Corvallis Middle School history teacher named 2024 Montana History Teacher of the Year - TAI News
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Jenifer Powell was named 2024 Centennial Bell Montana History Teacher of the Year. (Charlotte Powell)

A beloved educator in Corvallis, Montana, recently retired from teaching, but not before being named by the Montana Historical Society the 2024 Centennial Bell Montana History Teacher of the Year.

Jenifer Powell began teaching in 1992 and has had a diverse career, teaching every grade level from kindergarten to eighth and nearly every subject.

Powell told the Montana Independent: “I want my students to walk away with a deep love for Montana, for not only its beauty but its historical past, its diverse culture. I want them to love Montana as much as I do,” she said.

“I felt it was important for them to know the roots where our state started, and how it got to where it was, and that there were people here, way, way, way before any white men ever stepped foot on Montana’s soil,” Powell said. “I want them to know that Montana is made up of people from all over the world, like its history with the Chinese immigrants coming and working in Butte and developing that city. And the French Canadians helping with the fur trade.”

In a statement Powell submitted as part of her application for the Teacher of the Year award, she mentioned teaching her students about the Native peoples that live in the state;; about the Chinese immigrants who made up 10% of the population and the prejudice they faced; and about the French Canadians who worked in the fur trade. She reminded the Montana Independent that Montana is the only state with a provision in its Constitution mandating the teaching of Native American history in schools.

Corvallis is a small rural town with a population of about 1,400. It’s located in the valley between the Bitterroot Mountains and the Sapphire Mountains, south of Missoula.

In order to expose her students to cultural diversity in the state, Powell wrote grants, tapped the local community, and reached out to the Corvallis Schools Foundation for help to cover the costs of taking her students on trips. She used the money to take her students to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls; the First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park in Cascade County; the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming; the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman; the Heart Mountain Internment Camp in Wyoming; and the State Capitol and Original Governor’s Mansion in Helena.

But it wasn’t just the travel that moved one of her middle school students to write a letter on her behalf for the award; it was what Powell taught them inside the classroom as well.

“Even inside the class walls I have learned a lot. I have learned about the gold discovered in the 1860s in Montana. About Lewis and Clark and there [sic] journey through the West. I learned about early Native Americans, and more of how they hunted and lived,” the student wrote.

In her own letter to the Historical Society, Powell wrote, “In my classroom, I foster many conversations on how we are all different from one another, we come from different backgrounds and beliefs, yet we still hold the same needs and desires for acceptance, friendship, and love.”

Part of her award is $3,250 from sponsors the Montana Television Network, the Sons and Daughters of Montana Pioneers, the Historical Society, and the 1889 Coffeehouse, a restaurant in Helena. She will also ring the Centennial Bell at 10:29 a.m. on Nov. 8, the exact time in 1889 when Montana became the nation’s 41st state.

Powell said she has her sights set on working at a university as a student teacher supervisor or as a field coordinator for Corvallis to ensure that students continue to have the educational opportunities she was able to provide.

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