Montana school teacher shows the value of commitment in rural areas

Sheena Wortman being presented the Teacher Appreciation Award by school board member Merle Young (left) and Superintendent Valeri White (right). 

Basin Electric is committed to serving some very rural areas and communities. This is also the case for school teacher Sheena Wortman, who grew up in rural north-central Montana. Wortman is the winner of Hill County Electric Cooperative’s new program, the HCE Teacher Appreciation Program. Hill County Electric is a Basin Electric Class C member headquartered in Havre, Montana, and their program is designed to help teachers in rural school areas. The $1,500 awarded by the program was matched by Basin Electric for a total of $3,000.

Wortman teaches 11 students ranging from kindergarten to fourth grade in a one-room school called Bear Paw School in Chinook, Montana. She has been teaching elementary school children for 15 years, and lives 60 miles south of Chinook on her husband’s family ranch.

It is not easy convincing teachers to go rural. Wortman says it is hard to find teachers in general anymore, but it is even harder for rural schools. “The schools can be far away from towns and they have no sliding pay, so you get paid what the school can afford to pay you,” she says. She also purchases many of her teaching materials with her own money.

Wortman went from teaching two kids her first year at Bear Paw to 11 students today. A big driver of this increase is her commitment to her school.

Wortman drives six of her students to and from school each day. “I drive 80 miles round-trip to school each day. I bring some of the very isolated students that live close to me with me to school. The money from this award has been used to help with fuel costs to drive back and forth,” Wortman says.

Hands-on learning is an important factor of teaching to Wortman. Living in such a rural area, she and many of her students live on ranches. She has taken students to her 100-year-old ranch to teach them about homesteading since the ranch has an original cabin from the first homesteaders there. She is committed to connecting with her students and keeping her small school running.

“This year, Hill County Electric offered its first ever Teacher Appreciation Award in an effort to help retain these educators that are so critical to our rural communities,” says Maia Lasalle, Hill County marketing manager. “Basin Electric and Hill County Electric alike have a long-standing commitment to our members in rural Montana to provide reliable electric service. We believe Sheena exemplifies that same dedicated commitment to her students.”

“I know most teachers look at salary, but if you really want to teach and have a connection with your students, give rural teaching a try,” says Wortman. “This job is more than a paycheck to me and doing what I get to do every day in a small country school with some of the smartest country kids makes it all worth it.”