Editor’s note: This is the second 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 year the finalists are 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.

At this week's award banquet, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Clarion Inn, winners will walk away with a certificate, an engraved award, an iPad and $1,000. The three remaining finalists will each receive a certificate and $250. 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. On Tuesday, we featured Lappin Wise. Today, meet Johnson and Billinger.

Questionnaires have been edited for style and brevity.


Makenzi Johnson

School: ​Garden City High School

Grade/subjects: ​All things band and jazz band

Years at current school: ​5 years

Years at USD 457: 5 years

Years teaching: Going on 9 years

Hometown: ​Plainville, Kan.

Family: Husband, ​Christopher Johnson; mother, Shirley Steinert; father, Steve Rempe; step-father, Jim Steinert; brother, Stuart Rempe.

Education: ​Bachelor’s of Music (Music Education), Bachelor’s of Science in Education, Bachelor’s of Music (Music Composition), will complete Master’s of Professional Studies in Music Composition this spring

Extra-curricular activities: ​Anything involving playing with my dogs and being with my husband at home. Painting. Composing and arranging music. Playing clarinet or bari sax.

Community involvement: ​District/community events with band and drumline, perform at GCCC events and church services, player/board member with Garden City Municipal Band, Southwest Kansas Chorale, Flatland Big Band

What made you want to be a teacher? ​

I've always felt like I've naturally had the ability to teach people. One year, my teacher’s son was in my swimming lesson group and at the end of the season, she gave me a thank you card with a handwritten note stating that she thought I should consider being a teacher. I've always considered it special that a teacher saw that potential in me. I thought being a band teacher was destined to be my career path because I was really involved in band when I was younger. At the end of the day, I didn't know what I would do without band in my life.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

​I love seeing the personal growth in my students, both with the instrument and who they become as a person. I’ve always found it special that I get to see most of my kids from seventh grade to high school. I like seeing their interest in music and how it evolves. I love being able to expose them to music they would have otherwise never known about. It's also really neat when they start researching a particular musician or composer or that I introduced them to or famous musicians that play the same instrument as they do. And really, what all music teachers want is for their students to have a continued love and support for music for the rest of their lives.

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

​I ask for a lot of concentration from the kids and it's hard for them to do that every day without electronic distractions. So, one rehearsal technique that I do once every semester or so is called a silent rehearsal. Not only are the kids not allowed to speak, but neither am I; the only sounds to be made are from their instruments. The kids really get a kick out of me trying to mime to them what I want them to do. It dials in concentration to an even higher level and can often elicit more emotion in the playing from the students. The students and I both have a lot of fun with that.

How do you connect with your students? ​

Students tend to gravitate to my office and we have a lot of deep conversations. I love being able to help them think through music or college or relationships with their peers. It's always a treat for me when they ask me about music theory or composing music, because that’s a specialty of mine. And while that is more on the serious side of things, I do try to keep up with pop culture things, like memes or dry humor, to keep things light. It speaks to the kids and I feel like it helps me stay relevant to them.

What are your future goals or plans for your class? ​

Keep growing musically so I can introduce students to multiple tiers of quality music literature. The students change and the literature changes with them — it keeps our classroom vibrant and interest levels high every year. Between three concert bands and three jazz bands, the hope is that none of the students play a piece twice in their four years with us.

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

I wish that the average person knew how much extra time that teachers put in, not just hours at the school, but hours into their kids. We’re tasked with teaching students about social and emotional intelligence and respect and kindness towards other students and adults. We acknowledge the baggage that some kids bring to school and we help them carry it. I feel like our community supports our school very well, but music needs to be supported like the class that it is. It isn't extra or just an activity. Music is absolutely essential for being human.


Dalana Billinger

School: Gertrude Walker Elementary School

Grade/subjects: Kindergarten

Years at current school: 12 years

Years at USD 457: 31 years

Years teaching: 31 years

Hometown: Holcomb

Family: Husband, Benny Billinger; children, Nashae and Cole

Education: Holcomb High School, Garden City Community College, teaching degree from St. Mary’s of the Plains.

Extra-curricular activities: I love to read and watch football and basketball and I’m a big KU fan. I also love spending time with my family (playing games, taking vacations together, cooking & grilling).

Community involvement: Church, community events like Trunk or Treats, Boo at the Zoo, parades, and campaigning for elections, school activities and athletic programs.

What made you want to be a teacher?

I knew when I was five years old that I wanted to be a teacher. My father was a business teacher for 43 years before retiring and my mom was working on getting her teaching degree when she had my brother. She decided to make a change and stay home so she could take care of him. Then when he started school, she became a substitute teacher so she had more time with us. I also had a third-grade teacher who was that one teacher who made a difference. I knew for sure then that I wanted to be a great teacher like her. You knew she cared for you and that she loved her job. She went that extra mile and helped me become a better reader.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

There are so many rewards to being a teacher. One is when you build a connection with a struggling student and they just realized that they just got what you have been teaching them. Another one is when you have made a difference in a student or their family’s lives.

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

I build relationships with the students. I provide a safe, comfortable, and fun learning environment. I have high expectations for my students. I use cooperative learning, technology, flexible seating, modeling, games, music, and movement to meet my students’ learning styles and needs.

How do you connect with your students?

I first build a trusting and honest relationship with them and their parents. I take a special interest in each student and get to know them.

What are your future goals or plans for your class?

My goal for my class is to learn that they can do whatever they put their mind to and not give up. They have what it takes to make a difference and be successful.

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

I want people to know that teachers’ jobs are not an 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. job. We stay late each day, work on the weekends, work throughout the summer, and still take more work home with us. We spend our own money so we can do the things we need and want to make our students be successful. Teachers make all professions possible. One way the community can help is to donate their time and money to our schools.