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Lake Country Faces: Local grad returns to teach English at Pine River-Backus School

Brianna Blanchard now teaches in a classroom where she had English classes as a student.

Teacher in reading nook.JPG
Brianna Blanchard sits in her classroom's reading nook at Pine River-Backus School after school Monday, Sept. 12, 2022.
Travis Grimler / Echo Journal
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PINE RIVER — It isn't always the case that teachers get to start their career in familiar territory. For Brianna Blanchard the territory - right down to the room she teaches in - brings back a lot of memories.

"I sat in the same desks my students sit in four years ago," said Blanchard, a ninth and 11th grade English teacher at Pine River-Backus High School. "It's really weird. It's a full circle moment."

Blanchard is one of the Pine River-Backus School District's new teachers this year, but she's also a Tiger herself as a 2018 PR-B graduate.

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She didn't stay away long. She said PR-B's College in the Schools program gave her a head start on her education at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. Still, even she's somewhat surprised she got to come right back home.

"I never thought I'd be here," Blanchard said. "I just never thought the opportunity would come up. It just so happened to come up and I was like, 'This could be good.' And it's great."

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Blanchard is the template for a true Pine River-Backus native. Her father, Howard, worked at Pine River Family Market until his retirement. Her mother, Jill, is the food service director at the school to this day.

I just want to be the best I can for them, and they know that.
Brianna Blanchard

Even Blanchard had the quintessential Pine River first job, having started at Dairy Queen when she was 14. She only stopped working there in June.

Growing up, Blanchard lived outside of town on County Road 2 with one younger sister, Camilla, and one older sister, Jessica. They lived on a small farm, where Blanchard said she was the only sibling who got very involved in farm life.

"My siblings weren't as into farming life," Blanchard said. "They just didn't love it as much as I did. I very much had a love for that and we always had horses when I was little."

She was in rodeo with her friend, Cora Borman, and spent much of her time with the Borman family practicing her rodeo skills.

"High school rodeo was getting too expensive for my family," Blanchard said. "It's a very expensive sport. I still have a lot of love for it. I wish I would have kept doing it."

My parents always told me growing up I was going to be an English teacher. I always said, 'No, I'm not. I don't want to be an English teacher.' Deep down I did, I really did.
Brianna Blanchard

Blanchard was otherwise into sports, as were her sisters, at least until 10th grade. That's when she got her job at Dairy Queen. After that, she chose to focus on work, though she would sometimes help with stats for baseball. She also took up weightlifting, a hobby she still indulges in to this day.

"It's kind of my hobby, my outlet," Blanchard said. "I like to be healthy."

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Blanchard was almost fated to become an English teacher. Her parents knew it even before she did.

"My parents always told me growing up I was going to be an English teacher," Blanchard said. "I always said, 'No, I'm not. I don't want to be an English teacher.' Deep down I did, I really did."

She loved reading, writing and English in general starting at a young age.

"I think I was 7," Blanchard said. "I found this little notebook that was empty, so I wrote my own chapter book and gave it to my parents."

Though she entered her first year of college with plans to become a physician's assistant, her future was likely secured even before then thanks to an English teacher in high school.

"Kristin Lindholm was my all-time favorite English teacher, and she really pushed me to become one," Blanchard said.

Blanchard also has fond memories of classes with Melanie Lindquist and Don Moen, who helped her plan her future. She thinks back to when she was a student in these classrooms and she notices how different teaching is now.

I definitely realize how annoying I was as a student. So, sorry to them. As I got older I was a lot better, but I thought it was cool in ninth grade to act out or not do my homework or not listen. As a teacher I notice some of the things kids do that I used to do and I'm like, "Oh, my gosh, I was terrible.
Brianna Blanchard

"I don't assign homework," Blanchard said. "I know some teachers don't agree with that, but my lessons are mini lessons where we learn everything in class together. Kids do independent work, but we also do a lot of guided work together and a lot of my lessons are discussion based."

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She remembers the trouble she caused her teachers and understands why some teachers are the way they are.

"I definitely realize how annoying I was as a student," Blanchard said. "So, sorry to them. As I got older I was a lot better, but I thought it was cool in ninth grade to act out or not do my homework or not listen. As a teacher I notice some of the things kids do that I used to do and I'm like, "Oh, my gosh, I was terrible.'"

Today Blanchard is settling back in to her hometown. When she's not working or working out she likes to hike and spend time in the outdoors with high school sweetheart Kyle Struss. She also spends a lot of time with two young children her parents have adopted, Emma and Oran.

She is still an avid reader. Her favorite authors include Mark Twain, Jane Austen and Langston Hughes. She hopes to use that love of reading to enhance her students' learning experience.

"I'm going to have a book club," Blanchard said. "I think that will be great for kiddos who aren't necessarily involved in sports, kind of like me, where literature is their thing. It's something they can put on a college application if they go, or just a work resume."

Blanchard is excited to use what she knows to help her hometown students.

"I just want to be the best I can for them, and they know that," Blanchard said.

Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com.

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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