KASSON -- The worldwide pop star Shakira helped drive home a lesson on Monday for a class of Kasson-Mantorville High School students.

Elizabeth Averbeck, teacher of the Advanced Placement Human Geography class, found a YouTube video breaking down the beat that Shakira often dances to on stage. That beat, the video's narrator said, is known as cumbia.

From there, the class tracked that particular thread of musical culture around the world.

“The cumbia beat is actually from where? Africa. But yet, it’s iconic to Latin America,” Averbeck said. “This is a perfect example of ‘synchronism.’ Synchronism is where cultures come together and something new is created.”

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Averbeck said she "nerded out" when she found that video to show the class. But that's Averbeck’s style: learn something new to teach something new, tying academic concepts to real-life events and people to increase the relevancy.

Elizabeth Averbeck, a Kasson-Mantorville High School social studies teacher, teaches an advanced placement human geography class Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, in Kasson. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
Elizabeth Averbeck, a Kasson-Mantorville High School social studies teacher, teaches an advanced placement human geography class Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, in Kasson. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

Averbeck is just about to reach her 10-year anniversary as a teacher, the last four of which have been at Kasson-Mantorville. On any given day, she has about 100 students.

In addition to human geography, she teaches government and history. She started the human geography course at Kasson-Mantorville since she enjoyed teaching it at her previous school.

“She’s very passionate about wanting every kid to succeed,” Kasson-Mantorville High School Principal Trent Langemo said. “She’ll do whatever it takes to help them succeed. Failure’s not an option in her class. If you’re willing to do the work, she’s going to get you there.”

She’ll tell you herself that she doesn’t really like a quiet class. She also says that students have fun when their teacher is having fun.

The students in her own room seem more than willing to accommodate that philosophy, often talking just as much as Averbeck, creating a back-and-forth dialogue rather than a lecture.

"We've played that in band," one student said about the cumbia beat.

"She also has different songs in different languages," another student said about Shakira, answering a question about whether the singer qualifies as "pop" or "folk" music. "She also has songs that have two languages or three languages combined."

As a social studies teacher, Averbeck has had plenty of relevant, real-world material to discuss during the last 10 years.

"I feel like I've had more intricacies to the Constitution to teach about than ever before," Averbeck said. "We've never had to ask the question of 'can you hold an impeachment trial for a president who's no longer in office?' That had never been asked before. Good or bad, it was interesting."

In fact, there's been no shortage of questions open for class discussion.

Can the president use an executive order to enforce a vaccine mandate? Does free speech protect a high school cheerleader who was suspended for swearing on social media. Can marijuana be simultaneously legal on the state level and illegal on the federal level?

"If we hide from these tough issues, we're not helping them," Averbeck said of her students. "I don't think there's been a topic I've purposely not talked about -- because that'd be a disservice to them. If I can't talk about it, when can they?"

And to be able to have those kind of discussions with her students, she has to learn about them herself. She says her husband probably thinks she spends an inordinate amount of time planning her lessons.

But she loves learning. And she knows that, at the end of the day, it won't just benefit her students.

"It's sometimes tiring because I have to do deep-dives into some of these concepts that are really difficult," she said. “They’re helping me be an informed citizen."

Teacher Spotlight highlights people who work in schools who are doing especially noteworthy work. If you would like to nominate someone to be in Teacher Spotlight, send an email to news@postbulletin.com.