The value of helping others
KASSON — Lori Pagel teaches two very different classes at Kasson-Mantorville High School, but her approach to both is the same.
It is to ignite a passion in her students, to get them excited about what they do. Learning can be messy, and struggling and muddling through is all right, as long as you have passion.
"It's having that zeal and grounding for life that makes it fun," said Pagel. "Some kids, if they really get what I'm trying to do, they just can't get enough."
Pagel, the Rochester Post-Bulletin's Teacher of the Month for February, has taught at Kasson-Mantorville for 14 years. She is the ag teacher at K-M, a role that involves teaching about animal care, floral design and work experience. Pagel also teaches a class called Community Actions, a course that emphasizes the value of volunteering and helping people in need.
Students say they often emerge from Community Actions amazed at what they've accomplished in the 44-day course. Every other day, students go out into the community and volunteer. They work with the elderly in assisted-living situations, children in pre-school and leaders at the local church.
One class recently donated $3,000 to the local Habitat for Humanity after organizing a pancake breakfast and a middle-school dance. Another time, it delivered three carloads of donated towels, sheets, shampoo and other items to the Dorothy Day House, a shelter for the homeless.
"I just got involved with other people," said Lacy Siegele, a K-M senior who has been in Pagel's class several times. "I used to be really shy and now I'm just kind of out there."
The point, Pagel says, is that a good deed, no matter how small, will always make a difference in someone's life. Pagel should know, because several years ago, she was on the receiving end of those kind gestures after her husband, Ron, and son, Tim, were in an accident.
They had been in a car accident after a car had darted out in front of them. Her son wasn't hurt, but her husband was seriously injured in the collision and spent 17 days in the hospital.
Pagel remembers it as a "very, very critical time," but what helped buoy her spirits were the kindnesses of others. People wrote gift cards and sent food. Her class made banners. Students and families visited the hospital to sit and comfort her.
"Because it impacted my life strongly, the kids that know me know that I care," Pagel said. "I am passionate about them and learning, but they also know that it's very important to me to get across to them that helping others is lifelong thing."
Even after they graduate, some former students return to help with projects. It's one measure of the impact her class has on students. Some can't get enough.
"These kids are going back now on their own time after school and volunteering because they got their start in the class, and they loved it so much," Pagel said.