Historians, educators and proud Montanans gathered at the State Capitol in Helena Friday to honor the 2020 Montana History teacher of the year.
Abbey Kochel is the 31st educator to receive the Montana Statehood Centennial Bell Award.
Kochel teaches seventh grade at Castle Rock Middle School in Billings. Inspired by her father to become a teacher, Kochel said Castle Rock also happens to be the same school he taught at.
“Before coming to Mrs. Kochel’s class, I only knew Montana was a state and Helena was the capital,” said Sam Ross, one of Kochel’s students. “Now because of Mrs. Kochel, I could probably teach a whole lesson about the history of Montana.”
At a social distancing mindful event in the Capitol rotunda, Kochel received a plaque honoring the recognition from the Montana Historical Society. She received $4,000 from the Montana History Foundation Society, Sons & Daughters of Montana Pioneers and the Montana Television Network to use for her classroom. 1889 Coffee also presented her with $200.
The event coincides with the anniversary of Montana becoming a state on Nov. 8, a Sunday this year.
Usually the teacher would ring in the occasion with the centennial bell on the third floor of the Capitol, but due to COVID limitations, a cowbell served as a stand in.
Kochel helped develop a Montana history curriculum for her school. The lesson plans include a section where the students translate a sign at a Butte mine that says “No Smoking” in 16 different languages.
Kochel says the exercise helps the students see just how diverse the background of Montana is.
“They live in this state so I feel that it’s important that they know where things came from, where it started,” said Kochel. “Obviously Native Americans are the first people here and when the immigrants came other and took over their land it impacted them, but it also impacted the immigrants coming over.”
The people that inhabit the state play a big role in what makes a wide landscape of mountains, pails and rivers a state called Montana. It’s teachers like Abbey Kochel that make it the treasure state.