Volunteers shine in 191

Volunteer Sangeetha Shreedaran, a Burnsville High School junior, helped out phy ed teacher Mike Ceola in class on Tuesday. (Photo by Rick Orndorf)

Honored volunteers include student, retirees

Jean Kutz of Burnsville taught for 41 years, most of them in Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191.

Her last 19 were at Hidden Valley Elementary in Savage, where one of her third-grade students was Sangeetha Shreedaran, now a Burnsville High School junior.

The retiree and the student are sharing an honor this year as recipients of the district’s 2013 John Coskran Volunteer Awards. It seems they can’t get enough of school – Kutz and her husband, Richard, volunteer at four district schools, while Shreedaran reports daily to Hidden Valley as a teacher’s aide.

“She was a giver back then: ‘Can I stay and help you?’ ” Kutz said of her former student, whom she still runs into at Hidden Valley. “I guess she’s always been that way. … She can brighten up anybody, even somebody who’s had a rotten day. She’s just a lovely person.”

Shreedaran and the Kutz husband-and-wife team are among the six winners of this year’s Coskran Awards, named for a former District 191 School Board member who championed volunteerism as a board member and in his long career with Catholic Charities.

The others are parents Beth Spaude and Kim Robinson, both volunteers at Marion W. Savage Elementary and co-presidents of the school’s Parent-Teacher Organization; and Terry Walters, a Burnsville High
School English and theater teacher who has been part of the “Class Acts” teacher variety show for nearly 25 years, including several years as director.

There were 40 Coskran Award nominations. Winners were selected by past recipients in the categories of student, parents, community and employee.

Shreedaran began volunteering at Hidden Valley last year through the high school’s Youth Service Advisory Council.

This year she sought – and received – expanded duties.

She helps teachers Libby Duethman, Mike Ceola, Jeff Schwenn and Emilie LeCompte. Duties range from correcting fifth-grade papers for LeCompte to helping sixth-graders with math or homework in Duethman’s class to teaching skills such as basketball and rope climbing in Ceola’s phy ed classes.

“It’s great going back there and seeing the new kids having the same experiences I used to have, seeing how much they enjoy school just like I used to,” said Shreedaran, who won the student category of the Coskran Awards.

The daughter of Siva and Radhika Shreedaran of Savage still feels indebted to Hidden Valley.

“I spent six years of my life at that school,” Shreedaran said. “The teachers were always so kind and understanding, and they taught me so many different things I’m really appreciative of. Many of my closest friends, I met when I was at Hidden Valley. It was just a big part of my life, and it still is, volunteering there.”

Shreedaran is also a member of Burnsville High’s Student Council and Youth Advisory Council. She’s worked on projects including a Snow Week food drive and the Empty Bowls for Full Bellies project. She volunteers during the summer at the Savage Library.

There’s still time for school work – Shreedaran has a perfect 4.0 grade-point average in 10th and 11th grades – as well as for dance instruction and classical piano.

And for kids.

“Actually, my mom has a Montessori (school) in our house, so I’m constantly around kids,” she said. “And when I go home, I love spending time around them.”
‘Whatever needs to be done’

As Burnsville residents since 1971 and the parents of two sons, the Kutzes had long volunteer resumes even before they retired, Richard in 2007 and Jean in 2008.

“We were both leaders doing one thing or another in 4-H,” said Richard, who was also a YMCA Indian Guides and Cub Scout leader. “And then as the kids got more and more in school, we just helped organize parties, went on field trips.”

The couple also taught religious education classes at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville.

Now they fan out to Jean’s old school, Hidden Valley, and other district schools that their four grandsons attend – Vista View and Gideon Pond elementaries and Metcalf Junior High.

Vista View teacher Jennifer Gandrud, who nominated the Kutzes, calls them the “Dynamic Duo.” Richard, for example, is in Gandrud’s classroom once a week, assembling homework folders or reading to the class during the weekly Mad Libs story.

Jean might be found organizing a celebration in Gandrud’s class or helping Hidden Valley with an all-school field trip.

As needed, the Kutzes, who won the community category of the Coskran Awards, are all over the place.

“We’re available, they ask us, and we go do it,” Richard said.

“I guess whatever needs to be done,” Jean said.

Both started teaching careers in Renville, Minn., in 1967. After four years Richard veered from science teaching into the insurance business. They moved to Burnsville, living first in the Camelot acres mobile home park and moving to North River Hills in 1973.

Volunteering with schoolkids “keeps us young,” Richard said.

“Especially the younger ones – they know no limits,” Jean said. “They think you’re capable of doing anything. You might have to say, ‘I’m a little slower than you are.’ I used to jump rope with them but by knee isn’t that good anymore.”

She’ll return to teaching in mid-May, finishing out the year as a long-term substitute for a teacher expecting a baby.