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Rugby schools see fresh, familiar faces among teaching staff

By Sue Sitter - | Aug 28, 2021

Sue Sitter/PCT Little Flower Elementary teachers Bethany Mack, left, and Nancy Follman stand near a classroom on their first day of school.

Students beginning school in Rugby this year have seen a few new faces – and a couple of familiar ones among their teachers.

Bethany Mack began her first day at Little Flower Elementary School’s kindergarten classroom Aug. 19. Upstairs, Nancy Follman greeted students as the school’s new third and fourth grade teacher.

Mack is a familiar face at Little Flower. “I’m excited,” Mack said. “It’s good to be back. The kids are excited.”

A Minot State graduate, Mack said she has lived in Rugby 12 years. “I taught at Wolford for two years,” Mack said. “Then, I was (at Little Flower) for three years, then I was at home for four years and now I’m back.”

“The kids are great. It’s basically a little family,” Mack said of Little Flower. “We’re hoping to have a good year and continue to be in person. We’re hoping to grow together and learn together.”

Mack said she had some concerns about the COVID-19 Delta variant making its way through Pierce County.

“We both have kids who have health issues,” Mack said of herself and Follman “We maybe have a different perspective.”

“I hope we’re able to stay in person and not have to wear masks and have a regular school year,” Follman said, noting the Delta variant concerned her.

Follman said, “I’ve been teaching for 30 years. I’ve taught in Nevada for a year. I did some subbing in Washington. I moved back and taught at Four Winds at the elementary school for a few years in third and fourth grade. I worked at Head Start. Then I taught in Maddock, first grade.”

Follman said she still lives in Maddock with her husband and family. “I commute 30 miles one way (to school),” Follman said, adding, “The commute’s worth it. Today was a very enjoyable day.”

“So far, I think I have a very good class. I’ve been saying it all day – these kids are such good kids,” Follman said with a smile. “They’re really very good kids and the families are so supportive, too. This morning, when we came in, they were very supportive.”

“I have never taught in a private school. This is my first. I think it’s more like a family here. They’re very close-knit. All of us teachers are, “ Follman added. “I’ve known Bethany. I’ve known (fellow Little Flower teacher Melissa Benson). The other ones, I feel like I’ve known forever, too. They’re very welcoming.”

Two new teachers at Rugby High School said they felt welcomed by the staff there as well.

Recent college graduates Lexi Rusch and Suzanne Wieler both spoke warmly about the reception they had received at Rugby High.

“The teachers have been so welcoming,” said Wieler, who teaches high school social studies. They’re all so nice. Everyone’s asking, ‘how’d your first day go?’ They’re making sure I was ready for it.”

“It went really good,” Wieler, said of her first day. Wieler grew up in Walhalla and recently finished earning her teaching license through the University of North Dakota.

“It’s kind of hard not knowing any of the kids but I could tell they all get along really well with each other and they’re all really good in the classroom,” Wieler noted.

Many of Wieler’s students have been together since elementary school.

“That’s kind of what I’m used to,” she said. “I grew up in a K-12 school, too. Lexi (Rusch) is from Bismarck, so she’s used to bigger schools. I’m from Walhalla, so I’m more used to this knowing everything about everybody and knowing each other since kindergarten. So, I’m liking the school here so far.”

Wieler said she was “kind of” seeking a smaller town district when she was searching for a teaching job after completing her student teaching. “I was student teaching in Grand Forks at Grand Forks Central. They weren’t really hiring. I was kind of open to anything, honestly,” Wieler said.

“I like the size here because it’s a little bigger than where I grew up. In Walhalla, I’d be the only social studies teacher for grades 7 through 12, where here, there are three of us, so that’s nice.”

“I definitely like more of a mid-size school,” Wieler added. “I was happy to end up here rather than a bigger place. I think someplace bigger like Grand Forks would have been nice but I was very excited when I saw they were hiring here. It’s kind of the place I wanted to end up.”

Wieler described her students as “easy-going, it seems like. They’ll talk to me and joke around a little, but I can tell that they’re going to be ready for work for the most part. They’ll be able to chat, but they’ll be ready to learn and they can kind of tell the difference. But I have not had any issues with any of the students. They’re all very nice.”

“I hope I get to know the kids a little better this year,” Wieler said. “I’m teaching history, so I hope that I can make history more interesting for them. A lot of kids don’t really get into history now, so it’s my goal to show them that history can be relevant and it can be interesting as well. It can be fun. It’s still school, but I want to try to make it not boring as much as I can and as I get to know the kids, it’ll definitely help with that, too.”

Rusch said she hoped to get to know her seventh through 12th grade students in her music classes as well.

“I teach choir grades 7 through 12 and a couple of guitar classes as well,” Rusch said, adding, “I’ve played guitar for 10 years.”

In addition to teaching music, Rusch took on an assistant volleyball coaching job for Rugby Middle School.

Rusch, who grew up in Bismarck, will also begin the first year of her teaching career at Rugby Middle and High School. Rusch graduated from North Dakota State University in May.

“Rugby High is really great. Everyone’s so nice here,” Rusch said. “I’ve been really nervous because it’s my first year teaching. But everyone’s been so nice and the students are great, so it’s a really good experience overall.”

Rusch said living in Rugby after spending most of her life in Bismarck and Fargo “is definitely an adjustment. I can’t just go to Starbucks and get coffee anymore, but I think it’s really great here. I wouldn’t say life here is slower, but it’s more peaceful. There’s not as much busyness.”

“The kids are great. I’ve really enjoyed it. I started coaching volleyball Monday and it’s been so much fun. They’re definitely a great group of kids to start out with,” Rusch said.

“The kids in choir are good,” Rusch added. “My high school choir has 12 kids, so it’s a little smaller than I’m used to working with but it’s been really fun and it’s really cool to just be in front of a choir and choose the music I want to do with them. My junior high choir, I have 41 kids, so it’s a big difference. There’s a little bit more activity there.”

“But overall, my first day was a good day,” Rusch said. “The teachers are so kind. Every time I have a question, they’re willing to help. I haven’t had anyone turn me away. It’s been super great.”

“I hope that I can continue building a strong choral program at Rugby,” Rusch added. “The last teacher was here for a couple of years and she had a lot of great things that she did. So, I’m hoping to build on those traditions and get our numbers up a little higher and just really get to know the kids.”

John Groves has moved to the Rugby High School building from his sixth grade classroom at Ely Elementary School for the 2021-22 school year. Groves now teaches seventh- and eighth-grade science at Rugby Middle School.

Groves began his teaching career in Rugby in 2005 after he retired from the Air Force and completed his education degree at Minot State University.

“One thing I’ve noticed the most so far is I have to make a lot more copies of worksheets. Instead of 18 copies for the sixthgrade classroom, I’ve got to make 90 for the junior high kids,” Groves said wryly. “I know that’s not a very exciting thing but seriously, it’s what I’ve noticed the most.”

Groves said some of his seventh and eighth graders are former students of his.

“Knowing the students makes it easier. There’s not a period I have to go through where I learn from the students, so knowing the students and their strengths and weaknesses right off the bat is always a good thing,”

“I think the mentality of junior high and high school is treating the kids a little more like adults,” Groves said of the difference between the Rugby High and Ely campuses. “You can notice that right off the bat, the difference in how the kids are treated or taught.”

Groves said although he began his teaching career later than most people, “I don’t think the kids treat me any different than any of the other teachers.”

“I just have a more varied background than other teachers do because I’ve traveled all over the world. Spending 25 years in the military has given me a certain perspective that a teacher who went to college right out of high school then got a job has probably got a little different perspective from mine,” Groves said.

“I was actually the superintendent of training at Minot Air Force Base. That’s how I got into education classes. Furthering my education in the military and taking education classes for that just sort of blended right in to getting the degree from Minot State,” Groves added.

“I didn’t know if I wanted to do this teaching thing when I got out of the Air Force,” Groves said of his decision to teach. “I only had one interview right out of college and that was with Rugby. I told my wife, ‘I don’t know if this teaching thing’s going to work out, so we should buy a really rinky-dink house if this teaching job doesn’t work out.'” he said with a laugh. “And we’re still living in that same little house and we’ve raised seven kids there. So, a lot of times, we wish we would’ve bought a bigger house. But, we didn’t know if it would work out,” Groves added with a laugh. “Of course, 16 years later, here we are.”

“My wife works for Head Start,” Groves said. “She was a CNA at the hospital for a long time. Our children have (settled) here. We have grandchildren here. All of our kids have gone through Rugby schools.”

Groves’ youngest two children, twins Tom and Tim, graduated from Rugby High in 2021. Groves’ oldest child was born in 1983.

“My wife and I really enjoy Rugby,” Groves said. “I like to golf and fish during the summer. We feel connected to the community with my wife working and the nursing home and me working at the school. We’ve come to know quite a few people and we like it here.”

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