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Ethics award for LP-A social worker -- honored for teaching kids about integrity

Ethics. Character. Integrity. With all the emphasis on language, math, science and cultural diversity in today's grade school classes, the teaching of simple human values like these can often be overlooked.

Not so at Lake-Park Audubon Elementary School in Audubon. School district social worker Jennifer Heggestuen was honored Monday by the Center for Academic Excellence's WEM Foundation for her work in "promoting ethical practices and development" with the students at LP-A.

Heggestuen, who recently began her seventh year of employment with the LP-A district, said she found the experience "humbling in a lot of ways."

"My position is a support position," she said in a Thursday interview. "I provide support services -- individual counseling and life skills instruction -- and it would be impossible for me to do my job unless I had help and support from all of my coworkers. I'm so fortunate... they are just wonderful to work with."

Heggestuen was initially nominated for the award last year by LP-A Principal Sam Skaaland, under another name -- Jennifer Lindstrom.

"I just got married this past summer," she said. Her husband, Tim Heggestuen, is an accountant with Arvig Communications Systems in Perham. They make their home in Detroit Lakes.

She was honored by the WEM Foundation in the Ethics in Education category.

"I actually received something in the mail telling me I was nominated," Heggestuen admitted. "At first I thought it was a joke."

When she found out she had really been nominated, and that she had been selected as a regional honoree by the WEM Foundation, "I was really surprised," she added. "I was kind of at a loss for words... it was very exciting. Again, I feel so very fortunate because I have such wonderful coworkers and have really great students and parents to work with as well. It depends on everybody, not just me."

In the presentation made Monday by Pat Anderson of the Lakes Country Service Cooperative in Fergus Falls, Lindstrom was recognized "as a social worker who provides character education and social skills instruction for the students in Lake Park-Audubon Elementary School."

Some of her achievements include helping to establish the "Character Counts" and "Pillars of Character" themes throughout the school's formal and informal programming; helping the school to secure a "Safe and Drug Free Schools" grant; and working in conjunction with local law enforcement to promote Red Ribbon Week every fall.

"One of the things I have worked with our students and teachers on is the Character Counts program -- it's not really a curriculum, it's kind of a philosophy," Heggestuen explained, adding that her work involves helping students with such "life skills" as managing anger, resolving conflicts and teaching them friendship skills.

"There are six focus points -- being trustworthy, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship," she said.

Heggestuen was one of 12 educators in Minnesota who were named as regional honorees; the WEM Foundation also gave statewide honors to six Minnesota educators. She said being named as a regional honoree in 2007 automatically qualifies her as a nominee for statewide recognition in 2008, but that nomination will require additional documentation.

Though Heggestuen also works with the students at LP-A High School in Lake Park, she said she spends four days a week at the Audubon school, and only one day at the high school.

"My work is focused more on the elementary students," she said.

When she first started working in education, Heggestuen was employed by the BOLD (Bird Island, Olivia and Lake Lillian) school district near Willmar. She divided her time between social work and coordinating the Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) program. She stayed there for a year.

"I have a master's degree in social work, and I also have an undergraduate degree in child and family studies," Heggestuen said.

"I've always wanted to work with children and teenagers," she continued. "I'm really interested in prevention and working with families.

"I kind of went back and forth between wanting to be a teacher or a social worker. I did some work with parents and families in ECFE, and social work just seems to be the best fit for me. I can get the best of all those worlds in one job."

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454