Meadowview teacher selected as recipient of Kohl Fellowship
Eric Pederson likens himself to a modern-day Mister Rogers and with his warm smile and welcoming persona, he just may be right. Pederson, a sixth-grade science teacher with the Sparta Area School District, was selected as a 2021 Herb Kohl Teacher Fellowship recipient.
The Kohl Foundation Scholarship and Fellowship program was established by Herb Kohl, philanthropist and businessman, in 1990. Since then the foundation has awarded nearly $25 million to Wisconsin educators, principals, students and schools.
“Education is the key to the future of Wisconsin and our nation,” Kohl said. “I am very proud of the accomplishments of these students, teachers, and principals and look forward to the great contributions they will make in the future.”
Fellowship recipients are educators who have been chosen for their superior ability to inspire a love of learning in their students, their ability to motivate others and their leadership and service both within and outside the classroom.
Pederson was nominated for the fellowship by his building principal back in September. After being nominated, he was required to fill out an application listing all of his professional and personal achievements.
“It really makes you dig deep and dust off the cobwebs of these teaching experiences that I haven’t done for quite a while,” he said.
In his application he wrote, “Discipline, academics, social and emotional needs are all part of the balance we all need. My classroom is a living, evolving community as I learn with my students. All students are individuals, and everyone learns in their own unique way.”
Pederson uses multiple methods of teaching; linguistic, visual, auditory, kinesthetics to reach students so that no one is left behind in his classroom.
Pederson believes that building meaningful, authentic relationships with his students, families and fellow educators is the key to all aspects of effective learning. He decided early on in his career that making those relationships with his students would be his priority.
“For me it’s not just about the content, it’s about relationships. The true gift of education is in our relationships with students,” he said. “We will never remember every single lesson, but we can all appreciate educators who made an impact with us based on how they made us feel.”
Pederson graduated from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse with a Bachelor of Science Education and he later earned a master's degree from UWL in May of 2000.
He began his educational career in 1996 teaching grade three special education at Lawrence Lawson Elementary School in Sparta; he also served as a music, physical education and art substitute.
In 1997, Pederson transitioned to teaching kindergarten at Maplewood Elementary School until 2001 when he began teaching at Leon Elementary.
Pederson transitioned again in 2003 to teaching grade five at Meadowview Intermediate in Sparta. He currently teaches sixth grade science and social studies; a position he has held since June of last year.
In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Pederson serves with the SASD as the Gifted Talented Events Coordinator, a volleyball coach, chess club advisor, yearbook advisor and is part of the positive behavior and intervention supports team.
Since 2018, Pederson has also been teaching college students science methods and classroom management at Viterbo University; essentially teaching future teachers how to teach science.
“Looking at this body of work over the years, I have been very blessed,” Pederson said. “I have really invested my life in education in a positive way.”
While his devotion to his students is evident, Pederson is also a valuable member of the community. He serves on the Monroe County Local History Room board of directors, he serves on Sparta’s Veteran’s Day Committee; he teaches Sunday School at Fish Creek Lutheran Church in Cashton and is also the church president, vice council member and church organist.
Pederson is a member of the UWL Education Board, Sparta Community Band and Choir, National Education Association, Wisconsin Education Association, Sparta Education Association and the Mississippi Valley gifted and talented.
Over the past 22 years, Pederson has taught piano lessons to over 40 students and is currently taking a break due to the COVID-19 pandemic
From 2001 to 2013, Pederson worked for the People to People Student Ambassador Program, overseeing parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan to coordinate training for teachers and students to travel overseas.
In addition to all of that, Pederson also owns his family’s dairy farm in Cashton.
“If you had a nickel for every time a teacher/farmer walked in the door, you’d probably have one nickel,” he joked. “I’m a Cashton farm boy and so much of what I’ve been able to do in my teaching, being so passionate about science, farming is science.”
At the end of every school year, Pederson always invites his students and their families to visit his farm for a picnic and hayride.
In mid-February, Pederson was informed that he was one of only 101 teachers in the state that had been chosen to receive the fellowship. As part of the award, Pederson will receive $6,000 for his personal use and another $6,000 will be given to Meadowview Middle School.
Pederson has chosen to use the money toward building a pavilion/shelter house at the middle school, a project he has been advocating for for several years.
“This is quite an honor and to be recognized on a state level, feels really good. I am just very fortunate to still love what I do 25 years later and the people I work with have just been incredible,” he said. “There are a lot of things in life that knock you over and kick you in the gut and on some level, all of us need that validation that we’re doing a good job.”
One of Pederson’s favorite lessons to share is that of the broken crayon. When he was a student in Cashton, all students needed was a box of eight crayons, then students suddenly needed a box of 24, over time some students would have a box of 64 crayons complete with a sharpener.
When he became a teacher, Pederson would ask his students which box of crayons would make him a better artist.
During the lesson one day, Pederson opened his box of crayons and inside was a broken green crayon.
He then asked his students if the broken green crayon in the one box would make a difference in his skills compared to the perfect green crayon in the other box.
“This crayon still has value. If I was coloring a rainbow and needed green grass and that broken crayon was the only one I had, could I still finish my picture?” Pederson said. “It’s not about what you have in quantity or quality, it’s about what you make of what you have. There are times when we’re all a broken crayon, but we will still have value.”