Two high school teachers given Rolfs award
By Lauren Sorensen, Current Staff
As her family pushed aside the curtain, Cindy Mennig’s eyes began to well up.
Mennig was one of two high school teachers given a 2014 Rolfs Teacher of the Year award, and when her name was called, Mennig’s family surprised her by emerging from backstage.
Mennig, a business teacher, won this year’s high school division award. Special education teacher Ryan Olson was presented the award in the professional services category. They received the honor Monday, May 5 in the high school auditorium.
Neither teacher foresaw the possibility of winning the award. “[It] still brings tears to my eyes, [it was] very emotional because I know I work with such a diverse group of talented professionals here at the West Bend East and West High Schools,” Mennig said.
Colleagues, students, and/or parents nominate individuals for the Rolfs award. Nominees are then evaluated and voted on by previous winners, the Rolfs Foundation committee, and other district employees.
“It was very emotional because I work with such a diverse group of talented professionals here.”
– Cindy Mennig
It is all about the students for Olson and Mennig. Olson, who teaches independent living skills to special education students aged 18-21, wants to instill a sense of “independence, self-esteem, a can-do attitude, a view that they are a valuable part of the community, and the view that they have the tools to be productive and successful.”
What does Mennig hope her students will take away from her class? “First and foremost the ability to believe in oneself, that he or she can do whatever he or she chooses to do, but also to continue learning and continue striving. Continue to build upon what they have right now because it’s a package,” Mennig said.
Mennig has been a teacher at the school for what she states as “25 plus” years. She always knew she would grow up to be a teacher, ever since forcing her sister into endless hours of playing school and completing worksheets for Mennig to correct.
An interest in entrepreneurship, technology, and human relations drew Mennig specifically to the computer field and led to a double major in business education and business administration. After graduation, she took the road of becoming an educator rather than a business manager, and has never regretted her path.
A former student of WBHS, Olson notes a change in student interaction since he roamed the halls. Generally once outcasts, his students now enjoy behaviors from their peers he describes as “tolerant, accepting, a willingness to be friendly, the desire to go out of one’s way to get to know them, and take the time to see how they are doing.”
Initially, Olson began as a United States history teacher. Four years ago, his role was building substitute teacher as he looked for an occupation within his preferred department.
After volunteering in the special education department, when a job opened up, the choice seemed natural to him. Already possessing an education degree, Olson was granted an emergency license to teach special education before deciding to return to school for that area.
The two winners continue to be motivated by their students. Olson describes the students he sees at WBHS as the “fuel to my fire. Your generation has passion, the future is very bright.”
“Trying to work with students who really don’t see themselves as succeeding, that’s really difficult for me because I can see potential in every person and they can’t or they won’t,” said Mennig when asked about the hardest part of her job.
DeAnn Seaman, the elementary category winner, and Doug Zarling, the middle school category winner, were the district’s other Rolfs recipients this year.
High school staff winners from the previous two years include Ryan Johnson, Eric Beltmann, and Jennifer Mesko.
(Top image: Cindy Mennig helps two students in her classroom. Photographs by Lauren Sorensen, Current Staff.)