EVERYDAY HEROES: Top CN teacher learns lessons from students

May 8—Tahlequah Middle School's Native American Culture teacher, who has worked for the district for around 13 years, was recently named Cherokee Nation Teacher of the Year.

April Bardell, who works with students from sixth through eighth grade, said she was surprised to win the honor.'

"I was sitting in a banquet room full of well-educated and respected educators," Bardell said. "I couldn't believe it at first. Being named Teacher of the Year by the Cherokee Nation is an incredible honor that goes beyond recognition; it's a testament to the enduring impact of education on our community's future. It signifies a commitment not just to teaching, but to nurturing cultural heritage and empowering the next generation to thrive in today world."

Her career at Tahlequah Public Schools started in August 2011, but she did not become a teacher until several years later.

Bardell's plan, when she graduated with a bachelor's in health and human performance and a master's in kinesiology, was to work on the recreational side of church events and camps. She did that by working at Mitchell Family Chiropractic.

"My husband was a school teacher and comes from a teacher background, and we always knew that working with kids is what we wanted to do, so we knew working for the school was the next step," Bardell said.

Bardell then served as a library assistant at TMS until 2014, when she became office manager at Central Academy.

"At Central Academy, the office manager carried many titles from nurse, to counselor, to friend, and to a trusted adult," Bardell said. "At Central, we were the last shot for many students, and we all had to believe failure wasn't an option. My days at Central will always be close to my heart. I have learned so many lifelong lessons from my students and coworkers."

The past office manager was approached by then-Central Director Natalie Cloud and then-Human Resources Director DeAnn Mashburn in 2019 to present Bardell with the chance to teach Native American culture at TMS. COVID-19 forced Bardell to do her alternative certification in a different environment than most were used to, but she obtained the certificate in January 2022.

Bardell said she wants her students to be well-rounded and have respect for the Native American culture in their own backyard. She said she also wants students to realize the hardships Natived endured.

"I want the students to know and respect our town Tahlequah, the Cherokee Nation," Bardell said. "I want them to be able to go through our town and tell people about the buildings and statues. I want them to share the hardships and learn from them. I want them to be able to do hard things because my ancestors did hard things."

Bardell said she and her husband, Brett Bardell, have always believed that as long as they are making an impact, they are where they need to be. Bardell said working with the youth has always been a part of God's plan for her, with the jump to educating at TMS being God's next step.

"To represent Tahlequah Public Schools is also an honor, and [I am] thankful for their continued support," Bardell said. "Every day ... is a day filled with challenges, and at Tahlequah Middle School, we continue to make the middle count. I am thankful for TPS administration and always putting their trust in me."