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Pella Social Studies Educator Named Iowa’s History Teacher of the Year

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A fifth-grade teacher from Pella has been named the state’s History Teacher of the Year.

Rebecca Helland, who teaches at Jefferson Intermediate School, was named by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History after being recommended by an Iowa Department of Education committee. The institute’s mission is to promote the knowledge and understanding of American history through educational programs and resources.

Helland is also a mentor teacher for Pella Community Schools as part of Iowa’s teacher leadership system.

“Rebecca Helland exemplifies the great teaching that is taking place in so many Iowa classrooms,” Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise said. “As a former social studies teacher, I appreciate educators who help students deepen their understanding of history by making direct connections to their daily lives.”

Brian Miller, principal of Jefferson Intermediate, said Helland works to make history come alive for her students. “She has the students actively engaged in hands-on activities in collaborative groups. Rebecca doesn’t just instruct the students, she guides them through the process of learning by self-discovery and exploration of the topics,” Miller wrote in recommending Helland for the award.

Helland said she engages students by asking questions that are worth exploring. In addition, she incorporates primary and secondary sources for students to use in looking for answers.

One of Helland’s lesson plans, for instance, asks, “What should our new city park be like?” Social studies standards are incorporated into the lesson. Students must then glean information on historical concepts, economics, societal needs and desires before students can envision what the park should look like, and then ultimately record a video explaining why their concept of the park is best for the city’s needs.

Helland received a $1,000 prize from the institute.