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Teacher kindles a fire for learning


Gresham High's Michael Lindblad earns state honor

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: LISA K. ANDERSON - Global studies students including senior Lily Cichon presented their humanitarian projects in class during finals week. Michael Lindblad started the project when he came to Gresham High 14 years ago.

Sometimes a high school classroom conjures images of Ben Stein droning on as the economics teacher in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

But step into classroom 220 of Gresham High School and social studies teacher Michael Lindblad will kindle your fire for learning.

“He is willing to meet students where they’re at and add this interesting, creative flair to teaching history,” said longtime friend and colleague Amanda Weber-Welch. “He makes civic engagement very real, way beyond learning about a political process.”

Lindblad, the beloved Gresham High teacher of 14 years, has been named State Social Studies Teacher of the Year by the Oregon Council for the Social Studies.

“What I love about this school is you get to teach every different type of student there is — culturally or socioeconomically,” Lindblad said. “That’s a special thing for me.

“(This award) is really a testament to all of the students and support staff that I’ve had to help me along the way. I’d be nowhere without them and my family that put me in a place to do things that were meaningful for people.”

Lindblad teaches global studies and International Baccalaureate (IB) History of the Americas, specializing in world and Latin American history.

Each year Lindblad’s students raise awareness or funds in the community to help local, national or international causes.

His classes have helped citizens in Haiti, Japan, New Jersey and the Philippines by making dresses for children in orphanages, holding benefit concerts or events and working with local restaurants.

“Teachers need to understand the community in which they work — to go out and mobilize it in ways, whether it be a humanitarian project or talking about the school,” Lindblad said. “A lot of people think you can stay inside school and expect everything to keep going well.

“It’s incredibly important for these young people to get outside the classroom, to use professional skills and raise awareness or funds for important issues in our society.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised and appreciative of all the contributions the community has provided every year for this project, even during the down economic years.”

On their last day of the semester Wednesday, students presented humanitarian projects. Many of the projects will help survivors of Typhoon Haiyan that wrecked havoc on the Philippines Nov. 8, 2013, while some helped folks right in the area.

Senior Junior Cortez and his family spent a day making tamales to hand out to homeless families in downtown Portland Christmas day. Cortez and his family took it one level deeper, sitting down and talking with the families, asking about their lives.

“Some people smiled, some cried, some hugged us,” Cortez said. “One person said, ‘There’s not a whole lot of caring people like you in the world anymore.’ It made me want to do more.’ “

Inspired by a guest speaker from The Thirst Project, a nonprofit organization that helps communities obtain safe, clean water, senior Brenda Alvarez organized a cupcake benefit. She raised $120 for the organization.

“I always wanted to help the community, but never actually did,” Alvarez said. “Now I want to do more projects like this because I know I can.”

After the presentations, students shared their favorite parts of the class, with many such as Lily Cichon calling it the highlight of their schedules.

• “You teach us to learn in a whole bunch of different ways — not just focused on the U.S. perspective.”

• “Your classes are never boring.”

• “I like that we juggled between the humanitarian project and talking about history.”

• “It’s a relaxed but professional environment and you guide us, but don’t tell us the answers.”

• “I really love this class and wish I could stay. We’re like a family.”

Lindblad grew up in Portland and received his bachelor’s degree at Linfield College, where he had a baseball scholarship.

When his mother felt he was “too obsessed with grades,” she took on a second job, called his baseball coach and said “this guy’s gonna go to Europe.”

She set into motion a love of travel, a passion for education and a commitment to civic engagement

“I thought maybe it was my job to help people learn what’s going on in the world and that maybe not everybody has the privileges that we do in the U.S.,” Lindblad said.

He received his teacher’s certificate from Lewis and Clark College and began his teaching career at Lakeridge High School in Lake Oswego.

“A lot of people said, ‘Why aren’t you staying, this is the best thing ever and you’ll be protected here,’” Lindblad said. “I thought, I’m not going to grow as a person here. Yes, it’ll be really safe, but it’s so confining.”

Lindblad moved to Lima and Cusco, Peru, for a year, and returned determined to find a place with a more diverse student population.

At the time, Gresham-Barlow School District had a 3 percent Latino population; today that figure has grown to 25 percent.

“We have students who are trying to command English and honor level students who could be in IB — that’s the beauty of this class, it has everything,” Lindblad said.

Outside the classroom, Lindblad enjoys coaching baseball for the Gresham Gophers and traveling. He and his wife have three grown daughters; twin sons who will turn 1 this weekend; and a granddaughter.

“They have taught me more than I could ever imagine,” Lindblad said.

In addition to his work at Gresham High, Lindblad taught the Engaging Community class at Lewis and Clark College and prepares the next generation of social studies instructors by working with student teachers.

He has worked with the Marylhurst University Teacher Education Department since 2008.

Lindblad also enjoys attending history conferences and meeting the best history teachers in North America.

His students and colleagues couldn’t think of a more deserving winner for Oregon’s social studies teacher of the year.

“What makes him especially valuable as a teacher is he’s able to connect with all students — from at-risk students in the Options program to pushing high level students academically through the IB program,” Weber-Welch said. “He has a magnetic presence with students.”