Featured Teachers: Dana KunzJanuary 11, 2019
By LEANN BURKE
JASPER — Pioneering new programs or positions in Greater Jasper Consolidated Schools is something Dana Kunz has experienced.
The educator of 18 years — 12 of which have been at her alma mater, Greater Jasper — has been called on twice to take a new position in the corporation, and when she joined the Jasper High School staff as a business teacher in 2006, she founded the corporation’s Business Professionals of America program.
The program develops leadership, academic and technological skills applicable to the workplace, and Jasper’s program repeatedly does well in state competitions. “It is both exciting and a little bit scary” to be the one pioneering something new for the schools, Kunz said. Even with her nerves, she repeatedly delivers a performance that earns the trust of her administrators.
“She truly understands the connections between effective learning, positive relationships and success,” said Greater Jasper Superintendent Tracy Lorey. “In whatever Dana endeavors, you can be assured that it will be well-vetted and of high quality.”
Kunz grew up the daughter of Elmer and Marilyn Brames. Since her father taught at Jasper High School for many years, Kunz spent a lot of time at the school, placing a possible career in education always in her mind. By the time Kunz got to high school, she’d pretty well decided that education was the path she wanted to follow. She further narrowed down her career path when she took the business classes Jasper High School offered, finding a second home among those teachers. As an educator herself, she strives to create that second home feeling for her students.
After college, Kunz taught business classes at Danville Community High School and in the middle and high schools at Washington Community Schools before taking a teaching role in Jasper’s business department. “I just wouldn’t have it any other way,” Kunz said of teaching at Jasper. “It just was coming back home.”
When Kunz came to Jasper, she brought the BPA program with her. While teaching in Washington, she advised the program with a colleague who had been involved with BPA for decades. Kunz saw the value of the program and fell in love with it. When she came to Jasper, she said, she couldn’t imagine the school not having it.
In the almost 10 years since Kunz brought BPA to Jasper, the program grew to one of the largest and most successful BPA programs in the state, with other teachers joining Kunz in the advising role. Business teacher Amanda Schipp has taken over much of the leadership for the high school group with the help of communications teacher Evan Elrod, and Marci Showalter, one of the corporation’s e-learning coaches, helps advise the middle school group.
Kunz’s years in the classroom helped prepare her for her later roles as e-learning coach and career counselor as well. Even before coming to Jasper, Kunz’s classroom was a computer lab, making her students one-to-one with technology before that education model became popular. Kunz used the computers to her full advantage, finding resources for her lessons that weren’t available in the textbooks.
When she taught about taxes, for example, her students used the Internal Revenue Service website to make sure they worked with the most up-to-date tax codes. That experience made Kunz a good fit for the e-learning coach when Jasper introduced technology devices to sixth through 12th grade students in 2015.
In her new role, Kunz trained teachers and students to use the new technologies and tools in the classroom.
“Dana took this new role and made it into one that has greatly influenced how many teachers engage students with content,” said Jasper High School Principal Brian Wilson.
Kunz said she enjoyed her role as e-learning coach, but she missed the regular interaction with students she had as a teacher. That’s why when the corporation created the career counselor role prior to the beginning of this school year, Kunz knew she had to apply for it. Plus, she’d imagined the exact role years prior when she was considering what to earn her master’s degree in. She was between education and school social work at the time, and she wished for a position that combined guidance counseling with career planning.
“I just always came back to [wishing] there was a position for the guidance counseling — the what should I take, when I should take it, why should I take it — that starts long before that with a conversation about your interests and your skills and what you might like to do with your future,” she said.
Back then, such a position didn’t exist, so she earned her master’s in education. Now, however, Kunz’s dream job is a reality, and she’s part of shaping what it looks like for Greater Jasper.
In her new role as career counselor, she works with students of all ages to guide them to career paths they may want to explore based on their skills and interests.
For an educator used to working with older students, working with the younger grades took some adjusting. In the younger grades, she said, students’ dreams are much bigger. When sixth-graders take an interests analysis, she said, about 40 percent of the boys will have a professional sport come up as a possible career path. In high school, Kunz said, there are usually only a few with those results.
“The younger kids haven’t had all the experiences that the older students have,” Kunz said. “They haven’t been cut from a sports team; haven’t had a business class. I’m still kind of working with this process of working with kids exactly where they are.”
In her conversations with students, she often takes the back-up plan approach, careful not to dampen their big dreams because, she said, there are obviously people who do play professional sports. But she also wants to make sure the students are thinking about a back-up plan.
“That is my fear — that I ever say something to discourage a kid from what they can potentially accomplish,” Kunz said.
Despite her accomplishments, Kunz remains humble, quick to point out that she’s not doing anything her colleagues wouldn’t in her position. She comes back to a quote from one of her role models, author, activist and philanthropist Glennon Doyle: “Just do the next right thing one thing at a time. That’ll take you all the way home.”
In whatever she does, Kunz said, she just tries to do the “next right thing.” Maybe, she admits, completing a series of the “next right things” leads to a result that some people see as exceptional.
Kunz lives in St. Anthony with her husband, Chris, and their two sons, Kai, 11, and Kasen, 8.
This story is part of Featured Teachers, a monthly series that highlights educators in our community. To suggest an educator to be featured, email Education Reporter Leann Burke at email@example.com.
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