UW Lab School’s James Earns Arch Coal Teacher Achievement Award

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (April 29, 2009) – Dr. Joan James chose to teach because she loves the challenge of helping all students learn. “The most important thing I do for my students is create innovative units of study that are engaging, motivating, meaningful, memorable and fun; that build on their strengths while remediating their weaker areas; that are worth doing and develop in them a love of learning; and that empower them as learners,” she explains.

“I love children’s intrinsic excitement for and enthusiastic engagement in learning,” James adds. “I also love the teachable moments that arise each day and the ‘Aha’ moments, when a difficult concept suddenly becomes clear.”

James’ students may well have experienced one of those “Aha” moments today, when it became clear that their teacher ranks among Wyoming’s best. Today James was one of only 10 teachers statewide to receive a 2009 Arch Coal Teacher Achievement Award. Steven F. Leer, Arch Coal chairman and chief executive officer, made the announcement during a presentation ceremony at the Buffalo Ridge Elementary School. Leer was accompanied by Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal, First Lady Nancy Freudenthal, Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Jim McBride and Wyoming Education Association (WEA) Vice President Craig Williams.

“Joan is so thorough in her approach to engaging students that she is never satisfied to just repeat a lesson another year,” says Leer. “Instead, she always strives to make it better. She says she thinks that may be a bit obsessive, but others see it as further proof of her dedication.”

James teaches language arts, math, science, social studies and research courses to fourth- and fifth-grade students at the University of Wyoming Laboratory School in Laramie. “Almost magically, Joanie takes her low-achieving students and brings them up to grade level by scaffolding instruction, creating enjoyable and engaging learning experiences and holding them to high expectations,” notes Stella Rios Nowell, a colleague and parent of one of James’ students. “Joanie is a leader in our building and consciously supports and encourages her colleagues to excel, thus improving the learning for all students.”

James earned a bachelor’s degree at Northern Michigan University and master’s and doctorate degrees at the University of Wyoming. She counts four things – PhD dissertation research on No Child Left Behind (NCLB), National Board Certification, work with the League of Democratic Schools and Professional Learning Community training – as her most important professional achievements. James helps teach outdoor skills at the Wyoming Game and Fish-sponsored OREO (Outdoor Recreation Education Opportunities) camp, and she speaks in college classes about the effects of NCLB; subject integration; and project-based and engaging learning experiences. She also involves children in fund-raising activities that have benefitted Heifer International, Habitat for Humanity, tsunami victims and Guatemalan school children.

The award is underwritten by the Arch Coal Foundation. In addition to recognition, award recipients receive a personal, $3,500 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 ninth 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.

The Arch Coal Foundation also is a supporter of teacher recognition or grant programs in West Virginia, Utah and Colorado, as well as a number of other education-related causes.

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 sold 100 million tons of cleaner-burning, low-sulfur coal in 2008. Arch Coal is traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: ACI) and maintains its corporate headquarters in St. Louis, Mo.

Information about each of the 10 recipients is posted on the Arch Coal Web site: