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Wyoming People

Top Teacher: Students read to support Heifer Int’l

Written by Gayle Smith
Albin — Attending a routine school assembly at Albin Elementary turned into a big surprise for teacher Tracy Petsch. Petsch was recently honored with the Milken National Educator Award for the state of Wyoming.
    The Milken Family Foundation National Educator Awards Program honors one teacher from each state every year with public recognition and financial rewards for furthering excellence in education. It is not an award you apply for, says Petsch. “They find you.”
    During that exciting day Petsch says the entire school attended a school assembly. Petsch says no one in the school, including her, knew she would receive the award. The school officials were only told the school was being honored by the state department.
    During the assembly Gary Stark, representing the Milken Family Foundation, and Jim McBride, superintendant of public instruction, and other state department of education officials presented Petsch with a trophy and a check. “The only ones who knew about it were the superintendant and the people presenting it,” Petsch explains. “Everyone else was totally surprised.”
    Petsch says she’s very honored to be chosen for the award. “The state of Wyoming is fortunate to have many teachers that are exemplary in the field of education,” she says.  “I know that I am not above any of my colleagues.  I am simply honored to represent them, and all of the hard work that they do for students every day. I would like to thank the Milken Family Foundation for all they do to inspire and honor teachers all across our country each year.”
    Next month Petsch will travel to Los Angeles, Calif. to receive her actual award and a check for $25,000. There are no stipulations attached to the check given to Petsch personally, so she can use it however she wishes.
    As an advocate for addressing world hunger, Petsch has decided to give something back to her school and students. “With a portion of the money I received I’ve started something at our school called Read to Feed through Heifer International.”
    The way the program works is similar to a fundraiser where the child does something and people support that by pledging money. In this case, Petsch will pledge the money.
    She has challenged her students to read books and for every book they read they earn points. “I am sponsoring the children in my school for reading books and when they get enough points, they get to choose what kind of animal they will send to needy parts of the world.” Some of the animals the students can purchase are sheep, bees, ducks, geese, chicks, beef, swine and goats. Trees are also included in the program. “Each class is building their own ranch because they get to choose the animals,” she explains.
    Petsch says she intends to finish the program at the end of the semester before school lets out for the summer. “We will tally the points and determine what animals we want to buy and we will send the money to Heifer International.”
    “Heifer International will send the animals, along with instructions on how to raise them, to the different countries,” Petsch explains. “I hope to end the program at the end of May so the students know exactly what they sent so they can have a celebration. I want the children to feel a sense of accomplishment for what they have done.”
    The animals given through this program are production animals and are not for slaughter. They are used for products like milk, wool and for breeding. “After they breed the animals, they will in turn give the offspring to another family. That way, another family will be provided with an income and they are passing the gift on.”
    Petsch says she has known about the Heifer International group for a long time and is very excited to take part in the program. “I had seen it in different philanthropy projects other people have done,” she says. “When I saw the educational portion of it, I checked into it further. I wanted to do something so I could give back to my students,” she explains. “We have everything we need at our school to make our students successful. The only thing you can’t buy is to teach them how to give to other people. I wanted to give them the gift of giving to other people.”
    “I also wanted to foster a love for reading in the students and an interest in it outside of school,” she adds. “I hope I’ve succeeded because I have never seen the children read so much.”
    Petsch says she always has children approach her, saying things like, “I have to read two more books and I can buy a goat.”
    “I wanted to purchase for them the gift of giving,” Petsch continues. “It will be a very valuable lesson for them and hopefully something they can take with them and use for the rest of their lives. I truly hope it inspires them to help other people.”
    Petsch says the students are very excited about participating in the program. Many of the children come from farms and ranches and realize how much these animals cost. “It gives them the ability to give to another country something they are familiar with and know the value of,” she says, adding, “They are familiar with livestock and know the value of animals and being able to provide for a family. Plus, they just love animals.”
    Petsch says she really enjoys teaching the children and watching them learn. “I teach because I love it. It has always been instilled in me to find something you love to do and go for it. Become the best you can be at whatever it is you decide is important to you. It is imperative to me that my students have a solid academic background so they can find the things they can excel in to reach their full potential in their lives. I want them to know that my faith in them is strong, my encouragement is steadfast and my desire for them to achieve is limitless. I want them to know that they matter to me, and I am willing to do whatever it takes to give them that foundation that was given to me.”
    Petsch has taught at Albin Elementary for six years as the reading interventions Title I teacher. She works with students in grades K-6 who need extra help in reading. She is also a mentor teacher/instructional facilitator for Laramie County School District #2.
    Petsch has worked in education for the past 20 years. With the exception of one year in Denver, Colo. they have all been in southeast Wyoming. She has worked as a kindergarten and first grade teacher and was a preschool teacher at a community outreach program sponsored through Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington. The preschool was held in Hawk Springs, Wyoming for rural children.
    Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..