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“With all of us working together, there is nothing we can’t achieve,” Boomsma said.
Constance Walter

Erica Boomsma, a fourth-grade teacher at the Washington 4-5 Center in the Huron School District, was named the South Dakota Teacher of the year in October 2018. In this role, Boomsma represents teachers from South Dakota by traveling to Washington D.C. with other state Teachers of the Year, having lunch with the Governor and doing workshops with other South Dakota educators.

“This has been the most exciting and most humbling experience of my career,” Boomsma said.  “Representing the educators of South Dakota is an incredible honor. The teachers of South Dakota are second to none—the best of the best!”

According to the South Dakota Department of Education, the Teacher of the Year program recognizes and honors the tremendous contributions of outstanding classroom teachers. As recipient of the honor, Boomsma receives prizes including a $5,000 cash award from the West River Foundation and a $1,000 honorarium from the South Dakota Board of Regents to present a series of professional development seminars to aspiring teachers. Prize packages are made possible through the generosity of private businesses and organizations, including the Sanford Underground Research Facility (Sanford Lab), Smart Technologies, the South Dakota Retailers Association and the South Dakota Education Association.

“Since we began Sanford Lab operations more than 10 years ago, we’ve been fully committed to advancing K-12 science and math education in South Dakota,” said Mike Headley, executive director of the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority, which manages Sanford Lab. “We’re proud to sponsor the Teacher of the Year program in support of our teachers as they strive to provide our kids outstanding educational opportunities.”

“The Teacher of the Year program not only provides a deserving teacher an opportunity to be recognized for their impact, but it also is a chance for the recipient to represent great teaching to a wide audience of South Dakotans,” said Dr. Ben Jones, Secretary of South Dakota’s Department of Education. “We can all be enriched by listening to our teachers share the rich and rewarding moments they’ve had in the classroom. We really appreciated SURF’s continued support of South Dakota’s Teacher of the Year.”

Boomsma has taught in the Huron School District since 2002. She is a leader in her school and district, serving as a resource to colleagues seeking guidance on effective instructional strategies for English learners. In recent years, Boomsma has led the development of a highly successful literacy program focused on building fluency and comprehension. As part of this program, students have created a “virtual library,” recording themselves reading books aloud. These audiobooks are then made available for all classrooms in the district.

Boomsma describes her classroom as “incredibly diverse.” The district follows the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol program, also known as SIOP, so they utilize all available forms of technology to teach students from all over. And as a believer in Social Emotional Learning for students who have experienced trauma, Boomsma helps her students develop coping skills that will aid them in their everyday lives for success, using the latest research in brain-based strategies for learning.

“With every content standard, I focus on engineering a lesson that will illuminate multiple areas of the brain, focusing on a well-rounded mind,” Boomsma said. “I teach students how the brain works, the names and jobs of certain areas of the mind and that learning isn’t an accident. Growth and understanding are the acts of learning. I am excited to see what the future holds for education in this particular area of research.”

Over the past 17 years, Boomsma’s students have come from around the world—Guatemala, Honduras, Peru, Mexico, Puerto Rico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Burma and Thailand. But she also teaches students from across the street, 100-year-old farms in South Dakota and Lakota Nations.

“All of our students are at different language-acquisition and learning levels, but they are all together in my classroom,” she said. “It’s important to remember that this is nothing new to South Dakota. Our state’s history is founded on families taking risks and leaving what they have always known in order to start fresh and begin a new life for their families. I am proud and honored to be a part of their journey.”

Recently, Boomsma and the other nominees from South Dakota attended the Teacher of the Year Luncheon at the Governor’s Mansion in Pierre, where Governor Kristi Noem emphasized that she hopes to accomplish great things for education during her tenure. Boomsma said she also appreciated the opportunity to meet members of the South Dakota Department of Education and sponsors of the Teacher of the Year program.

“It was nice to hear Gov. Noem reach out to teachers for their expertise,” Boomsma said. “Support from so many people and organizations is a wonderful thing. Education is changing at an incredible rate—not just in the classroom, but also in the framework of education itself.  Education is no longer one teacher in one district working only with one curriculum.”

As the South Dakota Teacher of the Year, Boomsma also represented South Dakota as a candidate for the National Teacher of the Year award. The National Teacher of the Year Program began in 1952 and continues as the oldest, most prestigious national honors program that focuses public attention on excellence in teaching. The 2019 National Teacher of the Year was announced during a ceremony in Washington, D.C. in the spring. The honor went to Rodney Robinson, a social studies teacher in Richmond, Virginia. 

During her trip to D.C, Boomsma met Vice President Pence, President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. She talked with Senator Thune to discuss education in South Dakota and met Bernie Sanders “just walking down the street.”

“The goal of that trip was to develop relationships with our lawmakers and to understand policy,” Boomsma said. “An open relationship between teachers and lawmakers is essential for our students. I think I can speak for all my fellow teachers when I say that we want to be a part of the solution. We are experts in our field and our students always come first. We are great teammates to have.”

A statewide panel of educators selected Boomsma from among five regional finalists. The other finalists were Anita Boeck, math, Arlington School District; Sarah Darling, first grade, Brandon Elementary; Lisa Zahn, vocal music, Mobridge-Pollock School District; and Mary Day, business education and computer technology, Belle Fourche High School.

“The Teacher of the Year program places its emphasis on the importance of the teacher voice and leadership,” Boomsma said.  “I think it is very important that every teacher knows their voice matters, that we have the power to affect change and to lead. And, with all of us working together, there is nothing that we can’t achieve.”