Campaign races and politics are the subjects of national conversation right now -- with some believing that political rhetoric is dividing America. In a classroom at Dimond High School, democracy is alive and well and the rhetoric doesn’t make it through the door.

“My goal is that [students] leave as engaged citizens, that they are aware of the world around them,” explained U.S. history and U.S. government teacher Lem Wheeles.

Wheeles is also Dimond’s student government advisor. When teaching, he focuses on the constitution and the process, not ideology.

“There’s a ton of questions and a lot to talk about,” said Wheeles. “My goal is to provide the big picture of here’s how this works. Here’s how the process works… I really try not to point them in a particular direction with political beliefs or parties, but I want them to come to their own conclusions and decide what’s important to them and what they want to support."

Wheeles is passionate about politics, history, his students and the school where he teaches.

“Dimond is home," Wheeles said. "I grew up in the Dimond area, in this community. My parents are both alumni. I married a girl I went to Dimond with, so this really is part of my family, my community. Pretty soon, my kids will start coming to Dimond."

He’s a community-minded teacher that wants his students to understand their responsibility as Alaskans, but more importantly, Americans.

“Democracy requires their participation so they’ve got to step up and now is a great time,” stated Wheeles.

He has awards lined up on his classroom wall, recognized as Alaska’s History Teacher of the Year and a BP Teacher of Excellence. While his accolades are impressive, it’s his former students’ resumes that really make Wheeles proud.

“I’ve had students who have run for office,” said Wheeles. “I’ve had a number of students who’ve worked for members of our congressional delegation. I’ve had students who have volunteered on campaigns, who have gotten involved in interest groups to lobby for particular political things. I’ve had students who’ve been involved with the United Nations. Real world… really making a difference."

Wheeles knows that while his former students are making a difference in the world, he’s making a big difference right here at home.

“A lot of people talk about young people being the future of our society," he said. "I think they’re the now of our society. They can step up, they can lead now, have a voice now."

Through leadership, teaching and understanding, Lem Wheeles is reaching our youth and very deserved of being named KTVA 11’s Head of the Class.

If you know a teacher who is making a difference in the lives of their students, click here to nominate them.

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