FARGO - Leah Juelke, a language arts instructor for English learners at South High School, is the Fargo School District’s 2017 Teacher of the Year.

Juelke, a 2001 graduate of Fargo South and a North Dakota State University alumna, was honored Monday, March 20, in a surprise ceremony, thanks to district officials using a monthly fire drill to get students and staff into the school gymnasium.

When Juelke’s was announced by Superintendent Jeff Schatz, students and staff roared their approval.

“I actually love coming to work every day. … I just really enjoy my job. Every day is fun,” Juelke said in accepting the award.

“It’s just so much fun every day to hear the kids’ stories, and to teach them and help them out. In a way it’s not work,” she said.

“She’s an outstanding teacher in the classroom” Schatz said, citing the “extraordinary work she’s done with her students in the English language program.”

Juelke began teaching in the Fargo School District in 2013, but built a considerable resume first.

Her teaching experience includes working as a long-term substitute Spanish instructor with the Moorhead School District, one year at a college preparatory school in Taiwan, three years at a college preparatory school in Ecuador, and a year in a middle school in Colorado.

She received a master’s degree in education from North Dakota State University in 2012. She also served in the Army National Guard as a medical specialist and training instructor from 2003 to 2008.

Juelke received hugs from her husband, Juan Casares, and their 5-year-old daughter, Samara, who each held an end of the banner announcing the honor.

“This is great for her. I am proud of her. She’s doing what she loves to do,” Casares said.

For the last three years, South students have presented their personal journeys online and orally at a public presentation on the NDSU campus. .

Juelke and her students also received local and national attention for putting together short-story narratives and videos documenting their immigrant experiences with the help of Minneapolis-based Green Card Voices. Juelke said a release event for South High’s Green Card Voices book is scheduled from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, March 28, at the Holiday Inn..

“Just remember, that the United States is built on immigration,” Juelke said. “And everyone is either a refugee or an immigrant, unless you’re a Native American. There’s so many great things that are brought to the country through diversity.”

Juelke encourages people to get to know their neighbors.

“Just being open to being educated,” she said. “There’s so many opportunities that are missed when people just close their doors.”

Juelke is now a candidate for North Dakota Teacher of the year.

The 2016 Teacher of the Year was Jennifer Kujanson, a second-grade teacher at Ed Clapp Elementary School.

The 2015 honoree was Matthew Myrold, a special education teacher at Carl Ben Eielson Middle School.

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