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Coborn named MREA teacher of year

Lisa Coborn

Lisa Coborn, coordinator of the Alternative Learning Center (ALC) at Park Rapids Area High School, has been named a 2018 Educator of Excellence for Greater Minnesota by the Minnesota Rural Education Association.

Representing the MREA's North Central Zone, Coborn is one of four teachers statewide to receive the honor this year. She will be honored at an awards banquet on Nov. 12 at Cragun's on the Lake, near Brainerd.

Teacher of the year

According to a Sept. 27 MREA press release, things started happening when PRAHS administrators sought a way to help students who might not earn a diploma in a traditional high school environment without support.

Coborn responded by building the ALC from the ground up in four years, based on research and the principles of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

"We recognized very quickly the obstacles that students in our community were facing, including poverty, homelessness, mental health issues, absence of one or both parents, teen pregnancy, chemical dependency issues and others," Coborn said. "We then worked to create a program that helped students deal with these issues and still remain in school."

Superintendent Lance Bagstad said, "Lisa has developed countless relationships with students and families at risk in assisting them to reach success and ultimately graduation."

Coborn started her career as an English teacher and focused on working with students with learning disabilities before becoming coordinator of the ALC.

"Teaching feels like home to me," Coborn told the MREA. "It has always felt like the right path. I am humbled by the opportunity to spend my days with my students, to get to know them as people and to watch them grow and succeed."

Wellbeing first

ALC staff members start each morning connecting with each student to check on their personal wellbeing.

"Often there are crisis situations that occur over the weekend," said Coborn, "so students need time to relax, process and sometimes just talk. We try to teach our students to be accountable for themselves and their actions and to accept the consequences of those actions, but always understand that they can change their direction and learn from their mistakes."

Meeting and serving those students "where they are at" has led to a series of community partnerships and programs, including an on-site daycare for teen parents that provides food, supplies and parenting courses designed exclusively for them through Early Childhood Family Education.

According to the MREA, Coborn immerses herself in meeting the academic, social and emotional needs of her students. She also helps students and families seek medical, transportation, financial assistance and other basic living needs.

Collaboration at every corner

The community has responded to serve Coborn's students in a variety of ways. A local bank offers them financial literacy sessions. The Subway restaurant hires many of the students and helps them balance work and school. The animal shelter also gives them therapeutic volunteer opportunities.

"Lisa demonstrates the power of community collaboration," said MREA Executive Director Fred Nolan. "The ALC program at Park Rapids continues to get results for at-risk students and thrives because of her commitment to engage the community and ensure the students feel valued in it."