This year, with three students who have qualified two projects for the national contest this June in Washington, D.C., Mueller has been was awarded the Junior Division Patricia Behring Teacher of the Year Award for Kansas.
As a winner of the award, Mueller is nominated for the National Patricia Behring Teacher of the Year Award at the Kenneth E. Behring National History Day Contest in June.
“I was so honored to be selected, and proud to represent Kansas, but I don’t know what I do to deserve it because the kids do all the work,” Mueller said with a chuckle. “I just supervise from the shadows.”
Mueller teaches at USD 410 schools through the Marion County Special Education Coop. She works with students in Peabody-Burns and Goessel schools in addition to Hillsboro students.
“This is my 11th year to be at Hillsboro,” Mueller said. “I was (also) at Centre until this year, and I did have students at Centre participate in History Day.
“This year, we switched some districts, but they would have had to fight to take Hillsboro away form me,” Mueller said. “These are my kids.”
Superintendent Steve Noble said, “We always do very well at National History Day. We always have two or three kids, or maybe just a kid or two, that seem to perform very well.
“It’s probably one of the better research projects our kids are involved in,” he added. “(Mueller) coordinates all that research—and they have to present that research to a panel, and they’re judged.
“It’s certainly a deserving award,” Noble said about the Junior Division Patricia Behring Teacher of the Year designation.
Mueller said it was a parent who suggested that her students participate in the National History Day program. Mueller began with two students.
“Since then we’ve grown to where we have 10 to 15 entering projects each year,” she said.
Students can work alone or together to develop a project based on a historical theme.
They have five categories from which to choose: writing a paper; creating a performance, including original scripts and costumes; creating a museum-like exhibit; creating a documentary or creating a website.
Past topics have ranged from the Wright Brothers, to the Orphan Train, to the Dalton Gang.
“The project we did the first year was the Dalton Gang,” Mueller said. “We went to Coffeyville and toured the cemetery. We actually walked the alley where the gunfight was held and stuck our fingers in the bullet holes.”
The contest has two divisions, based on age: junior (middle school) and senior (high school).
District competition is the first hurdle to clear. Hillsboro competes at Manhattan in February; the state contest is in Topeka during April with the national contest in June at College Park, Md.
Mueller said working with the National History Day program is right up her alley.
“History’s one of my favorite subjects anyway,” she said. “I love learning about history, and I hope this helps foster a love for learning within my students so they will become lifelong learners.
“It great to see the joy on their faces when they finish a project and when their name is called at district or state.”
Mueller said some of her current students have been with her since they were first- or second-graders.
“They’re my kids,” she said. “It’s just fun to spend time with them. I enjoy my job—I don’t consider it a job.”
Mueller said seeing the spark in her students and how they own the “own” the project are her rewards.
“They start with just a topic idea, and by the end of the year we say they own that topic because you can ask them almost anything about the topic and they can go into a long dissertation about it.”
The National Patricia Behring Teacher of the Year Award is given to one junior division and one senior division teacher who “has shown outstanding creativity, commitment and inspiration in developing student interest in history education,” according to the organization.
Each of the 56 affiliates of National History Day awards one teacher in each division $500 and nominates him or her for the National Patricia Behring Teacher of the Year Award.
The winners of the national award receive $10,000 “in honor of their outstanding efforts to encourage and support history education.”