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Special education teacher Laurie McKenzie retires after 3 decades

Hannah Sween, Print Editor-in-Chief

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Photo by Hannah Sween

“Is that right? Oh my gosh, I wasn’t thinking it was quite that long,” Laurie McKenzie, work experience, ‘on-the-job’ training and interpersonal and communications skills teacher, said, “29 years.”

McKenzie’s impressive three decades of working in education began after she received her bachelor’s degree in marketing education from University of Wisconsin-Stout with licensing in special education. However, McKenzie had not intended to become a special education teacher. While student teaching, she taught general education classes in promotions, finance, accounting and basic marketing in Chisago Lakes.

McKenzie began her teaching career in Frederic, Wisc. The tiny village in northern Wisconsin has a population of less than 1500 people and, according to the United States Census Bureau, had 10.9 percent of the population living below the poverty line.

“It’s interesting to start in very small rural schools and work in communities where there’s a very high level of poverty. So I think some of the things from the early days I learned about the socioeconomic impact of a community and how important that is and what a unique opportunity it is to try and help families that have had generational issues, to help their children find a different pathway,” McKenzie said.

One school she worked with had a 50 percent pregnancy rate among their senior girls. She worked on several different approaches to show the young ladies in the community that there were lots of different opportunities available to them.

What is the key to helping students reach their full potential? “Knowing the student, knowing the family and knowing the challenges and how we can turn them into opportunities,” McKenzie said.

Throughout her years of teaching, McKenzie has worked to develop large group and individualized programs for her students. Toward the start of her career McKenzie worked as Programs Director for 7 different school districts at once.

“I’ve really had some great opportunities to do program development and impact both bigger student opportunities and individual student opportunities in communities, so I have really loved what I’ve been doing,” McKenzie said.

McKenzie has attended many conferences to learn and get ideas for new opportunities for her students. Through these conferences she has gotten to see what the most creative and helpful programs are. For example, some schools have banking experiences in the school where the students will work as a teller in conjunction with a local bank. Other schools have done coffee shops, this is where McKenzie got the idea for the coffee cart.

“I’m excited about the individual career plans and learning plans that are being developed. Again, I can’t say enough about the potential for further development of partnerships in the community,” McKenzie said.

“You’ve got to know your community, and I can say hands down that the Stillwater community, for developing opportunities for students, is amazing. There are just so many resources and caring businesses and people that are looking for ways to make experiences for students better.”

— Laurie McKenzie

When McKenzie came to Stillwater Area High School in 2003, she created many new programs and opportunities to help her students thrive. The coffee cart is ideal because in a large school with crowded hallways, the cart can be tucked to the side in the school’s main rotunda where there is enough foot traffic to create food service learning opportunities for her students.

“You’ve got to know your community, and I can say hands down that the Stillwater community, for developing opportunities for students, is amazing. There are just so many resources and caring businesses and people that are looking for ways to make experiences for students better,” McKenzie said.

McKenzie’s career has left a lasting impact on the lives of the students and families she was worked with.

“It’s been quite a joy to work here,” McKenzie said.

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About the Writer
Hannah Sween, Editor-in-Chief

Hannah Sween is a senior and a Print Editor-in-Chief for the Stillwater Pony Express. When outside of school, she enjoys a variety of dance styles, but her favorite is Irish dancing.  Hannah has been competitively Irish dancing for an impressive 11 years!  In the high school, she participates in the tennis team, Amnesty, and NHS.  Also, she plays the flute in the school band.  This year, she is the Social Chair for the Young Democrats.  Her favorite cookies are her Grandma’s homemade molasses cookies.

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