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Oehmcke named MBEA Outstanding New Business Teacher of Year

Three Forks educator Jessica Oehmcke was recognized for her outstanding work during last week's Montana Education Association Conference in Billings.

Oehmcke was named the 2023 Montana Business Education Association (MBEA) Outstanding New Business Teacher of the Year.

Oehmcke found out a couple of weeks ago she was one of five nominees from across the state and from varying district sizes.

"I was incredibly surprised at the nomination, as there are some really incredible teachers doing some really powerful things in Career and Technical Education (CTE) in Montana. While at the MBEA breakout meeting, listening to the amazing things these fellow business teachers do in their classrooms was inspiring. Needless to say, I was shocked when my name was announced as the recipient," she said.

In her fifth-year teaching in Three Forks, Oehmcke feels she has a lot of room for growth and improvement.

"There are some really fantastic instructors here in Three Forks, as well as across Montana. I still turn to several of our Three Forks teachers for mentorship, as folks like Cathe Felz, Bobby Lauver, and Sandra Cutler offer some strong and applicable guidance," she said.

A Three Forks native, Oehmcke has children who attend school in the district, and her mom, aunt, and grandmother also worked for the Three Forks Schools. Oehmcke said she is vested in making the education at Three Forks the best it can be by retaining the old culture and enhancing the current.

"I want my kids, as well as my students, to go out into the world as prepared as possible, but I feel I have to practice what I preach. We have to find value in ourselves, continue our learning, and develop a strong mindset and work ethic. I tell my students all the time that no matter what they do, they have to continue investing in their own human capital. If I expect that of them, I also have to strive towards that investment," she said.

For Three Forks High School Principal Greg Heys, it is always great to see teachers getting recognition on the state level.

"We know we are lucky to have all our wonderful staff. Three Forks not only has some of the best in the state, truthfully, I think we have some of the best in the nation. Their dedication is impeccable," Heys said.

Humbled by receiving the award, Oehmcke praised a fellow Three Forks staff member.

"I just happened to be caught doing something great one day by someone who knew where to send the nomination. Cathe Felz submitted the nomination when really the roles should be reversed. Cathe has made some really positive impacts at Three Forks Schools in so many ways. In her tenure, she has secured hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant and award monies to develop both the FCS and FCCLA programs, as well as the district as a whole," she said.

Attending the recent Montana Association Career and Technology Conference (MACTE) at Fairmont was a recharging and uplifting experience for Oehmcke.

"The Montana CTE is working to boost and enhance workplace learning in so many different settings. Across Montana, this looks different in each district, based on size, populations and local industries. Some districts collaborate directly with industry partners to literally put work boots and hard hats on students to teach the importance and expectations of industries," said Oehmcke. "There are districts who have built relationships to bring business professionals and tradespeople into their buildings for lessons. Other districts are 'opening shop' in one way, shape or form to intertwine the entrepreneurial spirit while also filling a void in their community. One example is the beautiful plaque I was given this past week; it was produced by the Hobson School District for MBEA."

According to Oehmcke, qualifying CTE students can participate in a work-study program, and the Three Forks CTE department is actively working to launch a retail location where the several different departments can cohesively join forces to design, manufacture, market, and manage sales of student-created products.

"Beyond this process, students will be expected to clock in/out, develop working relationships and improve soft skills. As a paycheck, our program's plan then is to launch a stipend as a career readiness scholarship payout at the students' graduation for participation with CTE. To get our retail location up and moving, our entire department applies for grants specific to various aspects of the plan with the intent that the workplace learning environment then becomes self-sustaining," she said.

Three Forks CTE teachers have also been active in working with business partners for continued education and to see what local employers are looking for when they hire.

"As we return to the classroom, we are saturated with ideas, examples, and materials to convey to students what employers are seeking after we ourselves work on-site and alongside these business partners. Our students have also been able to tour area manufacturing facilities to really witness firsthand the broad spectrum of career opportunities that are out there. Additionally, various CTE classes in Three Forks have begun the process of collaborating with local organizations to provide skill-appropriate services to further enhance both the business as well as the workplace learning," Oehmcke said.

While excited to be recognized with the award, Oehmcke said it also reminds her how much further they can push to develop the program in Three Forks.

"If we can generate excitement from the teachers' side of things, can we pass that charge on to the kids? Our retail setting plans are in the earliest stages of development, with many kinks to continue to be worked out. But I think we are on the cusp of a really breakthrough opportunity for our Three Forks students to bridge directly with our community for some applicable, meaningful experiences. Knowing that we can assist in offering these connections makes teaching worthwhile," she said.