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West Fargo’s Ristvedt named NDALL’s Educator of Year

Community High School's Michelle Ristvedt was named Educator of the Year in alternative education by the North Dakota Association for Lifelong Learning. Daniel Determan

West Fargo Community High School math teacher Michelle Ristvedt was recently named Educator of the Year in Alternative Education by the North Dakota Association for Lifelong Learning (NDALL).

“It is very humbling to be recognized in this way,” Ristvedt said. “It makes me excited to dream a little bigger about what I can do.”

Ristvedt – in her 13th year as Community High’s math teacher – has been a lifelong West Fargo resident, and graduated from West Fargo High School. She and her husband, Blaine, have two sons: Soren, 6, and Mason, 2.

She has spent her entire career at Community High, even though she was unfamiliar with alternative education prior to being hired.

“I didn’t know a lot about it, but I interviewed here and I loved the ‘family feeling,’” Ristvedt said. “We all know each other really well. I really enjoy the colleagues I work with, because they are always ready to do what it takes for students to be successful. I can’t really envision myself anywhere else.”

While Ristvedt can’t imagine her work being too different from that of any other teacher, Community High’s two-block class format – in which students have two three-hour classes during the day – is a unique system that she prefers, as it allows for more interaction with her students.

“That length of time allows me to get to know them better, both socially and academically,” Ristvedt said. “I can spend a little more time on certain pieces of curriculum, because I have them longer.”

As the school does not have a full-time counselor, the added interaction of teachers with students allows – and, in some cases, requires – teachers to experience more of the social and emotional traits of their students.

“I don’t think we would be doing our jobs if we didn’t see the whole student,” Ristvedt said. “I have to realize that things that happen to them outside of school do affect how they learn in class.”

Ristvedt also serves as an advisor for the John D. Berry Foundation’s Philanthropy and Youth Program, which allows students to grant money to local non-profit organizations.

“The amount of personal growth and leadership skills that I see students develop… I don’t know if I have seen anything equal to it in my career,” Ristvedt said. “They are able to look at the world a little differently. They are a little more open-minded, and they are excited about finding their own passions in their lives. It opens avenues for them to realize that they can learn more about their community.”

While she is honored by the award from NDALL, she is a person that prefers helping others have their time in the spotlight.

“I really enjoy watching others be successful,” Ristvedt said. “So I will work as hard as I need to work to see the end product of a student finding success and feeling proud of themselves.”

Award winners tend to feel as if they need to better themselves beyond their previous successful endeavor. However, striving to improve one’s self is a trait already in Ristvedt’s mindset.

“Every year, my goal is to be better at certain things than I have been in the past,” Ristvedt said. “Continuous improvement is important. It can be from a curriculum standpoint, or rather how I handle certain situations. I have to make sure I am putting the same effort into teaching as the students put into learning. I like to think I am a blank canvas and I am always looking for personal growth.”