Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of three sets of profiles on this year’s Crystal Apple finalists.

The Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce will thank local educators Thursday with the Crystal Apple awards, an annual ceremony that honors Finney County teachers.

Each year, the Chamber considers the best of local teachers, all of whom must be contracted, certified teachers at Garden City USD 457, Holcomb USD 363, St. Dominic or St. Mary Catholic Schools or Bible Christian Academy to be eligible.

This week, after months of nomination and judging processes by a panel of local business representatives, three of the six finalists — Dalana Billinger, Gertrude Walker Elementary School; David Brager, Gertrude Walker Elementary School; Kelly Butcher, Garden City High School; Makenzi Johnson, Garden City High School; Paul Lappin, Garden City High School; and Sarah Wise, Kenneth Henderson Middle School — will be named Crystal Apple award winners, each walking home with a certificate, an engraved award, an iPad and $1,000. The three remaining finalists will each receive a certificate and $250.

The award banquet will begin at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Clarion Inn. Tickets are available for $25 online or by calling the Chamber at 620-276-326.

The Telegram sent each finalist a questionnaire to fill out and return. Today, meet Lappin and Wise.

Questionnaires have been edited for style and brevity.


Paul Lappin

School: Garden City High School

Grade/subjects: Life Skills/Peer Leadership

Years at current school: 10 years

Years at USD 457: 10 years

Years teaching: 10 years

Hometown: Garden City

Family: Parents: Jerry and Uli Lappin

Education: Bachelor’s in Health & P.E. from the University of Kansas, and Master’s in Special Education from Fort Hays State University

Extra-curricular activities: Wrestling

What made you want to be a teacher?

My father taught in this district for nearly 30 years and it was always kind of in the back of my head. But in high school, I had several coaches and teachers who had a very profound effect on me during that time and I wanted to be able to do that for others.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

There’s a lot to this. The fact that most of the teachers and students in our school know my students by name, and interact with them frequently is very cool to see. Watching Peer Leadership students interact with the students in the classroom and the relationships they have formed is extremely special. The fact that our class can make such a positive difference in our community is also very rewarding.

What is your teaching method, or what unique or different methods do you use in your classroom?

In my Life Skills classroom, we run a student-led coffee shop. We have three coffee carts that serve “Smart Snack compliant” snacks and beverages to students and staff. We service nearly 80 classrooms three periods of the day. It’s a chance for my students to learn vocational, social independent living skills and the value of money. We also have a Peer Leadership class in which high achieving students apply to be in the class where they come in and work with us in the Buffalo Coffee Shop. These students have the opportunity to learn about helping others, being compassionate, putting others first and being a leader.

Our program has been quite successful financially. In the past 3.5 years we’ve donated nearly $40,000 back to our community through charities or GCHS students/families going through hardships. Last year we were able to take our class on a field trip to Tampa, Fla., which was a continuation of our Life Skills curriculum and an indescribable learning opportunity for students, peer leaders and adults alike. We were able to visit a reptile park, an aquarium, and most of the students had their first experience with airports and flying. Students were able to gain many new experiences and face a lot of fears. We had one student who was very afraid of escalators and would not go down one. By our last airport, he finally faced his fear and went down the escalator (with the help of about 20 strangers cheering for him), and that was a very cool moment.

How do you connect with your students?

I spend a lot of time just talking with students, asking them about themselves, their families, etc. I also joke with students a lot, give them a hard time, and let them give me a hard time. More than anything I try to let them know that I care.

What are your future goals or plans for your class?

Short term, our class has set a goal of donating over $15,000 to our community this year. Long term, it would be incredible if we could take this program to a brick and mortar coffee shop that was available to the public. The kids would get an incredible real world work experience.

What do you wish more people knew about teachers or teaching and how can the community best support its schools?

Some people seem to have a negative view of “kids these days.” My message to those people is don’t believe everything you read and see. There are a lot of kids within our schools that are doing incredible things and can teach many adults what being a good human being is about.


Sarah Wise

School: Kenneth Henderson Middle School

Grade/subjects: Seventh grade ELA

Years at current school: 15

Years at USD 457: 18

Years teaching: 15 teaching and 3 years subbing

Hometown: Amarillo, Texas

Family: Husband, Casey Wise; son, Michael Wise; daughter, Abigail Wise

Education: Bachelor of Arts in English from West Texas A&M (1998-2001), Master of Arts in Christian Education from Dallas Theological Seminary (2011-2015)

Extra-curricular activities: I enjoy spending time with family, walking with friends, reading, visiting new places, and geo-caching with my daughter.

Community involvement: My family and I volunteer at Emmaus House and Finney County Humane Society. We are a police protective custody home for children the GCPD puts into emergency placement. I volunteer in the children's department for Bible Christian Church.

What made you want to be a teacher?

When I first moved to Garden City, my husband was a teacher and I became a substitute because it meant we could have the same schedules. After I began subbing, I realized I enjoyed working with the students. The administration offered me a long term subbing position teaching a math class that could not be filled with a certified teacher and I did that for two years. That experience showed me that I enjoyed teaching students and eventually led to me becoming a teacher.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is when students discover a love for reading they never knew existed because they find the right book, author or series.

What is your teaching method, or what unique or different methods do you use in your classroom?

I am known at my school for using songs, rhymes and actions to help my students learn and retain concepts. While the effectiveness of the strategy has been widely known for some time, it is unusual for it to be implemented at the middle school level. However, I’ve found students at this age continue to enjoy these and thrive in an environment where it’s okay to be a little silly! I’ve had students come back years later and tell me, “I still remember singing…” and during state testing it is not at all unusual to see students quietly doing hand actions in their laps as they try to remember a term or a concept.

How do you connect with your students?

I connect with my students by conveying that they matter to me more than their test scores or grades do. I discover and display their interests, clubs and extracurricular activities. We do a daily non-content-related check-in at the door to have a moment to connect before the lesson begins. I remember their birthdays. I write cards to their parents letting them know things I enjoy about their student. I listen and try to respond with empathy first, before going directly to policy.

What are your future goals or plans for your class?

This year the district began using a new ELA curriculum. My immediate goals for my class center around mastering this and discovering new ways to present it to the students in the most engaging and effective manner.

What do you wish more people knew about teachers or teaching and how can the community best support its schools?

We need Kleenex! We never have enough! We always, always, always need more! Every teacher, every classroom. It's the best gift a teacher can receive!