Sherie Dike-Wilhelm, an English language teacher at Longmont’s Columbine Elementary, poses with students, from left to right, Aleysha Franco, Naydelin Mota, Giovani Hernandez and De’Anthony Gaytan. Dike-Wilhelm is receiving a gold award from the University of Colorado Boulder’s Best Should Teach Initiative. (Submitted photo)
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An college internship in an English-as-a-second language program inspired Sherie Dike-Wilhelm to go into teaching.

Now 21 years into her teaching career, she still cries when she recounts the horrors experienced by the two 15-year-old Somali girls with shrapnel embedded in their backs with whom she worked with in college.

“You’ve gone through this war in your backyard and just want to learn English — I can make that happen for you,” she said. “I can help move you to something better.”

Now an English language teacher and biliteracy interventionist at Longmont’s Columbine Elementary School, she continues to help students master a new language so they can be successful in the classroom.

“It’s amazingly challenging and amazingly rewarding to find what clicks for each child,” she said. “I get to help kids make connections to learning and themselves and each other. I get to stretch my own brain. I’m very blessed and lucky.”

She is one of two local teachers receiving a gold award through the University of Colorado Boulder’s Best Should Teach Initiative. The other is Dawn Ringenbach, art teacher at Broomfield’s Emerald Elementary.

The Best Should Teach Initiative is managed by CU’s Graduate Teacher Program in coordination with the School of Education, the College of Arts and Sciences and the Graduate School.

The awards will be presented Thursday at CU at a ceremony that includes a keynote speech by Bettina L. Love on “We want to do more than survive: abolitionist teaching as anti-racist pedagogy.”

“It’s one of the few events that brings together the K-16 community,” said CU Boulder Education School Dean Kathy Schultz. “It’s really honoring teaching, which sometimes in a research institute can get lost.”

Columbine’s Dike-Wilhelm said she grew up in poverty and credits teachers for seeing her potential.

“I had some amazing teachers, and I get to give some of that back,” she said. “I understand a lot of the challenges that go with poverty. I like to say nobody is getting out of poverty if you can’t read and write and you can’t do math.”

At Columbine, she works mainly with small groups of students who need extra support, along with providing support in regular classrooms and occasionally providing coaching to classroom teachers.

One way she keeps her students motivated to tackle the challenging work of learning a new language is by videotaping them so they can see their progress. She also incorporates lots of learning games.

“We celebrate their progress,” she said. “It has to be engaging, and it has to be fun. If I knew how to stand on my head for these kids, I would.”

With a job that’s mainly behind the scenes, she added, she was shocked to learn she was being recognized by the Best Should Teach Initiative.

“It’s just blown me away,” she said.

At Broomfield’s Emerald Elementary, Ringenbach last school year taught art and was a teacher librarian. This year, she’s teaching art full time.

“As the art teacher, I get to see the kids over six years,” she said. “I get to know them as they grow and develop and find out who they are. It’s really kind of cool that way.”

Previously an art therapist, she said, she continues to use the skills and childhood development knowledge she learned as a therapist in her work as a teacher. A recent lesson, for example, incorporated empathy.

“I tie in literacy and stories and books and the social emotional with the art and the art history,” she said. “It’s a very rich learning environment that the kids really thrive in. It’s a class they can find a place to belong and feel successful.”

She also uses an art studio model, giving students choice in materials and methods and asking them to plan, evaluate and present their projects.

“They get to explore,” she said. “They go into more depth. It’s really about the whole art process.”

If you go

What: Best Should Teach lecture and awards ceremony

When: 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday

Where: University Memorial Center ballroom, 1669 Euclid Ave., Boulder

More info: colorado.edu/gtp/BestShouldTeach

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