TURNER — Eight years ago, Leavitt Area High School chemistry teacher Julie Schmidt pitched the idea of an after-school program to help students struggling to finish classes and graduate on time.

This week, students heaped on praise — she “makes you feel like your opinion matters,” she’s “funny and a good listener,” she “taught me to persevere” — and the district surprised her with the annual $5,000 Patience Norman Prize for Teacher Excellence.

They slipped the award in during a school-wide Student of the Quarter assembly Tuesday.

Schmidt, 44, in her 11th year at Leavitt, said she knew early that she wanted to teach, veering off a chemical engineering track in college.

“I love being able to help kids kind of find their way and their passion,” she said. “Obviously, I like chemistry, but that isn’t the route many kids are going to take. I really enjoy feeling like maybe I can help influence their path that they take but also help them become happier, healthier human beings.”

The after-school program she runs, called Credit Recovery, works with staff and parents to help kids catch up without having to retake entire classes.

“What we were seeing was kids who were failing classes and then needing to repeat classes, so they weren’t on track for graduation,” Schmidt said. “Sometimes, I think the content gets in the way, but I think other problems in their lives sometimes get in the way, too. It’s kind of giving them a fair shot at trying to succeed here.”

Between six and 10 students, on average, take part at a time.

“It’s just a period after school that they can come and get support for some of their needs,” she said. “I feel like there are some kids who come to school lacking some skills and I feel like they need an advocate and don’t always have that voice. I don’t think any kid comes here wanting to do poorly.”

In their nomination letter, staff called her “the type of teacher we all wish our children could have.” 

“Many educators talk about doing whatever it takes to support students,” wrote another. “Julie doesn’t just talk about it, she does it.”

Superintendent Kimberly Brandt described her as “meeting them where they are and challenging them to learn and grow.”

One of Schmidt’s former students who’d written an essay on why she deserved the award handed it to Schmidt after the presentation, wanting her to see it.

“I was very humbled,” Schmidt said. “I hope that I have the impact on students that I want to have. She made me feel that I really do.”

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Julie Schmidt at Leavitt Area High School was surprised Tuesday with the district’s Patience Norman Prize for Teacher Excellence, a $5,000 prize given each December. (Submitted photo)

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