McKayla Brubaker first heard of Dollar General’s “My Teacher, My Hero” essay contest when her mom came home from the store one day after seeing a sign for the contest and its $50,000 prize.
Thinking nothing would come of it, Brubaker entered.
“I didn’t think I would get a lot of money, so I didn’t really take it seriously,” said Brubaker, 18, a freshman at Kansas State University.
But last month, Brubaker was presented with a $50,000 check at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn. Brubaker plans to put the money toward her college tuition at K-State.
With Brubaker in Nashville was her hero – Minneapolis High School math teacher Cynthia Beall.
Beall said she was astonished when she found out she was the subject of Brubaker’s 350-word essay, which was supposed to describe your favorite teacher and how that teacher prepared you for success.
“There are so many teachers out there that spend many hours outside of the classroom working with students,” Beall said. “I feel honored that she chose me because there are so many other teachers out there that are just as deserving.”
Beall taught Brubaker in geometry when she was a sophomore, and trigonometry and college algebra as a senior. Beall spent a lot of time walking her students through math problems, no matter how frustrated they got.
In one instance, Brubaker planned to get help before school started, and Beall asked, “What time do you want to be up?”
“4:30,” Brubaker joked.
“Let’s do it.”
“We ended up changing it to a later time, of course,” Brubaker said. “She sat down with me before and after school and would always take a break from what she was doing to look over my homework.”
Beall said that being a good teacher is about being accessible to students.
“Everyone can be successful in math,” she said, “but it might take you longer than the 50 minutes we have in class.”
Beall feels as though small-town living in Delphos, a town of about 400 people, is what inspires her to teach one-on-one. Brubaker also lives in Delphos, which is about 40 miles north of Salina.
“We’re just kind of one big family, and you don’t find that in big places,” Beall said.
For the trip to Nashville, Beall brought along her husband. Brubaker was joined by her parents and two siblings.
“It was really exciting,” Brubaker said. “… It’s been a while since we’ve had a family vacation.”
At K-State, Brubaker is studying agricultural communications with a journalism emphasis.
“We promote agriculture and get it shown in a positive light,” she said. “We try to educate the public about agriculture because a lot of people don’t know about it.”