By Kim Johnson

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — We know most schools are on winter break, giving students and teachers well deserved time off. But WCCO This Morning is not taking any time off from recognizing Twin Cities educators who make a difference.

Lauren Wester is a Life Science Teacher at Hopkins West Junior High. Her influence on students lasts long after they leave her class. It’s what makes Ms. Wester an Excellent Educator.

Jessica Melnik is in high school, but she still thinks about her junior high science teacher, Ms. Wester.

“She has been one of the most influential people in my life,” she said.

In 7th grade, Melnik noticed girls sometimes face different challenges than boys. With encouragement from Ms. Wester, Melnik created Girls United MN, a place where girls can share and connect.

“We started meeting in her room Wednesday mornings,” Melnik said. “We brought snacks, we read different books about gender inequality and misrepresentation of women in the media and she really helped for me to realize the reality of the world we live in.”

After graduating Ms. Wester’s class, Melnik continued those meetings, at local libraries instead. Four years later, girls of all ages show up. And still alongside them is Ms. Wester.

“I wanted to be a part of it because I support her and if she thinks it’s important I think it’s important,” said Ms. Wester. “I think girls have a really unique battle through whether it’s science or STEM they face different challenges than men do.”

Ms. Wester doesn’t want these girls to experience what she did as a science major in college.

“They’d be like ‘oh you’re into science that surprises me’ and I’m like ‘I don’t know why that would be surprising’, I think it was because you’re a woman in a male-dominated degree program,” she said. “I don’t want it to be a surprise that a woman is into science and math.”

Now young girls in Hopkins are learning how to bust stereotypes one at a time, all thanks to an excellent educator who inspired a student.

“It’s just inspiring to see that a teacher is willing to put so much effort into making her students’ lives so much better,” said Melnik. “I really think this award was made for teachers like Ms. Wester.”

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