Olathe Northwest High School science teacher Sue Rippe loves a good pep assembly. She enjoys the school spirit and the lively music that almost always accompanies them. So it wasn’t surprising that she came into a recent school assembly dancing, especially since one of her favorite songs, “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond, was playing in the gym.
But what was surprising was the reason for the assembly.
“I was dancing coming in, just kind of having fun,” said Rippe. “And my colleague was trying to get me to sit closer to the center of the gym than I usually do. I had heard it was an academic honor assembly.”
Turns out, the honor was for Rippe. Students, teachers, administrators and special guests gathered March 27 for a surprise assembly to announce that Rippe had been inducted into the National Teacher Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2015.
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“The standing ovation went on and on and on and it was so humbling,” said Rippe. “They brought me to the stage and all of my friends and family started coming in. Words can’t describe it.”
Rippe teaches 11th and 12th-grade college biology at Olathe Northwest High School, a class where students receive dual credit through Johnson County Community College. She’s taught for 33 years and has spent 12 of those at Olathe Northwest. The National Teacher Hall of Fame isn’t Rippe’s first honor. In 2000, she was named Kansas Teacher of the Year.
Rippe was just one of five teachers nationwide to be named to the National Teacher Hall of Fame, Class of 2015, and the only teacher from Kansas this year. She will attend a formal ceremony on June 12 at the National Teacher Hall of Fame in Emporia, Kan. She applied for the honor after being encouraged by of some of her fellow educators. Rippe said she never dreamed that she would actually be chosen.
The months-long application process required her to write five essays about her work as a teacher. At first, she dreaded the task, but over time she realized the extra workload was actually a gift.
“It’s been beautiful because it has allowed me the chance to reflect on my career and think maybe I did make a difference in the lives of a lot of great kids and to education in general,” said Rippe. “You just don’t always take the time to look back.”
In January, Rippe was notified that she was one of 20 national semifinalists. As part of the application process, Rippe also had to solicit letters of recommendation from former students, parents and administrators.
“I dedicate this award to my students, who inspire me every day,” said Rippe. “I have been blessed just to touch their lives and to open their minds to science.”