Lawrence High School journalism adviser named Kansas Master Teacher

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Barb Tholen — “life-changing” journalism adviser and graphic design teacher, whose classroom students call “a magical place” at Lawrence High School — has been named a Kansas Master Teacher. 

The news came Tuesday as Tholen was surrounded by students and colleagues, according to a news release from the school district. 

The district annually nominates a Lawrence master teacher to the Kansas Master Teacher program hosted by Emporia State University’s Teachers College. Tholen was surprised with the district honor on April 14, 2021. 

“The awards are presented annually to selected teachers who demonstrate the attributes of exemplary professional educator,” according to a release from ESU. 

Tholen has taught at Lawrence High since 2010, according to the district’s release. In that time, her students and the high school’s newspaper, the Budget, have won numerous awards. 

Program alum and former Budget editor Gary Schmidt, class of 2019, wrote in a letter of recommendation: “I have and continue to smash whatever life seems to throw at me and I attribute so much of this to the lessons I have learned from Barb. Without her, there are no pacemakers, there are no state titles, and for me, there is no Stanford. She has taught me all of the tools to write the story of my life, and thanks to Barb, it truly is the story of my dreams.” 

A current student of Tholen’s, Cuyler Dunn, is a Lawrence High senior, editor in chief of the Budget and recent winner of the Kansas Scholastic Press Association’s Student Journalist of the Year honor

“There is no one, myself included, that is more deserving of that award than Mrs. Tholen,” Dunn said. “As much as I wanted it, I wanted it more for her. To get to be her first student to win it is an indescribable honor.”

Last week in an interview about Dunn’s achievements, Tholen said, “In the end, the awards aren’t nearly as important as a difficult story that’s told well. But when students are doing hard work day in and day out, the awards come. 

“At the same time, the awards are important for students applying for colleges and building their resumes. Being able to tell students that they can be part of a nationally recognized program can certainly encourage students to join us. It’s a point of pride for our students.” 

Dunn said there are few people he looks up to as much as Tholen, or who have shaped his life as much as she has.

“Not only does she mentor students into some of the best young journalists in the country, she also creates a staff that is fun and safe for everyone,” Dunn said. “… Countless hours outside of class, hard work on weekends, you name it. She does it all. She truly is one of the most special people I’ve had the chance to work with in my entire life, and that will be true for as long as I live.” 

Dani Lotton-Barker, an LHS parent and Southwest Middle School teacher, wrote in her recommendation of Tholen that “Barb’s professional expertise as both a journalist in the field and an educator, her cheerful and unyielding support for her students, her authentic enjoyment of teens and their sometimes exhausting quirks, and her constant encouragement to strive for excellence are the qualities that most jump out to me when I try to sum her up.” 

Tholen spoke warmly of students past and present. 

“At least once a year, I tell the kids that their job is to leave the journalism program stronger than they found it,” she said. “I often think that’s a really big challenge, but they have stepped up to the plate during this recovery year. And it’s not just Cuyler. I’ve sat looking at all of my editors in chief and my other editors and marveled at how lucky I am to have them this school year.” 

Tholen earned her bachelor’s degree at Kansas State University, her master’s at Baker University, and the Journalism Education Association’s Journalism Educator Certification in 2014, and Master Journalism Educator Certification in 2020, according to the district’s release.

Previous Lawrence school district master teachers include Paula Barr (2019); Keri Lauxman (2016); John Bode (2014); Kathleen Bowen (2013); Kendra Metz (2012); Kassie Shook (2010); Patricia Grzenda (2004); Brian “Chip” Anderson (1998); Margaret Coggins (1996); Mary Alice Gordon (1993); Diane Low (1992); Dr. Thomas Christie (1990); Sally Six Hersh (1986); Hazel Lee Simmons (1965); William D. Wolfe (1962); and Opal Jayne Kennedy (1960). 

Other teachers statewide selected for the honor this year, according to Emporia State’s news release: 

  • Andy Battenfield, Physical Education Teacher at Village Elementary School in USD 253 Emporia;
  • Melanie Hammond, Chemistry/Physical Science Teacher at South High School in USD 305 Salina;
  • Karen Stohlmann Henderson, Mathematics & Engineering Teacher at Northwest High School in USD 229 Blue Valley;
  • Sarah M. Hoff, Social Studies Teacher at Dodge City High School in USD 443 Dodge City;
  • Gina Johnson, Fourth and Fifth Grade Teacher at O’Loughlin Elementary School in USD 489 Hays;
  • and Bryan Scruggs, Instructional Coach at Seitz Elementary School in USD 475 Geary County.

The recipients were selected by a 10-member committee including representatives from the Kansas Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, Kansas Principals Association, Kansas Association of School Boards, Kansas Association of Secondary School Principals, Kansas National Education Association, Kansas National Education Association – Student Program, ESU’s Kappa Delta Pi student organization, and representatives of the 2020 Kansas Master Teacher class, according to ESU’s news release. 

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— Lawrence Times reporters Andrea Albright and Mackenzie Clark contributed to this article.

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