Wyoming Education Association

Summer 2021

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25 Big Horn teacher and WEA Member Dustin Olsen serves as middle school and high school band and choir director, drama teacher, and speech and debate coach. Just for fun, he's also taken on the role of elementary music teacher. Because of his many roles, and the passionate drive he's put into reinvigorating arts programs for students in his community, it comes as no surprise that Olsen is Wyoming's 2021 nominee for the National High School Heart of the Arts Award. The award is organized by the National Federation of State High School Associations. The Federation accepts just one nominee from each state. Annually, it is conferred to eight section recipients as well as one national recipient. The award recognizes those who have overcome adversity or gone above and beyond to support and grow performing arts programs. "I have always believed that a school is only as strong as their art program," Olsen told WEA News. When Olsen began working in Big Horn, he noticed that the prevailing culture worked against students participating in both arts and athletics. "I graduated from a small high school with a huge and successful music program," he said. "I have worked to break down social barriers, so everyone feels welcome to participate in our music program here at Big Horn." Now, many students participate in arts, in addition to athletics and other activities. In his five years at Big Horn High School, Olsen has bolstered the arts program, fortifying it into one of the best in the state. Big Horn High School earned its highest finish at the Wyoming State Drama Competition by placing third last year. Participating in the speech and debate program Olsen recently revived, a student has earned a spot competing at the national level this year. In addition to pushing his programs to new heights, Olsen has pushed himself to serve more students in his community. Initially, Olsen taught about 30 students in Big Horn. Now, he teaches more than 170—also serving fifth-graders, in addition to students in grades 6-12. 170 students may sound daunting to some, Olsen says, "My motivation comes from the students. I see how important drama, music, and speech have been to them. The thought of the program dwindling away motivates me to continue to give energy and excitement." Olsen believes in the power and importance of arts education for all students. "All students need a place to release emotions throughout the day, and that is what we provide as arts teachers. I believe our primary goal as an educator is to prepare students both academically and emotionally for the outside world, and music is essential to cultivating those skills." Heart of the Arts WEA News caught up with Sheridan West Education Association member Dustin Olsen to talk about his recent award nomination and explore the importance of a well-rounded arts education for all students. "I have been a member of WEA for 14 years. I believe in the mission of the WEA to help provide the best education we can for our students. They are the professional voice of all of us." - Dustin Olsen

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