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Sara Forness teaches an environmental science class for juniors and seniors Monday, at West Fargo High School. She is one of five U.S. teachers to be named an Outstanding Educator by Project Learning Tree.  Michael Vosburg
Sara Forness teaches an environmental science class for juniors and seniors Monday, at West Fargo High School. She is one of five U.S. teachers to be named an Outstanding Educator by Project Learning Tree. Michael Vosburg

Science teacher first in ND to win coveted award

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Fargo North Dakota 101 5th Street North 58102

West Fargo High School science teacher Sara Forness was one of five teachers in the nation to win an Outstanding Educator award from Project Learning Tree on Thursday.

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Forness – who teaches environmental science and field biology — is the first North Dakota teacher to ever win the award.

“Since there were only five winners in the nation, I was very surprised,” Forness said. “It is such a big honor, and I am so grateful to work with the foresters I get to work with. They have been so fun and helpful.”

Project Learning Tree is a program of the American Forest Foundation — sponsored locally by the North Dakota Forest Service — that provides educators with curriculum, professional development, and resources to integrate environmental education into lesson plans for all grades and subject areas.

The award winners were selected for their commitment to environmental education, exemplary use of Project Learning Tree’s curriculum materials, and exceptional teaching skills.

Forness has been at West Fargo High School for 19 years, and uses Project Learning Tree’s curriculum to give her students an interactive, hands-on learning experience.

She also likes to have foresters and other natural resources professionals stop by her classrooms as guest speakers, as well as take her students away from the classroom for in-the-field experiences.

“It has a lot to do with 21st-century skills,” Forness said. “It grabs all students, from the creative student to the kid who likes to talk to the silent problem solver. They all see the importance of finding a solution. It is adaptable to a variety of learners. I see a higher level of engagement with this curriculum, especially with the ‘city kids.’ When they get to stand in a river with waiters on, they get pretty darn excited, and that really makes it fun.”

The school administrators have also been pleased with Forness’ teaching methods, and see her as a “positive role model” for her students.

“In every observation and conversation that I have had with Sara Forness over the past three years, the thing that has stood out to me the most has been her commitment to sharing her love of the sciences as it pertains to the environment with her students,” assistant principal Ryan Stewart said. “She serves all parts of the academic spectrum at West Fargo High School, from the most gifted of students to the most needy.  Most, if not all, of her students leave her classroom with a much greater love for the natural environment that they live in.”

Forness will be honored at Project Learning Tree’s International Coordinators’ Conference from May 19-22 in Traverse City, Mich. She is also invited to attend the World Forestry Center’s International Educators’ Institute from July 13-19 in Portland, Ore.

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