Why I love Albert Lea
By Halea Picha
Though I am new to living in Albert Lea, I have called this town a second home since I was little. I grew up in Owatonna but traveled to Albert Lea at least once a week to visit family. My father grew up here and would also drive us around town talking about the “glory days” and what it was like to grow up in Albert Lea. My grandpa would treat my sister and me to breakfast at the B&B Cafe whenever he was watching us and then took us to one of the many parks in town. B&B Cafe was one of my favorite places to go and it still is.
I also spent many nights at the softball diamonds, watching my mom, dad and aunt play softball. At the time during my youth, the ballpark was the epicenter of the Albert Lea community. It was the place to be, and I loved the excitement in the air, the spirit of the community and the fact that everyone seemed to know each other — despite the competition between teams, teams cheered each other on. Each person was “somebody” and had a story to tell, and each story was listened to and the person felt respected. It was one big community of family members.
I feel that same camaraderie and family atmosphere today in Albert Lea. The center of the universe for the residents is the town of Albert Lea, which is loved by its residents and visitors alike. Similarly, Albert Lea Area Schools is loved by its residents, families, educators and students. The school district has taken the time to build a sense of community in and outside of the classroom with students and educators; inclusivity and equity is emphasized; and the focus is on doing the right thing for educating and meeting the needs of students while implementing positive changes. These are just a few of the reasons I applied for a teaching position at Albert Lea High School.
The Albert Lea public schools is a family of educators, and my definition of an educator is any school employee or volunteer who touches the lives of children in some way. I see our educators touch the lives of students every day. Our educators believe that each student needs a bright smile every day greeting him/her at the door or in the hallway; that each student needs support and encouragement especially on those tough days; that each student needs to be believed in and cared for; and that each student (and the family members of each student) needs to feel the joy of individual success. That is what is embedded in the Albert Lea mission and core values. This work is hard, especially the 2020-21 school year, but if I ask any educator what keeps him/her returning each day with a smile, including me, it is an emphatic, “The kids need the best of me each and every day.”
Most importantly, I love Albert Lea because our students are the best! Each child in our school system is a gift who needs to be recognized for their strengths, feel believed in, cared for, empowered, encouraged, engaged with and heard. One of the most amazing things about teaching in Albert Lea is the fact that our students are also educators. I learn something new from them every day! Our students inspire me daily because they make me want to be better at what I do day in and day out. Our kids are passionate human beings who are forward thinkers when it comes to communicating, innovating and learning new things, which was especially true when we were in distance learning. Our students have helped me develop courage and confidence to work effectively as an educator no matter the situation. I’m not afraid to try new things and fail forward.
I am so honored and excited to have been nominated for Teacher of the Year by students two out of the three years I have worked at ALHS. It means that my focus of building relationships, passion for student success inside and outside of the classroom and bringing the daily joy of learning is making a difference for our kids, and that is what education is all about. The Albert Lea school community has allowed me to do that. Our schools are a welcoming and safe place for students, staff and community to come together and learn, grow, collaborate and have fun. This is why I love being an Albert Lea Tiger!
Halea Picha has been a social studies teacher at Albert Lea High School for the past three years. She has been nominated for Teacher of the Year two of those three years and coaches girls’ soccer, volunteers at high school basketball, softball and baseball games and track and field meets.