Education

Lewis Named Arch Coal Teacher Achievement Award Recipient

GILLETTE, Wyo. (May 6, 2008) – When Sage Valley Junior High School art teacher Rita Lewis assigns one of her classes a project focused on Grecian urns, it involves far more than art.

“I show my students the connection between learning an art concept and their other subjects,” says Lewis. “With my art project involving urns, my students study Greek mythology, learn about ancient Greek government and society, and then we compare what we have learned to American government and society.”

By doing this, I try to give my lessons cross-curricula meaning, as well as personal meaning, because without these components learning is only temporary,” she says.

Today, Lewis learned that there has been nothing “temporary” about her impact on students. She was one of only 10 Wyoming teachers to receive a 2008 Arch Coal Teacher Achievement Award. The awards were made at a ceremony at Campbell County High School, where Arch Coal Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Steven F. Leer, Governor Dave Freudenthal, Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Jim McBride, and Wyoming Education Association President Kathryn Valido honored the recipients.

“Rita Lewis does more than teach art,” says Leer. “She skillfully teaches our children in a holistic way to leave a lasting impression. Most importantly, she teaches her students to truly love learning.”

“Teachers need to be role models while engaging students in ways that will impact their thinking beyond the classroom,” says Lewis. “I believe all students can learn, but they will not all learn the same way or at the same rate.”

“I share my knowledge, skill and enthusiasm for my subject, and then together we travel the road to self-discovery and learning,” she says.

“Mrs. Lewis is encouraging, yet demanding, and holds students to high standards,” says Janice Muirhead, a parent of one of Lewis’ students. “Projects are challenging and demanding and they require attention to detail, commitment, and focus to be completed on time.”

Lewis has a Bachelor of Science Degree in art education from Saint Cloud State University, St. Cloud, Minn., and a Master of Arts Degree in curriculum and literacy from Lesley University, Cambridge, Mass. She has taken a number of courses, in addition to her master’s degree, including a series of courses on poverty and how it affects a student’s schooling. Lewis says such courses have helped her deal more effectively with at-risk students.

She is active in the Gillette area, having served in leadership positions with the Prairie Lights Arts Guild, the local Color Art Co-op, and an arts advocacy group. She currently serves as president of the Campbell County Public Library Foundation. At school, she has been involved in numerous clubs and sports as sponsor and coach, and wrote the grant that funded the start-up of the Sage Valley Junior High School Art Club.

The award is underwritten by the Arch Coal Foundation. In addition to recognition, award recipients receive a personal, $2,500 unrestricted cash prize, a distinctive trophy and a classroom plaque. Nominations of the teachers are made by the public, and selection is made by a blue-ribbon panel of the teachers’ peers, all former recipients of the Arch Coal award.

This is the eighth year the Arch Coal Teacher Achievement Awards have been made in Wyoming. The program is supported by the Department of Education, the Wyoming Education Association, Taco John’s, Loaf ‘n Jug, and the Wyoming library community.

Arch Coal is one of the nation’s largest coal producers, and its Thunder Basin Coal Company subsidiary employs more than 1,200 people in Wyoming. Thunder Basin’s Black Thunder and Coal Creek mines sell more than 90 million tons of cleaner-burning, low-sulfur coal on an annual basis. Arch Coal is traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: ACI) and maintains its corporate headquarters in St. Louis, Mo.