The best teachers seem to make the best connections with their students. That is especially true in high school, as teenagers work toward graduation and grow into young adulthood.

As KTVA continues to celebrate 25 years of BP Teachers of Excellence, we highlight a 2017 honoree who continues to set the bar high for her students and also works hard to understand and encourage them.

Meredith McCullough is in her 11th year of teaching. She's spent the last eight years at Kenai Central High School. She teaches 11th grade English and advanced world history, but according to students, her impact resounds beyond the classroom.

“Ms. Mac is one of my favorite teachers. She is the one I think cares the most about the students as people,” expressed Kenai junior Sean Herman.

McCullough's English class just completed a major unit that involved an independent study project. Students were tasked with picking a subject, completing the project and negotiating their grades. McCullough says this was an example of a standards-based program she implements to help better interpret her students' understanding of the project.

She says the program helps to build trust and a connection, allowing her to engage with students about issues that may be affecting them outside of school.

“Our rates of abuse and neglect and our rates of students who are facing traumatic experiences, it eclipses every other state," McCullough stated.

She lends an ear and works with students to come up with solutions to everyday problems. She's calling on state leaders to do the same.

“I think that if adults realized how intelligent and how articulate and how creative these students are about facing these issues head-on, and about trying to improve their lives, and improve the lives of their families and the lives of future generations, because they’re looking both past, and present, and future," McCullough said. "And if they can be listened to by adults in power, if we could have legislators who said that they cared about what the students were saying, and then came and actually talked to them, and actually let the students hold them accountable — I think we can see real change.”

It's a simple message and one her students appreciate.

McCullough also opens her classroom doors to various clubs at Kenai Central, harnessing creativity and self-understanding through the school's Shakespeare club, creative writing club, theatre and drama.

"I’ve been really fortunate because I also usually get to work with the kids who, in a stereotypical Disney movie, would be your outlying kids who don’t have connections in other places, and English is really nice because it’s about being human," she said.

McCullough says she cherishes the connections she's made in her time teaching, taking great pride in seeing them successfully tackle the "real world." But there's one big message she'd like each student to have ingrained when they leave her classroom.

“We have so many people today who are so exhausted and so tired that they don’t think critically about things and they don’t think about the importance of empathy and kindness for others," she said. "And so if the kids can leave here just remembering one thing, like to be able to look at different viewpoints, that would be perfect."

Students know they can always depend on Meredith McCullough, as she continues to help young Alaskans strive to achieve their limitless potential.

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