Michele Ann Palmgren spent 15 years teaching chemistry at Salina South High School until her work with at-risk teens moved her to request a transfer to the Family and Consumer Science (FACS) program.
In 2004, Palmgren said, she began volunteering as a teacher of a women's life skills class in Salina. Her students were dealing with abuse, drug addiction, divorce, court orders and other issues.
"Over the nine-month classes, I would constantly hear the phrase, 'Why didn't anyone tell me this sooner?'" she explained.
Eventually Palmgren asked herself why she couldn't begin teaching similar classes to teens so they could learn life skills sooner. With that, the course "Teen Builders-Lifeskills" was born at Salina South, and Palmgren used seminar period to teach at-risk sophomores.
In five years, all but two of the approximately 65 students who enrolled graduated from high school.
"Out of all the things Ms. Palmgren has done for me, the most important thing I believe was to push me toward the lifeskills class," wrote one former student who said he "was headed down a wrong path throughout my high school career," which included juvenile detention incarcerations.
He now works for UPS, a job he says he earned with Palmgren’s mentoring through the application and interview process.
"It's safe to say, without the little push of Ms. Palmgren over four years ago, I would never be where I am at today. I would have stayed on my path of crime and violence."
Another student, who had Palmgren as a teacher of both chemistry and lifeskills, was in foster care during high school. When she turned 18, she became an independent living student with Palmgren as her mentor.
"Ms. Palmgren has been the only person in the past five years who has been consistent in my life," wrote the student who now attends college.
Palmgren earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry and secondary education and a master's degree in business administration from Kansas Wesleyan University and is pursuing a master's of education degree from Baker University. She also has completed course work toward a doctoral degree in curriculum instruction at Kansas State University.