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


The best of Finney County teachers will be named Thursday night at the Crystal Apple awards, an annual contest and ceremony that celebrates excellent educators in local schools.

After months of nomination and judging processes, a panel of local business representatives will finally name the three winning teachers at a ceremony beginning at 6:30 p.m. tonight at the Clatrion Inn. Tickets are available for $25 online or by calling the Chamber at 620-276-326.

All contracted, certified teachers at Garden City USD 457, Holcomb USD 363, St. Dominic or St. Mary Catholic Schools or Bible Christian Academy are eligible for the honor. This year, 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 were named finalists.

The top three finalists will win a certificate, an engraved award, an iPad and $1,000, while the three remaining finalists will each receive a certificate and $250.

The Telegram sent each finalist a questionnaire to fill out and return. On Tuesday, we featured Lappin Wise — on Wednesday, Johnson and Billinger. Today, meet Butcher and Brager.

Questionnaires have been edited for style and brevity.


Kelly Butcher

School: Garden City High School, Trade and Health Academy

Grade/subjects: English, 12th grade; mythology, 11th and 12th; creative writing, a mixture of 10th to12th grades; Buff Project, 12th grade.

Years at current school: Going on 5 years

Years at USD 457: Going on 5 years

Years teaching: 7 years

Hometown: Centreville, Mich.

Family: Parents, Bill and Janice Butcher; sister, Carol Butcher; and brother, Kent Butcher

Education: Bachelor of Arts from Grand Valley State University, Masters of Arts in Educational Technology from Michigan State University

Extra-curricular activities: School-related: Robotics coach and Anime Club sponsor. Personal activities: Baking for teachers in my academy for their birthdays or just because, making greeting cards,  reading, some writing, bowling league at Garden Bowl, sewing, playing cards with friends and family, crafts

Community involvement: Buff Project; Helped students research/raise money for human rights activist groups. Over the three years, my friend, Tracy Meinzer, and I have run the project, students have raised nearly $1,500 for causes around the world and in Garden City.

What made you want to be a teacher?

The profession sort of chose me in a way. Once in high school, I explained concepts from a complex novel to a small group of classmates. I enjoyed it and my teacher said I would make a good English teacher. I considered teaching first grade, like my favorite elementary school teacher, but soon fell in love with teaching seventh grade language arts.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

I love watching when a student understand a concept well enough to help others. I'm addicted to the moment when something just clicks for a student. I also strive to help my students be successful after high school, whether they want help with job applications, interviews, scholarships or colleges, I enjoy helping them get a great start on their futures.

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

I use an app called Classcraft that allows students to pick characters, learn special powers that grant them privileges in my classroom, and earn participation points that lead to prizes at the end of the semester. It requires teamwork and students tend to volunteer more when playing it. Seniors get very competitive. I also enjoy having flexible seating in the classroom and incorporating hands-on projects.

How do you connect with your students?

A professor once told me a quote I teach by every day: "Students won't care to know unless they know you care." We get so bogged down in stressing college and test scores that we sometimes forget that these are budding adults. So, I treat them like adults. I am very open with them and let them see that adults have flaws too. Caring about them and what is going in their lives helps. I also greet them at the door with a smile every day and I always say hello. It's a simple thing, but it brightens everyone's day.

What are your future goals or plans for your class?

Since we have a new curriculum this year, my future goals include blending it seamlessly with college and career readiness so that our students are ready for the job market and higher education. I also plan on trying to visit tech schools so that I can promote them in my classroom for students who are interested in the trade industry.

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

That teachers have all students' best interests in mind, no matter what we are teaching, and to recognize how much time and commitment that we do put into our lessons, planning, grading, and helping students be successful after high school. We enjoy working with your student and being supportive of what we teach at home helps us help students succeed.


David Brager

School: Gertrude Walker Elementary School

Grade/subjects: Fourth grade

Years at current school: 5 years

Years at USD 457: 5 years

Years teaching: 5 years

Hometown: St. Paul, Minn.

Family: Father and one older brother

Education: Bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Concordia University in St. Paul

Extra-curricular activities: Traveling, camping, and fishing in the summer.

Community involvement: I volunteer at my local church (Bible Christian), lead a Bible study, and am in the PTO (Parent Teacher Organization)

What made you want to be a teacher?

I wanted to be a teacher for the money and the fame, lol. Seriously, I wanted to make a positive impact on the world by helping to shape the minds of future generations in a positive way. Also, my fifth grade teacher Mrs. Locke helped me to become a better person and refused to give up on me when I was struggling. She greatly impacted my life by showing me that she cared about me. I strive to do that for my students as well and to be a great teacher that they’ll hopefully remember.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of the job is when you see a student grasp and understand something that you taught them, — those “Aha!” or “lightbulb going off” moments make it all worthwhile. When you see that you are helping a student it is very rewarding.

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

I strive to teach to different learning styles in the classroom. Children are unique and they each learn differently. Some children learn visually by seeing things done, physically by movement and just doing things, or by hearing. I incorporate these different learning styles into my lessons to make sure that all of my students are learning. My favorite way though is by incorporating music into the classroom. Singing happy songs not only helps students to remember concepts but also makes people happy.

How do you connect with your students?

I do my best to try to connect with students on a personal level. I stress to them that we are a classroom family and in this together. I want them to make sure that I recognize them as individuals and that I genuinely care for them. I greet students by name every morning and give each of them a high five and say goodbye at the end of the day. At times, I have a group of students come to my room to have lunch with me. When you make a connection with a child they will respect you, work hard, and true learning will occur.

What are your future goals or plans for your class?

My future goals and plans for my class are to help my students achieve their full potential and to always do their best. Also, if they leave my class at the end of the year knowing that they are loved and feel more self-confident, then that to me is a win.

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

I wish more people knew that teachers do not just work from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. with summers off. Most of us arrive early, stay late and take papers home to grade. Our summers are spent preparing for the next year. The community can help support our schools by getting involved with their children's education. Examples of this can be joining the parent teacher organization or volunteering at the school. And most importantly, keep an open line of communication with the school and teachers.