by Gary Noland
For the Pathfinder
October 19, 2000
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana
A Swan Valley School teacher, Penny Thomas, has received the 2000 Bell Award honoring her as the Montana History Teacher of the Year.
Along with the prestigious honor comes an expense-paid trip for her and her class to the State Capitol in Helena on November 8 and a special bell-ringing ceremony for which the award is named.
It is officially known as the Eleventh Annual Montana Statehood Centennial Bell Award and is sponsored by news stations KRTV in Great Falls, KXLF in Butte, KPAX in Missoula, and KTVQ in Billings and supported in part by the Montana Office of Public Instruction.
On November 8, 1989, at the Montana Statehood Centennial Celebration, the Montana Statehood Centennial Bell was permanently installed in the Montana State Capitol by an act of the Montana State Legislature. At that ceremony, Gov. Stan Stephens rang the bell at 10:40 a.m., the exact minute Montana officially became the 41st state a hundred years earlier in 1889. Thousands of Montana men, women, and children joined in the ringing of individual bells for 60 seconds. The Montana Statehood Centennial Bell Award program seeks to make an annual event of this historic moment by honoring the Montana teacher who has made a significant contribution to their students' understanding and appreciation of Montana history and cultural diversity.
And the teacher so honored this year is Penny Thomas who has taught 14 years at Swan Valley School in Condon. She taught in Kentucky, where she and her husband, Roger, are from, in the little log school in the Yaak, and a year in Potomac before moving to Condon.
There was a formal process for selecting the Montana History Teacher of the Year and it began when Jenny Rammell nominated Penny Thomas for the award. That was followed by a 600-word essay Penny had to submit about her teaching methods and goals, and letters of recommendation from fellow teachers, principals and students. Then, a panel of distinguished history advocated made a final selection.
Penny has been a runner-up once for the same award several years ago, and was also a runner-up for the broader category, Montana Teacher of the Year in 1990. She also was listed in Who's Who last year in recognition of her teaching career
"After being a finalist so many times, it's good to be a winner," she said Tuesday.
All of her seventh and eighth grade students (17) will accompany her to Helena on November 8 where at 10:40 a.m. in the Capitol she and her students will ring the Centennial Bell for 60 seconds in recognition of Statehood Day.
"It will be a neat and special day," Penny said.
Penny and her student-daughter, Sarah, will both play guitars while the rest of the class sings a song. Certificates will be presented by Gov. Mark Racicot and State Superintendent Nancy Keenan.
Penny will receive a plaque and $1,000 to provide for expense of the trip and purchase of Montana history materials for her school library.
In addition to her Montana History class, which she rotates every other year with American History, Penny has taught or is teaching music, language arts, algebra, science, practical arts and arts. She also is the school counselor for all grades.