Truman Solverud

Truman Solverud, a special education teacher at Whiting High School, received the Everyday Champion Award from the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

A Whiting High School teacher has received a national award for supporting students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Truman Solverud, who teaches special education at Whiting, received the Everyday Champion Award from the National Center for Learning Disabilities. The award recognizes those who have given extra effort in helping students who struggle with attention and learning as they navigate distance learning during the pandemic.

Solverud was nominated for the award by Whiting principle Scott Shoop, who said Solverud used every resource at his disposal last spring to support students and maintain relationships with families after the school district moved to remote learning.

“His energy level is incredible,” Shoop said. “I’m bowled over by how much he takes on and how much he gets done.”

Everyday Champion Award winners were named in three categories: educators, school administrators and parents/caregivers. They were chosen for dedication to students with learning and attention issues; modeling integrity, fairness, compassion and resiliency; and advocating for people with learning disabilities. The award comes with a $5,000 prize.

The Albany County School District’s decision to move all schools online last spring caused an abrupt shift in how learning took place across the county, including within the Whiting community.

“A lot of our kids get some of their basic needs met here, whether it’s adult contact, or a good meal, or social contact,” Solverud said.

He knew that online learning would create additional challenges for his students. For example, they might be unable to access the necessary technology, or they might struggle with the motivation to complete their work from home.

“All of our teachers here are incredible at meeting kids where they are, but going online minimizes the amount of individualization they can do,” Solverud said.

According to Shoop, Solverud communicated with students through all modes of social media, by phone and even through hand-written letters. He took phone calls at 6 a.m. and jumped on Zoom at 11 p.m. He delivered meals, cleaning supplies and toilet paper. He coached students from their driveways and mediated family conflicts. He transferred online assignments into hard copies, collected assignments and then uploaded them himself.

“Truman was incredible,” Shoop said.

Solverud said his creativity and flexibility last spring was made possible by a culture at Whiting that empowers teachers to remove barriers to student success and support them in any way possible.

“There’s literally nothing we won’t do to support a student,” he said.

He’s in his third year at the school, with his career in teaching starting just a few years ago after 30 years in the restaurant industry.

“I’m a late bloomer,” he joked.

Solverud described himself as a “terrible high school student” who started working in restaurants soon after finishing school.

“It was something I was good at, and it made sense,” he said.

His career took him to stops around the country before he landed in Colorado, where he got married, raised a family and eventually owned a couple coffee shops. As his children grew up and the coffee shops ran their course, he considered possible career changes.

He had never thought of himself as a teacher, but he realized that he loved hiring and working with students with disabilities through a local vocational program.

“What I kept coming back to was that that was the best part of my day — mentoring those kids specifically,” he said.

He decided to work on a special education degree at the University of Northern Colorado, and soon after completed a master’s degree from the University of Kansas. This time around, he was a great student, graduating with honors.

“I had to do it the hard way,” he said. “I had no college. I had to sit in classes with eighteen-year-olds.”

Solverud teaches a career-readiness class and a culinary class at Whiting in addition to working in special education. He said he loves helping students find jobs.

“A job is really impactful for our kids,” he said. “It provides a whole new support system outside school and home, a peer group, independence. It can really be a difference-maker for kids.”

He works with any student who needs support, no matter what classes they’re taking.

“I spend a lot of my day just making kids feel loved, wanted, important and valued. That pays off huge,” he said.

Student Jessica Campbell said Solverud helped her get an internship at Windy City Pet Store, which is a fitting place for the animal-loving senior.

“He’s really good at helping students find jobs or helping them with home situations,” she said. “He’s very open and very easy to talk to.”

Senior Skyler Abramson said Solverud helped him find a job at VDR Foreign Auto Repair.

“He’s awesome, and he helps me out with pretty much every aspect of my life,” he said. “He’s probably the most caring, supportive dude that I’ve maybe ever met.”

Shoop said Solverud has well-honed people skills developed through his work in the service industry, and he uses those skills to partner with families and build up students.

“He speaks greatness into kids — that constant affirmation that you are of value, you matter,” Shoop said.

Solverud will be honored by the National Center for Learning Disabilities during the center’s annual benefit dinner on Dec. 9. A documentary film crew recently spent a day in Laramie gathering footage for a video that will be shown during the dinner. The virtual event is also set to feature celebrity appearances and a cooking demonstration by Food Network chef George Duran.

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