TWIN FALLS — If you talk with Kim Dahlquist’s leadership students, they’ll tell you she pushes them and holds them accountable.
It’s not the answer you’d expect from middle schoolers. But even at a young age, they recognize their teacher’s impact.
Under Dahlquist’s leadership at Robert Stuart Middle School in Twin Falls, a fairly new required class for sixth-graders has led to a drastic drop in disciplinary issues and the number of “F”s students earn.
Her work was recognized Thursday. She was named Twin Falls’ “Teacher of the Year” during the Twin Falls School District Education Foundation’s Red Apple Gala.
The Twin Falls School District, which has about 9,400 students, employs hundreds of certified teachers.
The award came as a total surprise for Dahlquist. She could feel her heart pounding as an education foundation leader talked about her work during the gala.
Dahlquist describes herself as a person who doesn’t like being in the spotlight.
“If I’d had it my way, I wouldn’t have gone,” she said Tuesday, but added being named teacher of the year was “pretty emotional.”
Robert Stuart student council member Lily Teske, 12, said her teacher is pushing for change at the school.
Classmate Emma Brulotte, 13, also a seventh-grader on student council, said Dahlquist holds students accountable for their actions and how they act around their friends. “She’s really big on self-leadership and she’s trying to establish that more.”
Dahlquist has taught for 24 years in Twin Falls — most recently, for three years at Robert Stuart. She teaches a “Bear Essentials” class and is student council adviser. Before that, she taught at Lincoln and I.B. Perrine elementary schools.
In fall 2015, Robert Stuart launched a new required class for sixth-graders, covering topics such as how to get organized, set goals, and succeed in middle school and beyond.
“It’s been really successful,” Dahlquist said. “Our number of ‘F’s dropped significantly.”
Robert Stuart principal Amy McBride said she thought of Dahlquist as the perfect person for the job. “I really sought her out.”
The class helps students have the mentality they can be successful at school if they believe in themselves and work hard, McBride said. “One hundred percent starts with Mrs. Dahlquist and the class she’s teaching.”
Now, 46 percent of all grades sixth-graders earn are “A”s and there are only 13 “F”s.
A love of teaching
Dahlquist has been interested in teaching for decades. “It probably goes back to kindergarten and first-grade teachers I loved,” she said.
Dahlquist went into college thinking she’d study education. But she found it intimidating to stand up in front of other people — particularly teaching mock lessons.
She ended up going into public relations and worked for a few years in Seattle. But she discovered it wasn’t her passion and she decided to pursue an education degree.
As for public speaking, she found out she does well with a younger audience. “If it’s kids, it’s OK,” she said.
Dahlquist said she gets to know her students and has fun, personalized interactions with them — something she thrives on. “Maybe that’s the elementary teacher in me.”
A challenge with being a middle school teacher is having 150-160 students, instead of about 30 as an elementary school teacher, Dahlquist said. But there’s a plus: “What I like the most is how the kids are allowed to be independent here,” she said, and she can relate to them on a different level.
During her student council class Tuesday afternoon, Dahlquist told students only she and two council members showed up Saturday to help with a project and it took them three hours.
“There are after-school things that needed to take place,” she told more than 20 students, adding student council is a time commitment and they need to be role models. “There are a lot of kids who want to be part of this group, but only a few kids can be in it.”
Girls night out
Dahlquist came up with the idea for a girls night out her first year at Robert Stuart but said she was “too chicken” to ask the school principal for permission.
Her second year, she sent an email to the principal with the idea and received a “yes” right away. Now, Dahlquist said it has become her favorite thing about her 24 years of teaching.
It’s the second year for the girls night out and 74 girls at Robert Stuart have signed up to participate Friday. “It’s just a whole night of empowerment,” Dahlquist said.
Guest speakers will include a nutrition expert from St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center, an instructor from the College of Southern Idaho to teach yoga and a female police officer, who’ll talk about inappropriate texting.
The night will also include crafts, an exercise session and watching the movie “Odd Girl Out” about bullying. Girls will have a sleepover in a school hallway, which will be decorated with Christmas lights.
It goes beyond teaching students in a classroom. Dahlquist said she enjoys being part of Robert Stuart Middle School and the “amazing group of teachers.”
There are many outstanding teachers in Twin Falls, McBride said. “It’s nice to get an opportunity to celebrate one of them.”