Education

Natrona County High School’s Sondag Receives Arch Achievement Award

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (April 13, 2011) – Becky Sondag was a senior in high school, leaning against a shady California oak and waiting for a ride home from cross-country practice, when she was struck by an epiphany. “It came without effort, a dormant desire I had only to allow to fully surface. I would be a teacher; there could be no higher calling,” says the 17-year teaching veteran. “I would be a teacher and coach like Mr. Fairley and Mr. Hammon, two fine mentors who had helped me discover so much about myself – that if I worked hard, I could be one of the best distance runners in the state. If I worked hard, I could get through tough AP classes while discovering how much I love literature and learning. If I worked hard, I could get a scholarship and go on to be whatever and whoever I wanted to be.

“Not a day goes by that I am not grateful for [my teachers’] help,” she adds. “Not a day goes by that I don’t hope that I am helping high school kids discover that power in themselves that Mr. Fairley and Mr. Hammon helped me find,” she adds. “It is the best and most important job in the world.”

Today Sondag realized yet another result of her hard work. She was among only 10 Wyoming teachers to receive a 2011 Arch Coal Teacher Achievement Award. Arch Coal Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Steven F. Leer made the announcement during a ceremony at Carey Junior High School in Cheyenne. Leer was accompanied by Wyoming Governor Matt Mead and Wyoming Education Association (WEA) Executive Director Craig Williams. This is the 11th year the Arch Coal Teacher Achievement Awards have been made in Wyoming.

“Becky Sondag became a teacher because she wanted to touch lives, like the coaches and teachers who profoundly touched hers,” says Leer. “She views teaching as a wonderful and varied calling that can make the world a better place.”

A Casper resident, Sondag teaches English and language arts at Natrona County High School in Casper. “The most important thing I do for my students is to expect a great deal from each and every one of them every day,” she says. “I believe in setting the bar high; otherwise, they will never know how high they can jump.

“There is nothing better than helping a writer find the form and words to clearly articulate their thoughts and feelings,” Sondag adds. “It is contagious magic in the classroom when, through careful instructional techniques, these things happen. At the heart of this success is the belief that all students can learn, and they can learn at a high level.”

Sondag earned two bachelor’s degrees at Idaho State, Pocatello, and a master’s degree at Grand Canyon University, Arizona. She has achieved National Board Certification and is an International Baccalaureate instructor. Sondag participates in educational decisions at the building, district and state levels. She worked with the State Department, pulling anchor papers for PAWS (Proficiency Assessments for Wyoming Students) and served as a district leader in developing essential curriculum and common reading/writing rubrics. She chairs her building’s School Improvement Council and, as an instructional facilitator, Sondag provides training opportunities for best practices in education. She has served as faculty adviser for the National Honor Society, and she and her students have raised funds for cancer research, participated in local blood drives, caroled in senior centers and tutored children of victims of domestic abuse.

While participating in a road race in South America, Sondag learned other runners sometimes went without food to pay for their shoes. Afterward, she and her students created a road race in which the entry fee was a pair of used running shoes. Afterward, 500 pair of shoes were sent to the South American runners. They also have raised funds for a school in Africa.

Each Teacher Achievement Award recipient receives a distinctive trophy, a classroom plaque and a $3,500 personal, cash award. 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.

Longstanding supporters of the program are the Wyoming Department of Education, the Wyoming Education Association, the Wyoming library community, Taco John’s and Loaf ‘N Jug stores.

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

U.S.-based Arch Coal, Inc. (NYSE:ACI) is one of the largest coal producers in the world, with more than 160 million tons of coal sold in 2010. Arch’s national network of mines supplies cleaner-burning, low-sulfur coal to customers on four continents, including U.S. and international power producers and steel manufacturers. Arch’s Wyoming operations – Thunder Basin Coal Company’s Black Thunder and Coal Creek mines and the Arch of Wyoming operations – have a combined workforce of more than 1,800.

Information about each of the 10 current recipients, as well as past recipients, is posted at archteacherawards.com.