As students recently returned to school in Valier, they were welcomed by some new faces in the classrooms. The fourth and sixth grade classes both have new full-time teachers, and the Special Education teacher is on campus 2.5 days per week.
Paul Bielawski, fourth grade teacher, is a 2020 graduate of the University of Montana-Western with a degree in K-8 Education. “This is my first-year teaching, and I couldn’t be more excited about it.”
Paul moved to Shelby from Milwaukee, Wis., when he was in the fifth grade. A graduate of Shelby, he explains why Valier is a good fit. “Valier has a lot of benefits for me. As much as I enjoy a city, nothing beats the clean air and beautiful views, lakes–which my lab loves–and lots of my family and friends nearby.”
Reflecting on his first week of teaching Paul is candid and optimistic “This first week has shown me what an exciting challenge teaching can be. I see so much of myself in my students, moments of frustration become ironic and, admittedly, hilarious moments upon reflection. Ask Mr. Widhalm sometime what I mean. I really can’t wait to see how much this class grows this year. This bunch is going to prove they are special.”
Jennifer Berry, sixth grade teacher, comes to Valier from Cathlamet, Wash., a community on the Columbia River near the Pacific Ocean. Jennifer has a BA in Geology from Southern Oregon State College, a MS in Hydrogeology from Portland State University, and a MAEd in Secondary Math/Science Education from University of Phoenix.
This area is especially appealing to Jennifer. “Valier is a perfect town. Everyone has been so welcoming to me. As a geologist, I love living so close to Rock City, Glacier National Park, and the dinosaur museum in Bynum. The geology here is spectacular!”
Before Jennifer began teaching middle school and high school science, she spent 10 years as a professional geologist. Her eight years in education make her opinions of her Valier students particularly complimentary. “My students are so respectful. They are enthusiastic and excited to learn. I am enjoying teaching all the subjects and I look forward to working with our families to help our students succeed.”
DeAnne Willingham, Special Education K-2, is originally from Portland, Ore. Sharing a few details about herself, DeAnne said, “I have been living in Montana for 20 years. I had a tiny cabin in Yaak, Mont., that was off-grid where I would spend my summers before I met my husband. My husband and I live in Conrad. We rescued an Akbash dog two years ago, and he has been very challenging. We had three cats, and a stray moved in with us last winter. So, one huge dog and four cats in a small home.”
DeAnne had previously worked in Heart Butte with Valier’s third grade teacher, Amy Wangseng. Previously retired, DeAnne had a lot to consider when Amy contacted her about the Special Ed vacancy in Valier.
“It was a bit tricky to work out how many hours I can work and getting re-licensed, etc. Mr. Widhalm was really helpful in this regard,” she noted. “I work full days Tuesdays and Thursdays, and two hours in the morning on Wednesdays.”
Commenting on her first couple of weeks in Valier Schools, DeAnne praised, “I really like working in Valier. I am really impressed with the commitment the teachers make to ensure no student falls through the cracks. Honestly, I have never seen this before.”
She describes Valier as “the quintessential small-town America. The people have always, and I mean always, been very friendly.”