Libby Duffy was never much of a bookworm. But she read three historical fiction titles last year, all on the recommendation of Madalyn Bomsta, her sixth grade teacher at Central Middle School in White Bear Lake.
First, "Between Shades of Gray" by Ruta Sepetys. Then within weeks, Libby devoured "Salt to the Sea" and "I Must Betray You" by the same author.
"They touched my heart," Libby said this week during a visit to the Minnesota State Fair, where she stopped by the Minnesota Department of Education's booth to pen a note to her former teacher.
The agency is encouraging students and their families to write heartfelt postcards to educators who left a mark on them, from teachers and principals to counselors and any other school employees.
The Department of Education will collect those postcards through Labor Day and deliver them to districts in an effort to start the school year, which begins for most students Tuesday, off on a positive note.
"It's our way of showing appreciation to teachers and others as we get ready for back to school," Department of Education spokesman Kevin Burns said.
Education Minnesota, the statewide teachers union, is hosting a similar effort. Fairgoers can write notes to their teachers on sticky pads and place them on poster boards. The union will take photos of the collected notes and post them on its website and social media feeds.
Education Minnesota Vice President Monica Byron said the notes have boosted the moods of teachers who stop by the booth. On Wednesday, one educator was moved to tears by a "thank you" from a former student.
"It's little things like that people can really relate to," Byron said.
Libby's mother, Kristin Duffy, said she encouraged her daughter write the note to her former teacher because Bomsta has a gift for engaging with students and meeting them where they are: "She takes a personal interest in every one of them."
Dozens of such notes sat in a basket perched on the agency's table in the Education Building on Thursday morning as a slow trickle of families wrote thank-you notes to their favorite teachers.
Jessica Widen's children, McKenna and Logan, took to the Department of Education table to thank Beth Schreifels, who was their second-grade teacher at St. Michael Elementary.
Logan, who's about to start sixth grade at St. Michael-Albertville Middle School West, raved about Schreifels' flexible seating policy. Students don't have assigned desks, Logan said, which meant he could sit with his friends all year and settle in a different part of the classroom each day.
McKenna, who's about to start third grade at St. Michael Elementary, enjoyed the inventive classroom games Schreifels would have students play on the classroom smart board.
"She was really nice," McKenna said.
Taydan Peterson, a rising freshman at White Bear Lake High, wanted to thank his orchestra teacher at Sunrise Park Middle School for helping him learn the double bass and to manage his anxiety for three years.
"I wanted to tell him that he helped me a lot," Taydan said.
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