From left, Kuemper Schools’ Barbara Hackfort and Marlys Yawarsky received Excellence in Education and Good Shepherd Awards, respectively, at the Sioux City Diocese’s 17th annual Bishop’s Dinner for Catholic Schools.
From left, Kuemper Schools’ Barbara Hackfort and Marlys Yawarsky received Excellence in Education and Good Shepherd Awards, respectively, at the Sioux City Diocese’s 17th annual Bishop’s Dinner for Catholic Schools.
November 4, 2013

Since she has a fascination with history, Barb Hackfort can appreciate change.

For the example, Hackfort has seen dramatic changes in her 42 years of teaching.

She says, "The changes I've been both privileged and fortunate to experience seem incredible - from manually operated, one-side-at-a-time copiers to double-sided, sorted and stapled copies; from chalkboards to white boards to Promethean boards erasing with just a touch; from ever-aging textbooks to computers, which bring the world to our doorstep, but in doing so, make us feel either absolutely brilliant or totally stupid."

Those were part of the remarks Hackfort delivered last month when she received an Excellence in Education Award at the Sioux City Diocese's 17th annual Bishop's Dinner for Catholic Schools. When it comes to change, Hackfort, who's taught 37 years in local Catholic schools beginning at the former Our Lady of Mount Carmel, moving to Christ the King in Breda and then the Kuemper Catholic School System, has not resisted it but embraced new education technology and strategies.

She further said in her remarks at the awards program, "Still, without change there can be no progress, and that's not an option in our field. What does remain constant, however, are the youngsters - those that come to us ready and eager to learn and those who struggle with whatever conditions or situations in which they find themselves. All of them have brought me to this time and place."

At the St. Lawrence Center (sixth through eighth grades) of Kuemper Catholic Schools, Hackfort teaches sixth-grade Iowa History, seventh-grade social studies, and sixth- and seventh-grade Spanish.

In addition to the classroom, Hackfort takes on many other responsibilities. She rotates supervision schedule in the area of after-school study, detentions, bus duty, and computer-lab supervision. She's in charge of the middle-school student council, a service-oriented organization active in food drives, fundraising for Christmas gifts for the needy and the Then Just Feed One food-relief program, as well as handling the Living Rosary and various parts in school Masses. Hackfort serves on the Iowa Core education-standards team and is a facilitator professional-development groups.

Veteran St. Lawrence principal Earl Schiltz says Hackfort is an outstanding choice for the Excellence in Education Award.

"She is always very professional in all respects, highly organized, well-prepared for class, and her instructional delivery is excellent," he comments. "She is able to reach each student and works well with all of her students. She is very kind and caring and works very hard to meet the educational needs of each student. In addition, Ms. Hackfort is always most willing to assist any student before or after school. She is among the first to step forward and assist with any school project or need. She truly cares about the students and loves teaching. This is certainly reflected in her fine work ethic which is displayed each day."

He adds, "She is great to work with. She has a wonderful sense of humor, works and relates well with the staff, parents and students and contributes well to the educational needs of our system. She has worked hard to infuse technology into her teaching, posted her portfolio on line, and is very willing to attend and participate in all technology trainings. She has remained very current in all new teaching methods and strategies, has contributed to the leadership team, and continues to do a fine job as a facilitator of her professional-development group. It is a privilege to work with her, and she is held in high regard by her peers."

In a letter of recommendation, St. Lawrence teacher colleague Kathy Stipe, who received the Excellence in Education Award last year, said, "Barbara is a faith-filled person who stands as an example to her students. She is kind, compassionate and respectful, and she has a great sense of humor. All these qualities are so important in a middle-school setting."

For her part, Hackfort says she's honored and humbled by the attention she's received because of the award.

She notes that at Kuemper she's part of a team of many dedicated and talented teachers. Many others at Kuemper and throughout the diocese are just as deserving of the recognition, she says.

For Hackfort, from an early age teaching appealed to her because of her lifelong love of reading and learning.

She was the middle child in the family of two boys and three girls whom Herman J. and Estella Hackfort raised on a farm south of Swan Lake.

"My mother was a major influence (in becoming a teacher)," Hackfort says. "She had a great deal of respect for education and the teaching profession. There were also many teachers that I had known either as a student or as a colleague. They reinforced my desire to share what I had learned and to help my students achieve their goals."

Hackfort graduated from Kuemper Catholic High School in 1966, received a bachelor's degree in history with a minor in Spanish from Mount Marty College in Yankton, S.D., in 1970 and received a master's degree in history from Iowa State University in 1974. She taught middle school for five years at the northeast Nebraska community of Creighton before coming home to teach at Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

"I just wanted to be home and be with family again," Hackfort says of her return from Nebraska.

Also, she's enjoyed the opportunity to help on the family farm.

"I have the farm in me. That was part of coming home too," she says.

Hackfort says she's grateful for the opportunity to teach in Catholic schools where "you can talk religion, Gospel values, the right behavior and the right things to do."

"You can ask, 'What would Jesus do?'" she notes. "We can bring up our religion and our faith."

The big reward in teaching comes, she says, "when you're teaching something and you see the kids catch onto it, when they see what the answer is and how to get it."

She adds, "Plus, in teaching you're always trying to improve. There's always room for improvement. Our professional development at Kuemper has been especially good."

"That's rejuvenated my teaching," she remarks.

Teachers have learned a lot of hands-on activity and how to help students to teach themselves, she says.

She points out that teaching today requires different strategies.

"You can't teach like you used to - that time when you could stand in front of a classroom and think kids were going to listen and stay interested," she says. "Attention spans are so different. It's a whole new world out there. You just can't do it that way. Kids are coming from different situations. And look at what they can see and do. Look at the iPads they have, all the phones and everything they can do with social networking."

She cautions, though, "They have instant communication, but do they know how to relate to one another? When they can be sitting side by side and texting one another, that amazes me. That (texting) language they can learn. Spanish is not so easy for them. But texting, they have that down."

Many youths today are growing up in an environment where both parents work, Hackfort notes, so they're going home from school to an empty house.

"It gives them more responsibility," she observes, "but maybe sometimes they don't have the structure either."

Hackfort's interest in history isn't limited to the classroom.

She's chairwoman of the Carroll Historical Preservation Society, which highlights local history, and president of the Carroll County Historical Society, which maintains the museum in Carroll, the Little Red Schoolhouse and fur trapper's log cabin in Graham Park, and the display of antique farm machinery at Swan Lake State Park.

Hackfort says of her interest in history, "I remember when I was in fourth grade our social-studies book had us taking a trip along the Lincoln Highway (America's first coast-to-coast highway, which passes through Carroll), and I was so excited," she says. "It (history interest) must have come from my folks."

Hackfort also credits her parents with teaching their children solid work ethic, responsibility and sense of accomplishment.

Since 1978, Hackfort has taken a major trip every summer with her destinations including Washington, New York, Boston, California, Utah's national parks and the Northwest. Also she says, she enjoys exploring the wide range of scenery in Nebraska - from the waterfalls in the north-central part of the state to the bluffs and historic Oregon Trail in the far west.