A senior who is the first person in her family to graduate from high school, a teenage mother, and a student who understands the trials and tribulations of foster care were among 45 young people recognized at Helena Education’s Celebration of Excellence Monday night.

About half the students were honored at the event for the obstacles they’ve overcome to achieve their high school diplomas, while the other half were recognized for their academic abilities. But perhaps the people most celebrated were the teachers each student selected for being the most influential educator throughout their schooling.

The students represent each side of the spectrum, HEF executive director Lisa Cordingley said. One group, the scholars, risk their GPA to take AP and college courses, and HEF wants to recognize that enormous effort, she said. The other, the achievers, are students who strive in all sorts of areas and don’t always get recognized.

Kelli Marie TwoTeeth, a Helena High School senior, is one of the achievers.

TwoTeeth said she never thought she’d graduate and had a plan to dropout as soon as she reached her 16th birthday.

It was through a connection at a Native conference, working with younger American Indian students, and the respect from her teacher Trisha Klock that changed her mind.

“I thought every teacher thought I was a dumb Indian,” she said. “(Klock) was the first adult I’ve looked up too because she didn’t make me feel dumb.”

When she earns her diploma next month, Kelli will be the first TwoTeeth to graduate from high school.

Val TwoTeeth, Kelli’s mother, said she couldn’t be more proud of her only daughter.

“She was determined to do it,” Val said.

Kelli wants to become an Indian Education Coach and work with high school students on the Flathead Indian Reservation. She says she’ll tell those students who struggle that she understands — she knows what they are going through.

“If I can make it, they can make it,” she said.

What students need is respect from adults, Kelli added.

While it was the first year to be honored at the annual event for Klock and Jessee Franzen, others, like retired teacher John Hartman and Tom Pedersen, a teacher at Capital High School it’s eight for eight.

Franzen, a Helena Middle School Teacher, said being chosen by students is one of the highest achievements a teacher can get.

Christina Murgel, HHS teacher, said she’s lucky to be part of student Adam Johnson’s life.

“He’s such an amazing person,” she said. “I’m extremely proud and humbled he selected me,” she said. “He’s polite, kind-hearted, an effective leader, has a great sense of humor and a great work ethic. This is a great way to finish the school year.”

Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081 or alana.listoe@helenair.com


(4) comments


Congratulations to all of the outstanding educators and students who were honored at this event. What a fantastic thing for the Helena Education Foundation to sponsor this wonderful celebration.
Congrats, especially, to Kelli Marie Two Teeth.
On a less positive note, I was shocked to read that Kelli felt that many of her teachers saw her as "just a dumb Indian." What a shame. If that is truly the message we are projecting to our Native students, intentional or not, we have a problem.


Way to Go Kelli!!! I knew you could do it! We are proud of you!


Kelli, you are an excellent role model for those children you peer mentored in the past class of Joe Andersons. Your little Indian students you mentored will always remember you and have someone to look up too. Good Job!


I am so proud of you Kelli but you are not the first Twoteeth to graduate High school.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.