her energy and compassion that she showed up every day with continues today with the same mission of providing every student with an educational experience that will last a lifetime.”
Harlander continued to share how Schultz was more than an educator to him, but someone “who went outside the descriptions of her profession.”