Seventh-grade social studies teacher Michelle O’Leary loves to pass on her lifelong passion for geography at Gruening Middle School in Eagle River.


“I was one of those kids that spent Sunday afternoon laying on the floor of my parent’s home with one of those huge National Geographics, just flipping through,” O’Leary said.


O’Leary, who grew up in Alberta, Canada, moved to the United States for college. She eventually joined the U.S. Army and was stationed in Alaska.


That experience has helped O’Leary relate to her students, as a majority of the students at Gruening are military kids, who moved to Alaska from the Lower 48.


After the Army, O’Leary worked for eight years in the business field, but craved a profession she could be more passionate about.


“I was coaching my daughter’s soccer team and found that I really enjoyed working with kids,” O’Leary said. “I really found my niche with middle schoolers actually — it’s kind of fun teaching 12 and 13 year olds.”


O’Leary prides herself in helping young people grow into adulthood.


“I see that as a great opportunity,” O’Leary said. “Hopefully, I can provide a little bit of guidance, little bit of support in helping them be more independent learners, independent decision-makers as they start to learn to do that in their teenage years.”


O’Leary is also the chairwoman of the school’s social studies department, is a co-sponsor of student government, teaches weight training after school and is Gruening’s school/business partner coordinator.



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