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Kelley O’Brien

4th Grade at Hill City Elementary School
Hill City, SD

When you walk in to Mr. O’Brien’s classroom in Hill City, you’ll immediately feel the energy from his students. Walls filled with personal touches, Kelley uses his eclectic collection of skulls, sports memorabilia, and Star Trek items to teach his class in a chatty – yet productive – environment.

For Kelley, teaching fourth grade has always been his dream job. When he was younger, Kelley attended boarding school in Nebraska – and there, he learned what it meant to take care of and serve others first. Thinking he may want to explore nursing, Kelley quickly learned he was not a great student at Anatomy and Physiology, so he geared his skill set and passion to help others towards teaching. Now, as a husband, a dad of triplets, and a coach, Kelley has been teaching for the past 13 years.

“Teaching is a calling that keeps me on my toes,” said Kelley. “It challenges me every day to better than the day before.”

That drive to continuously improve each day has been passed down to his students, too.

“My son has always performed well in school, but had very little interest in it,” explained Nicole Weiss, a mom to one of Mr. O’Brien’s former students. “Mr. O’Brien was able to make him passionate and excited about learning to the point where he was excited to go to school.”

“Fourth grade is the perfect combination of students beginning to explore their independence, but they still need reassurance that someone is guiding them in the right direction,” said Kelley.

In his classroom, Mr. O’Brien has the opportunity work with students both in groups and individually. He actively plans his lessons in math, history, science, reading, and writing to allow for exploration and (hopefully) be “wowed” by something before they head home.

“Even though Mr. O’Brien is not our teacher anymore, it is still important to my son to swing by and see him,” said Nicole. “Mr. O’Brien not only impacted fourth grade for us, but has left a lasting, lifelong impression.”

Words by Jenna Carda
Photos by Jesse Brown Nelson