Fairmont Teacher Bob Bonin and 2018 MREA Educator of Excellence, is in the running for National Rural Teacher of the Year Award. Seeing a dire need for skilled workers, he developed and opened a Welding Academy that not only engages an increasing number of students in his school, but also other students and adults from around the region.

This program, built on business partnerships, offers three levels of welding courses as well as a college-in-the-schools course through the local community college and a virtual welding program for middle school students. A constant business collaborator, he has kept on developing courses and programs based on workforce needs, including a new Mechatronics class in partnership with 3M.

“Equipping students for the future is at the heart of every teacher’s work. But few have pursued and achieved it at the level of Bob Bonin,” MREA Executive Director Fred Nolan said.”

MREA nominated Bonin for the national honor. The MREA Board of Directors, representing about 230 school districts in Minnesota, selected Bonin from an impressive pool of nomination received from from school and community leaders across Minnesota.

Trade to Teaching

Bonin grew up on a farm where he learned to repair and fabricate items. He went on to work as a professional welder and in leadership roles in manufacturing and production facilities before returning to college to become a teacher in his hometown.

“With a deep desire to impact lives, Bob left in pursuit of a teaching position at his high school. He started at Fairmont Schools in the Fall of 1998, initially focusing on teaching middle school students the STEM related skills needed to set them up for success during and after school,” Nolan said.

Today, he combines his professional welding and mechanical trade background with his passion for teaching to impact students and our state.

Bonin developed cutting-edge curriculum (now being used by others) that blends education standards with industry expectations and worked with his superintendent to raise funds to purchase new equipment (20 fully-equipped welding booths initially) and start the Welding Academy. He uses virtual reality technology to ignite his initial instruction for students and has created a complete virtual-reality experience with the use of Realityworks VR welding helmets and guides.

Above & Beyond

His work extends to weekends and summers when he teaches both high school students and local adults at the Welding Academy. It’s when he has found they are more available to gain these skills for their careers.

“His goal is to help students make their passion their purpose every day in the careers they pursue,” Nolan said. “He is changing lives of students — unleashing their talents and potential in such meaningful ways. And he’s doing it in a way that other teachers — and school districts — can replicate.”

With the support of the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education, he took his work to the Minnesota Legislature to advocate for funding and support for vocational classes across the state. He wants to help schools and students across the the state to have access to vocational classes outside of the traditional school day. Learn more about Bonin and watch a video of him accepting the state award in November.

The National Rural Education Association will recognize the 2019 honoree at a banquet this fall, held in conjunction with the national conference. Bonin will be attending MREA. Roger Ebnet, 2017 MREA Educator of Excellence from Benson Public Schools, was named a finalist for the award last year. The 2019 honoree will be announced in August. View past winners.