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Mark Harman reflects on dedicated students after receiving Outstanding Educator of the Year award

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During the last 20 years, Mark Harman has focused on developing strong relationships with the students who have come through his classroom at Fremont High School.

Harman, vocal music director at FHS, saw those efforts rewarded on June 7, as he received the Outstanding Educator Award during the Nebraska High School Theater Academy Showcase in Omaha.

“It’s pretty humbling,” he said. “It feels good to know that there are people who are watching and think that you’re doing good work.”

Harman said the recognition was especially flattering because the nominations for the award came from Fremont parents.

“It was an exciting day,” he said. “It was a nice way to cap the year.”

The award comes after Harman and the school’s performing arts department rebounded from a difficult spring semester in 2020 that included a host of canceled plays and performances following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The arts department really took a big hit in regard to being able to do what we typically do in as normal a fashion as possible,” he said.

The 2020-21 school year meant a return to the stage, but it came with its own set of caveats.

Whether it was masking requirements while the marching band practiced or offering the school’s fall play virtually, Harman said there were plenty of challenges students had to overcome in the early months of the school year.

“It was just really hard to recreate the music experience and the artist experience without being able to collaborate,” he said. “And so to start the year was a really big challenge for us, just to try and find our footing and to find a way to do what we do in the best possible way for our students and staff.”

Despite the challenge, Harman and the performing arts department at FHS committed itself to provide the best possible opportunity for each student throughout the year.

The students responded to that commitment and the result could be seen on the stage. The department performed every single performance, play and production this year.

“The students committed to just doing the very best they could and would do whatever they could to experience the best possible thing,” he said.

And while Harman said he hopes to never relive anything like the COVID-19 pandemic again, he knows the challenges brought out the best in his students.

“When I look back on it 10 years from now when I have a chance to remove myself a little bit from it, I know that I’ll be super proud of this class of students, particularly this group of seniors who had the end of their junior year snatched away and then had to do this in their senior year,” he said. “I’m going to look back at this year with pride.”

For Shannon Engel, a recent FHS graduate who spent her high-school career participating in the school’s performing arts program, the opportunity to see Harman recognized for his service was special.

Engel also attended the showcase to perform as a national finalist for outstanding actress.

“I was really excited that Mr. Harman was able to come out and watch the performance and that he was able to be honored as the Outstanding Educator of the Year,” she said.

Shannon Engel’s mother, Michelle Engel, said Harman had an important impact on his students throughout the year.

“Mr. Harman has been a huge mentor and I just can’t thank him enough,” she said. “To have him honored on the same night was just really special.”

Harman said he has always seen himself as a teacher who cares first and foremost about the wellbeing of his students.

The fact that students spend a significant amount of time during the course of their high school career in his classroom is important to Harman and he said he values that commitment.

He pointed specifically to this year’s graduating class, reiterating the desire to continue performing despite the roadblocks in their way.

“I appreciate all of their efforts, all their time and everything that they did to make this thing happen and make it successful,” he said. “Those relationships are important to me and I look forward to seeing my students again when they come back and say hello, to write letters of recommendation or getting wedding announcements. I look forward to that a lot.”

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