Last week Sheila Grgurich’s fourth-grade students at St. John the Baptist-Gildehaus in Villa Ridge were reading a story on Komodo dragons and, as part of their lesson, they had fun completing a few educational games related to the large lizards. The games weren’t something Grgurich had originally planned, but when she saw them a few weeks ago in The Missourian, she promptly saved those pages.

“It fit right in,” Grgurich remarked, noting very often that is the case.

“A lot of times, I find there is something in the newspaper that dovetails into what we’re doing,” she said.

That kind of commitment to using the newspaper in her classroom is one of the reasons Grgurich has been selected as the 2011 Missourian In Education Teacher of the Year.

“Sheila has been using The Missourian as a resource in her classroom for more than my 12 years leading this program,” said Dawn Kitchell, educational services director for the newspaper. “And throughout those years, she has been an active participant in our projects.”

Grgurich subscribes to the Current Events Package in The Missourian In Education program, which provides her classroom with both the Wednesday and Weekend newspapers.

“Working with a classroom set of newspapers twice each week is a big commitment,” Kitchell said. “That takes extra time on a teacher’s part, and really illustrates her dedication.”

Grgurich uses the newspaper for lessons across all subject areas, preferring it to worksheets or other handouts because “it gets them up and involved,” and that means increased learning and better retention, said Grgurich. Plus the students love it, she added with a smile.

“I like to bring in a lot of resources for them — sometimes we go to the computer or to the Smart Board . . . but we use the newspaper a lot.”

“The newspaper sparks their imagination,” Grgurich remarked.

More than just a learning tool, the newspaper helps keep students informed about what’s going on in the world, said Grgurich.

“They need to be informed, and they shouldn’t take any one source as the truth,” she said. “They should read the newspaper, watch the (TV) news, use their computer and books . . . ”

A teacher who began her career long before electronic and digital gadgets found their way into the classroom, Grgurich said for her the newspaper is one of her most vital resources for educating students.

“We have all of these tools, but they don’t always give them the basics,” she stressed. “I feel you have to balance the old and the new . . . and the newspaper helps with that.

“The newspaper is always relevant.”

How She Uses the Paper

Looking around Grgurich’s classroom reveals just a couple of ways she uses the newspaper. On one wall she has clippings pasted to construction paper showing news stories that were continued from a previous page.

“I want them to understand how to read a newspaper, that the story doesn’t end on the front page.”

For a lesson in religion, Grgurich had the students search the newspaper for photos of people making positive changes in their community. They found photos of students who held a can drive, students who were making a quilt to donate to a local children’s charity, photos of veterans . . .

They cut out each photo and pasted them on construction paper to hang on the wall.

“I like to have them looking for things on their own,” said Grgurich.

For a lesson in spelling, Grgurich sent the students home with a list of items to find in the paper and then write a few sentences on each one.

“Today in the newspaper I found:

“1. A good story about kids. Write about it.

“2. A picture of St. John’s preschool kids. Write about it.

“3. A picture of a St. John graduate — Nathan Pinter and his police dog, Rascal. Write about it.

“4. An advertisement for a part-time cook at a local restaurant. Do you know someone who would be a good cook? Tell me why they would be good at this job.”

Since this was a lesson in spelling, Grgurich reminded the students that spelling and neatness counted.

Typically Grgurich creates an activity using the paper that ties into a skill the class is studying — like possessive and plural nouns.

The day The Missourian visited her classroom, Grgurich had the students find the editorial page of their Wednesday newspaper and locate two specific editorials. Working in groups and using highlighter pens, the students had to identify the possessive nouns in one editorial and the plural nouns in the other.

For homework that night, Grgurich had her students cut out two items from the newspaper — an editorial cartoon on Black Friday and a Letter to the Editor on the same subject. Their assignment was to read both and then write their own opinion.

The educational features that included in the newspaper each week, like Kid Scoop or a serial story chapter, are regular activities in Grgurich’s classroom. She is particularly excited about the Spelling Bee feature that runs weekly, providing a list of words and their definitions, leading up to a regional spelling bee to be held this spring.

Grgurich keeps the newspapers available to her students every day by allowing them to read them during free time, which they often do.

“They like to read it just for fun,” she said.

“A lot of times they come across an activity for us on their own.”

Grgurich encourages her students to take the newspapers home to read more and to share with their families.

‘I Learn Along With the Kids’

After more than 30 years on the job, Grgurich said she still loves her job.

She started teaching in 1980 as a substitute at St. Francis Borgia Grade School. By the next year she had been offered a job teaching first grade at St. John the Baptist-Gildehaus in Villa Ridge, and she eagerly accepted.

Since then Grgurich has taught first grade for seven years, eighth grade for 15 and now fourth grade, and loved every minute of it, she said.

“I learn along with the kids,” she remarked.

“I believe that education is the key to their future, but they have to work at it,” said Grgurich. “They have to have enthusiasm for it.

“I tell them, ‘This is your job.’ They are getting paid with their projects and grades.”

Grgurich said her role in fourth grade is the “transition teacher,” preparing students for the transition from primary grades to the upper grades (fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth) where they will rotate classrooms and have multiple teachers.

Grgurich and her husband, who regularly ride their motorcycles out to Montana during the summer, are such staunch supporters of education that they helped start a school, De La Salle Blackfeet School, primarily for at-risk students on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Browing, Mont. The couple return every summer to help the school prepare for the new year each fall.

Grgurich said it’s her enthusiasm for teaching that keeps her going.

“For me it’s very rewarding,” she said.

Recognizing Good Teachers

As the 2011 Missourian In Education Teacher of the Year, Grgurich will receive a $100 award, a one-year home subscription to The Missourian, and a framed copy of this feature story which will all be presented to her in January.

The Missourian has been recognizing a Missourian In Education Teacher of the Year since 2003. Kitchell said it’s just another way to recognize good teaching.

“Our Missourian In Education award recognizes teachers who use the newspaper in great ways, but I believe you won’t find a teacher who uses the newspaper who isn’t a great teacher,” Kitchell said. “So we’re recognizing some of the most outstanding teachers in our area communities.”

This year, more than 100 teachers in 41 area schools are participating in the Missourian In Education program. With help from community partners, The Missourian is delivering more than 3,000 student newspapers every week.

Inside the newspaper so far this year students have learned about the Constitution, 9-11, nearly extinct domestic ladybugs, space, bullying, spelling, flag etiquette, good books through the monthly Book Buzz column, and in today’s issue, the Bill of Rights. They also have access to the weekly Kid Scoop feature and Kid Scoop Online.

This January, The Missourian will participate in the annual statewide reading project, Reading Across Missouri, by publishing the nine-week serialized story, “Patriotic Pals, Tails of the Civil War. ” Other spring features will focus on gardening, the Civil War Amendments, and several monthly topics carrying over from the fall semester, such as space, bullying and spelling.

Past Missourian In Education Teachers of the Year are:

2003 — Lauri Link, Gerald Elementary.

2004 — Jennifer Hawkins, Edgar Murray School, St. Clair.

2005 — Sister Pat Gloriod, St. Vincent de Paul, Dutzow.

2006 — Jennifer Wirthwein, Washington Middle School.

2007 — Wynn Scheer, Fifth Street Elementary, Washington.

2008 — Ann Joyce, Our Lady of Lourdes, Washington.

2009 — Maria Kerr, Franklin County Special Education Cooperative, St. Clair.

2010 — Joan Obermark, Clearview Elementary, Washington.