Kendra Larson, fifth grade teacher, Coyote Ridge Elementary
Sitting in her classroom at Coyote Ridge Elementary School, Kendra Larson carefully dissects a pellet of owl barf for her awestruck fifth grade class to observe. Explaining each step, Kendra uses tweezers to hold tiny bones in front of the camera so her students watching at home on their computer screens can see the remnants of the owl’s meal. Her students are equal parts fascinated and disgusted, and express their appreciation as fifth-graders do, with exclamations of “gross!” and “cool!”.
This is Kendra’s 15th year teaching, and her seventh year teaching at Coyote Ridge. Watching her captivate her students with this virtual science lesson, it is clear how passionate she is about educating young people. But for someone who grew up in a tiny town in North Dakota and says she loves “all the cliché Colorado things” – camping, being outside, and lake activities – a huge part of Kendra’s heart lies over 13,000 miles away, in Uganda, a place she has spent much of two of her last four summer breaks learning about a completely different culture and way of life. She works with children there too, but in Uganda, the students learn on dirt floors in tiny schools without windows in the frames.
Kendra first went to Uganda in 2017, after meeting a woman from Africa who makes jewelry out of discarded paper and sells it to raise money for schools. Kendra spent almost a month in Uganda on her first trip, traveling with strangers she met through an organization in Johnstown. She says she cried herself to sleep the first night she was there, asking herself what in the world she had been thinking traveling halfway across the globe with people she barely knew – to help people she didn’t know at all.
“The next day, we went to the school, and it clicked: This is why I’m here. They’ve got nothing, and they want to give you everything.”
By the end of her first trip, Kendra was heartbroken to leave all of the amazing people she had met, but she also couldn’t wait to find ways to help them. “You won’t leave being the same person. You’ll want to make things better,” she explains. Kendra came back to the United States and sponsored two Ugandan children, providing them with money for food, mattresses, mosquito nets, and school uniforms and shoes. She also found sponsors for over 20 other students, many of whom are aided by teachers at Coyote Ridge.
Coyote Ridge Principal Deon Davis says Kendra has “a huge heart for our kids, but also for our community and our world. What she does is so admirable. She has embraced IB, and dug into its culture of service, action, and international mindedness.”
And those are the lessons Kendra is so committed to passing on to young people in the United States, not just in her classroom but across the community. She speaks to students in every grade level at Coyote Ridge, telling them about other cultures and encouraging them to want to make a difference in the world.
“There are so many different worlds out there, but we are all human,” Larson says. “I want to open their eyes to how much we have and (teach them to) be grateful for it."