First as a parent and then a faculty member, fifth-grade teacher Cindy Menzel has a lot of history with St. Mary’s Catholic School.
Now in her 13th year at St. Mary’s, Menzel was awarded the Metro Educator of the Year — Elementary by the Archdiocese of Omaha.
Menzel said she was “humbled” to receive her award.
“To receive that honor was a huge surprise,” Menzel said. “I look around this building and every single faculty member would be due that honor as much or more than I am.”
Menzel said she started to teach because she was inspired by many teachers in her life, most importantly her mother.
“Her whole outlook on education was that you never, ever stop learning and you never, ever stop having an opportunity to share what you learn,” she said.
Menzel grew up in Fremont, Neb., and attended then-Midland Lutheran College, where she majored in elementary education and minored in special education. After her graduation in 1981, Menzel taught fifth grade for one year in Columbus, Neb.
She then went back to school at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to receive her master’s degree in special education with a focus in behavior disorders.
She started to teach in Bellevue Public Schools in 1983, and met her husband, Ted, at Wake Robin Elementary. Menzel stayed home to care for her children until they went to St. Mary’s, where she started to work as a substitute teacher at the school.
When her youngest daughter, Rebekah, now the art teacher at St. Mary’s, graduated eighth grade, Menzel started teaching full time at the school.
What kept Menzel at St. Mary’s was being able to weave her faith into education and also the supportive community.
“There have been kids over the years that have taught me so much, so I kind of look back over that time and think, ‘Wow, I’ve learned a lot from all the students I’ve had,’” she said. “[St. Mary’s] is a close knit family — and like any close knit family, you have your ups and downs and you have your periods where you feel really connected.”
Though she’s had a variety of teaching positions, Menzel said fifth grade is her “love.”
“I love the age of the kids, I love the curriculum, I love having a self-contained classroom,” she said. “I have a lot of flexibility, a lot of creativity with the kids and how we approach things. It’s a good fit for me.”
Menzel said one of the things she loves about St. Mary’s is the connections with students, as well as their families.
“That clearly has its benefits with how you approach a particular student,” she said. “We’re a part of something larger. It’s just such a gift to have this school and it’s become an important part of my life.”
Menzel said her award means a lot to her and her teaching.
“It makes you stop and think if you’re living up to that award,” she said. “Certainly, no one goes into teaching for the financial reward, and you never go into teaching for any other recognition, because it’s not in our makeup.”