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Greenwood alumna earns top Catholic educator honors

Greenwood alumna earns top Catholic educator honors Greenwood alumna earns top Catholic educator honors

All her life, Valerie Kind has had some sort of connection to a place called St. Mary’s. As a child growing up in Greenwood, she went to grade school at St. Mary’s Catholic School, just like her father before her, and his father before him. As an adult, she became a teacher, working with children at two other St. Mary’s schools: one in Colby and one in Marathon. It was at the latter that Kind was the recipient of an award acknowledging her work in teaching young students.

Formerly known as Valerie Lindner, Kind was awarded the Diocese of La Crosse Elementary Educator of the Year award earlier this year. One of seven awards given out annually by the Catholic Diocese of La Crosse, the award recognizes the work of one of its 595 elementary educators in its 53-elementary school system.

“It was very humbling, I will tell you that,” said Kind about receiving the award. “I feel there’s a lot of teachers out there who deserve this award more. I know people who do better than I do.”

A 1987 Greenwood High School graduate, Kind said after high school, she decided right away to pursue a career as a teacher. As a child, she said she had many good examples of teachers in her life, which inspired her from a young age.

“I decided to be a teacher,” she said. “I pretty much knew when I was young. Jackie Lindner, who is my aunt, was a teacher, and I always had good teachers.”

Though she wanted to teach, Kind said she never expected to teach at a Catholic school, let alone one with the same name as the school she attended as a child. But she soon found herself as a first-grade teacher at St. Mary’s Catholic school in Colby, where she stayed for six years.

“It just kind of fell into my lap,” she said on becoming a teacher at Colby. “I first taught at St. Mary’s in Colby, I taught there for six years. Then I had my three daughters and I stayed home for six years.” After her hiatus from the school atmosphere, Kind decided to return to teaching and found a position at another St. Mary’s School, this time in Marathon. Starting as a fourth-grade teacher, she returned to teaching first grade after her second year at Marathon, and has continued to teach first-graders for the past 13 years. “I love kids,” she said on her teaching experience with young students. “You just have to almost be a kid yourself and get down to their level.” It is because of this love of her students, and her ways of connecting to them, that Kind was nominated for the Educator of the Year award. She was actually informed about the award back in early April of this year, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, not much was done to recognize her or the other two teachers at Marathon who received awards from the Diocese.

“This is funny,” she said on the event. “We actually had a diocesan meeting back in April, on April 6 and they announced it (the award) then. Then they had the whole school shut down, it set everything back a little bit. It was just crazy, the whole situation.”

Even though there wasn’t much recognition, Kind said that is just the way she likes it. Family and teaching have always been far more important to her than accolades, and she gets both through her work with kids at St. Mary’s in Marathon.

“It’s very family,” she said about the environment at St. Mary’s in Marathon. “The staff is very good and loving with each other. I have been very lucky. It has been wonderful, the families do everything they can to support you.”

With school restarting soon, Kind said she, like so many other teachers, has had to adjust to the new requirements in the age of COVID-19. With so many rules about what a teacher can and can’t do with students, she said it can be easy to get frustrated or unenthusiastic around the kids, but it’s more important now to be there for the kids and look for new and creative ways to make school fun and educational.

“Right now, you can’t sing, you can’t do a lot of things,” she said. “But you just need to celebrate. There’s a lot of moments that can be celebrated, not just birthdays. I think you have to take all the proper precautions, but remember that you’re there for those kids. You can’t take these opportunities away from the kids if you’re afraid of getting sick.”

After this year, Kind said she is not sure what direction her life will take. One of her daughters is expecting twins this fall — her first grandchildren — and she would like to take time to watch them grow.

“It’s so hard,” she said on making a decision to continue teaching. “My daughter is expecting twins, they will be my first grandkids. I would like to stay home and help baby sit. Maybe I will volunteer at the school and still work with the kids, listen to them read, flash cards. These kids still need to learn. I could have the best of both worlds.”