Mille Lacs Messanger - Minnesota

Gene Hanson was the new kindergarten teacher at Onamia Elementary, circa 1977.

There’s a new kindergarten teacher at Onamia Elementary. His name is Gene Hanson, and he’s very enthused about his new job.

Gene spent the last year teaching on the Mexican-Texas border. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education with a Kindergarten Certificate From St. Cloud University in 1976. Gene student-taught kindergarten in inter-city Minneapolis with a 63-year-old gentleman. “He’s the one who got me interested in kindergarten,” Gene said.

“It’s usually the first experience a child has with school. It sets the foundation for their thinking skills and their social skills. If they have a bad experience in kindergarten, it may take them several years to make up for it.”

Gene and his wife, Jaunita, were unable to find a house in Onamia, so they are living in Milaca. Jaunita was teaching fifth grade in Texas when she first met Gene.“This is the first time she will see snow,” Gene said. Gene grew up in Minneapolis. Gene placed heavy emphasis on reading “Everyone seems to agree that reading is important, but they don’t do anything about it,” Gene said.

“Why should they read when they have tape recorders and TV to give them information,” Gene added.

Gene is using a method of teaching letters and reading that were used in Minneapolis where he taught. Instead of making the kids memorize letters in “A-B-C” order, he introduces words such as “mom” and “dad’ that the child can easily relate to. They have learned the letters “M,” “O,” “D” and “A.” Then, he introduces words like “it,”“in” and “the” to teach the letters “I,” “T,” N,” “H” and “E.” They then can start constructing sentences and reading words like “Mom is in the ____.” Gene feels the kids really enjoy learning the letters this way.

“Kids in this area are really doing well and are somewhat advanced,” Gene said. “The Head Start program around here seems to have really helped. Some kids really do well because their parents have worked with them at home. Their ability to do well in school depends on how stimulating their home environment is.”

Do the children relate differently to a male teacher? “I don’t think so,” Gene said. “The only change is they’re used to being with their mothers all day. Elementary school is not just a woman’s world any more. There are quite a few male teachers here.”

Gene seemed really excited to be working with this age group and living in Minnesota again. The kindergarten kids seemed glad he’s here, too.