Soda Creek Elementary School principal chosen for Fulbright program

Soda Creek Elementary School Principal Michelle Miller will travel to Finland in March as part of the Fulbright Leaders for Global Schools to Finland program. (Photo by Kari Dequine Harden)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Soda Creek Elementary School Principal Michele Miller was one of just 10 educators from the U.S. selected for the Fulbright Leaders for Global Schools to Finland program.

On March 6, she will travel with the group to Finland “for an immersive international experience to gain a deeper understanding of their roles as leaders in educating students who are ready for the global economy.”

Miller was inspired to apply by Steamboat Springs High School teacher Meghan Hanson-Peters, who went to Finland for six months in 2016 as part of the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program.

Finland’s education system is consistently ranked among the best — if not the best — in the world. Some of the trademarks of their system include starting formal school at a later age, minimal emphasis on standardized testing, requiring all teachers to have a master’s degree, more vocational education, prioritizing equality and cooperation over competition.

The focus of her application was on social emotional learning, which she defines as a set of skills that put kids in a position to be ready to learn.

“There are a lot of things kids are facing,” she said.

And navigating through those challenges are no longer “soft skills” to be ignored by schools, Miller said. Schools are a part of kids’ lives, she said, and creating support systems to address the whole child, and their families, benefits everyone.

And she knows firsthand there are families dealing with significant issues, including many in financial crisis. She also points to challenges that come with the increased pressures of a competitive culture.

Miller said she is looking forward to learning about some of the systemic and cultural differences in Finland and bringing those lessons back to Soda Creek. One specific interest she has is in how Finland’s schools provide for kids with special needs.

She also wants to share with others what makes Soda Creek unique.

It’s “the culture, all of the staff and teachers committed to the whole child, and creating a place where everyone wants to come every day,” Miller said.

The trip is also one of getting closer to her family roots. Both her parents are Norwegian, and her grandparents were born in Norway. She has been to the region just once – working as an au pair right out of college.

She remembers the people, the darkness in the winter and the country being “incredibly beautiful.”

“Michele’s selection to participate in the inaugural Leaders for Global Schools Program is a reflection on her constant pursuit of striving to help improve overall teaching and learning in our district as well as addressing the needs of the whole child,” said Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent Brad Meeks. “We are excited for Michele and looking forward to hearing about the excellent education system of Finland and how we can incorporate their best practices within our district.”

The Fulbright Program is funded by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Operating in over 160 countries worldwide since 1946, the program has provided more than 380,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists, professionals and scientists “the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas, and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.”

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email or follow her on Twitter @KariHarden.

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