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June Dahlgren Minnesota Teacher of Year Nominee

Teaching wasn’t always June Dahlgren’s passion. The former dental assistant now turned teacher of the year realized her calling in education 28 years ago, when her youngest daughter was born in the neonatal intensive care unit with a disability. “That opened up a whole other world of just learning about resources and learning what to do when your child isn’t meeting those milestones and not developing in the way that’s so-called ‘typical,’” she said Tuesday, Feb. 5, while sitting in her classroom at the Washington Educational Services Building in Brainerd. That new world got Dahlgren thinking about a career change. “The early intervention team at the school helped me a lot,” she said. “So if I could do that, if I could make a difference in one child’s life, then I’ve done something.” So that’s what she did. Dahlgren went back to school, earning her associate degree from Brainerd Community College (now Central Lakes College) and receiving her teaching license from St. Cloud State University. Then in 1996, after a couple months as a parent educator in Mora, she got a job as an early childhood special education teacher in the Brainerd School District, where she has stayed ever since. “Our early education program in Brainerd is astounding,” she said. “We have a lot of different programs to meet kids’ needs in lots of different ways.” It’s that exceptional program that has Dahlgren commuting from Onamia every day to fulfill her true passion in trying to make a difference in a child’s life. And it’s that passion that earned her the 2018 Teacher of the Year title in the Brainerd School District and now a spot on the nomination list for 2019 Minnesota Teacher of the Year. “I had no idea,” Dahlgren said of earning the district award last April. “Everybody kept it from me.” When she saw several familiar faces in the halls of the Washington building that day, she chalked it up to the looming referendum and one final push to get the effort passed. And just the day before, Dahlgren remembered wondering when the email announcing the teacher of the year would come. “But little did I know … ” she said and laughed. The nomination came from Steve Lund, the district’s director of business services at the time. “I see June work tirelessly with our youngest learners, never wavering from the passion that pushes her each day to face the challenges side by side with her students,” Lund wrote in his nomination letter. “Without knowing it, June has also played a significant role in my professional life, teaching me that the things that count, can’t always be counted.” While Dahlgren appreciates the award, it doesn’t just mean glory for her. “It means more awareness to the public of early childhood, particularly early childhood special ed,” she said. “We have classrooms and programs from birth to 5 that help children that are identified as having a need, and we can help provide services in a lots of different ways. That’s what it means.”