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Adventures in teaching: Mary Steiner is retiring at Trinity West

Mary Steiner relies on her creativity and sense of adventure to get the attention of her fourth-graders at Trinity Elementary West. Consider the character of Jill Nal the Science Gal who teaches occasional science lessons. Dressed in goggles and ...

Mary Steiner relaxes in her classroom at Trinity West. (Linda Sailer/The Dickinson Press)
Mary Steiner relaxes in her classroom at Trinity West. (Linda Sailer/The Dickinson Press)

Mary Steiner relies on her creativity and sense of adventure to get the attention of her fourth-graders at Trinity Elementary West.

Consider the character of Jill Nal the Science Gal who teaches occasional science lessons. Dressed in goggles and a white coat, Mary hides in the closet until the kids walk into the classroom. She comes flying out and they start screaming in excitement. The next time, she may hide in a furnace room or across the hallway. They wait and wait, looking for her, and when she comes out, they scream again.

She credits a college instructor, who did a similar gig in college.

He said, "Sometimes, you've got to get their attention!"

Steiner told story after story about the adventures that she and her students have shared throughout her 39 years of teaching. She recently announced her retirement at the end of May.

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"It was time, I'm ready," she said. "I've love teaching, I love the kids, but I want to spend more time with the grandkids and I'm ready for the next change in my life."

Mary loves science and insects, so of course, the lesson on the Monarch butterfly's life cycle is one of her favorites. Over the years, she's brought caterpillars into the classroom. They transform into a chrysalis and emerge as a butterfly.

"The kids can't figure out where the caterpillar went," she said. "When they emerge, we let them go," she said.

This year, she couldn't find any caterpillars, even though North Dakota has an abundance of milkweed-their habitat.

"The Weekly Reader said they are endangered because their habitat in Mexico is gone, and they are asking people to plant milkweed along their migration pattern," she said.

Fourth-graders study North Dakota history-a good reason for a field trip to the Killdeer Mountains in the fall and Bismarck in the spring.

"We start out the third day of school with a field hike to the Killdeer Mountains and Medicine Hole-I get them hook, line and sinker," she said. "Throughout the year, when we talk about elevation, landforms, rock formations, it just fits in. When get they to the top, they'll say, "Look how far you can see!' or "This is the best day ever!' I tell them whoever can hit the cars with a rock doesn't have to go to school the next day, so of course, they're throwing rocks (that never reach the bottom)."

She ties the trip into North Dakota studies, plants, and the Battle of the Killdeer Mountain- Brig. Gen Alfred Sully's expedition against the Sioux in 1864.

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The class is planning a trip to Bismarck-capitol, Heritage Center, Fort Lincoln on May 21. It's tied into their assignment to create a North Dakota project-be it a Powerpoint presentation of how grandma canned vegetables, a scrapbook about Lewis and Clark or a replica of Fort Union.

She has a vivid memory of the year when the class saw George W. Bush, who was campaigning in 1989 as president of the United States. The kids were right up to the fence at the capitol in Bismarck, and two climbed over and sat in front of the president. The band was playing "Proud to be an America" and there were red, white and blue balloons.

"My kids had tears rolling down their eyes and I said, 'That's freedom.' I don't know how to teach it. You experience it. It was so cool," she said.

Mary's stories didn't stop there.

One year, the class skyped a soldier -Brandon Stevenson- who was serving in Iraq. The conversations were held at Stevenson Funeral Home where each kid stood in front of the screen to ask a question.

Mary's class communicated with a niece, who is a marine biologist in Africa.

"She sent me pictures of insects-millipedes and centipedes the size of snakes that their kids play with."

Her niece's husband was involved on a scientific expedition to the South Pole. They also blogged him.

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And the class celebrated the Feast of St. Francis on Oct. 4. St. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of pets. The children were invited to bring their pets (cats, dogs, even a horse) to St. Patrick's Church backyard where they are blessed by the priest.

She was born Mary Keller-one of 10 kids from Harvey. She met her husband, Carson, when she went to Minot State University. She taught a year in Mohall and moved to Dickinson 38 years ago. She was told of a teaching job at New England St. Mary's grade 3. Before the interview was complete, she was handed a contract.

She was told, "You're Joe Steiner's daughter-in-law, you're Catholic, you're good."

"I taught there five years and loved it."

She substitute taught a year in Dickinson, until Dale Smith said there's an opening in fourth grade at West. She's been there ever since -one year she taught fifth grade.

"What's kept me here is, I can teach the faith. It's family, the closeness of the kids. The teachers are so dedicated and everyone is so happy. We work together so well," she said.

Another reason-" I wanted my own kids (Joey and Kayla) to attend a Catholic school."

Mary has 17 students in her classroom and teaches all the subjects. The biggest change has been technology. The school has a computer lab, and the class checks out IPads from the college two weeks a month. She has a Smartboard for teaching math and reading.

"The students may use technology or they can use paper and pencil, it's interactive hands-on-I like a variety of learning," she said.

Shortly after the last day of school, Mary and Carson will head to Lake Sakakawea where they have a cabin.

"We'll be there until the water is turned off," she said.

She has no regrets about her decision.

"I'm ready for the next change in my life," she said.

Principal of the Trinity Catholic Schools JoLyn Tessier speaks for the faculty when she says Mary's departure will leave a huge void.

"We'll miss her singing in the halls in the mornings," she said. "She's always an upbeat person, a positive person willing to take the initiative to get things done."

Family and friends are sponsoring a retirement celebration for Mary on Friday, May 18, at the Eagles Club. The public is invited to come from 7:30-11 p.m. to wish her well.

Sidebar:

Retirement Celebration

Family and friends of Mary Steiner are sponsoring a retirement celebration on Friday, May 18, at the Eagles Club. The public is invited to come from 7:30-11 p.m. to wish her well.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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