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Principal profile: Flaten sees opportunity to touch lives
JAMES WOODCOCK/Gazette Staff Principal Bev Flaten talks with students gathered for a Rimrock Opera show at Alkali Creek Elementary. JAMES WOODCOCK/Gazette Staff Hansel and Gretel, played by Jennifer Cooper, left, and Karen L. Evanson, are confronted by the witch played by Cody Maki as Rimrock Opera performs at Alkali Creek Elementary.

Alkali Creek Elementary principal Bev Flaten said one of the biggest challenges confronting education today is meeting the needs of a diverse population.

Because students' brains function so differently, Flaten said, educators must be willing to stretch and flex to reach each student.

"Meeting the needs of students is challenged by the learning process," Flaten said. "We educators use our vast experience to bring the brain research into practice. As we do that, we have an opportunity to reach all children. The challenge is to meet the needs of every single child in the most appropriate manner."

Here is what else Flaten had to say about Alkali Creek Elementary and education:

- What is the most memorable moment you've ever had in education? When I was at Garfield, I would give pencils to kids on their birthdays. I would come into their classroom, give them a hug and give them a pencil.

I walked into a third-grade classroom one day and gave a child a pencil. She asked what it was for, and I told her it was for her birthday.

She said, "It's my birthday today? Nobody ever told me before when it was my birthday."

At the time, my daughter was also in third grade, and that really hit home. I asked the student what she would like to do special for her birthday and she said, "I would like to have treats for the kids in the class for my birthday."

That showed me that she really cared about other children in the class.

That moment hit me one more time of the importance of educators — that we can make a difference in the life of one child, that we can help show one child that we care. We teach children, and we help them learn. But it's so much more than that.

We have such a marvelous opportunity in education to touch lives. That was one small moment in a child's life, but we never know that what we are giving may be the only thing they are receiving.

That little girl still keeps in touch with me. She is now a young lady with a child of her own.

- What is special about your school? The support of our parents, their involvement with their children and the fine-arts projects we do.

We also have the English as a Second Language program for elementary schools. All of the children who come into Billings who don't speak English as a native language are bused to our school.

We also have a very creative, innovative staff who are dedicated and willing to try out things until they find something that works with a child.

- What special events are planned this year? We have a Red Ribbon Assembly scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Oct. 29 where they paint everyone's hair red to celebrate Red Ribbon Week.

The Rimrock Opera Company came last week to present "Hansel and Gretel," and every other year we have the Missoula Children's Theater come in and present a play. We'll do that again next year.

We have our talent show every spring. We have a conflict-management program where we choose children to be conflict managers and they're trained in the process. That helps children strengthen their skills in resolving issues with each other.

Our teachers are trained in brain-based research. We'll continue to expand that and get more staff training.

- How can parents or other members of the community help your school this year? With our continued emphasis on student learning, we will be engaging our parents with what they can do to help their children find success in the school setting because they are true partners in the learning process.

Anybody who would like to come help us out in the library or help a child read is welcome. We have the Wish Club where children read to adults.

We have a person from the community who has no children at the school who comes in three times a week to help. She helps children in groups, supporting instruction any way she can.

We are absolutely dedicated to see that every child succeeds. With No Child Left Behind, that is something that we pay far more attention to than before.

- What inspires you as an educator? Of all the things we do, it's the role of being helper, being someone who can make a difference in someone else's life, that is most important.

Every day we're dealing with human potential, the untapped skills of those around us. If we can help them to find in themselves ways to make it in this world, that's what we're here for.

Bev Flaten

- Position: Principal at Alkali Creek Elementary.

- Education: B.A. in elementary education and English, Minot (N.D.) State University. Master's degree in educational administration, Montana State University.

- Length of time worked in education and positions held at local schools: Principal at Garfield Elementary nine years and principal at Alkali Creek Elementary nine years. She also served as principal at Hardin Primary and Lolo Middle schools; worked as a bilingual-curriculum coordinator; and taught school in Minot, N.D., and Casper, Wyo.

- Family: Married for 31 years to Marvin, who works for the Indian Health Service. They have two children, Justin, 26, and Rachel, 21, and an 18-year-old cat, Twinkles.

- Favorite book: "Road Less Traveled" is one of her favorites.

I don't think we ever stop sharing with each other; you get back ten-fold what you give. It's just astonishing what you work with — from the lights coming on for one child to the child who just needed someone to listen to them to just discovering.

It's a continual process of learning; it's absolutely a powerfully energizing and amazing thing.

- Why did you become an educator? My father was director of student teaching at the university in Minot, and my mother was a home-economics teacher before I was born and also taught school when my father was working on his doctorate.

I was surrounded by books and school, and my father and mother, especially my father's zest for education. He dedicated his life to opening doors for people. Going to college was like going to grade school, it was just something you did.

I remember I was trying to decide between elementary and secondary education, and he said, "Do both."

It was my parents who ingrained in me, education is exciting.

- What is your philosophy of education? It's helping every single person around you to believe in themselves, recognize that they're worthwhile and know there is a purpose for them on this Earth. We're all here to help them discover their potential.

You're grounded in the reality of the day to day, but at the same time it involves looking at the big picture. What we're doing is creating a better world, with stronger, healthier people who are going to hold this world in their hands.

We educate them to give them a moral purpose and an understanding of the planet and of their own gifts. We always have to believe and have the hope that that is what is happening.

The philosophy of education is one word — hope.

- Finding funding for education is an increasingly daunting challenge. How do you think this will affect the quality of education in Billings? As in all areas, the cost of doing business in any field has continued to rise. So, too, in the education field.

With the funding tightening, we try to become more creative with ways to deliver an exceptional service to our students. We do that because of the quality of people who work with children. The teachers in this city are astonishingly talented; they give and give and give and find great success.

That's the treasure, the golden nugget of our profession.

Funding is a challenge, and we have to rise together as a society to say we're going to do this and do it well. We have people in education whose services are priceless. You cannot put a dollar figure on what they do.

- Describe a quality education. I think that a quality education prepares you for a world that hasn't been invented yet.

It gives you a way to reason, solve problems, be a communicator regardless of what your world will be like in the next 20 years. We need to be able to solve problems and communicate with one another. If we can give kids those skills, which include reading and writing and match concepts to prepare them for needs we haven't even thought of yet.

We need to instill in them the love of learning. Children naturally love to learn. We need to keep that flame glowing so, as they graduate from our system, they'll continue seeking knowledge.

I'll never forget what my daughter said when she graduated from college. She said, "I love to learn so much that I miss college."

That' s what we want.

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