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Black River Falls High School students knew what to expect when they signed up for Paul Rykken’s courses — hard work.
Yet, students readily and eagerly enrolled in his courses each year as they recognized that Rykken was dedicated to their growth and learning as well as his own. In the last two decades, he attended over a dozen nationwide summer seminars, which focused on topics such as the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, the era of George Washington, and American Indian Studies.
Rykken began teaching in 1979, and taught in Wisconsin since 1990. His instruction over time grew to include AP American History, US and Global Politics, Law and Society, and notably, Ho-Chunk and Ethnic Studies. After over 40 years in the classroom, Rykken retired from full-time high school teaching. He continues his work as an adjunct instructor with UW-Green Bay’s First Nation Studies Department, teaching virtually through the Dual Enrollment Access Academy.
Recognized specifically for his integration of American Indian Studies into his instruction, Rykken received the 2014 Wisconsin History Teacher of the Year, an award presented by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History to the best history teachers in the United States. Additionally, the Wisconsin Indian Education Association honored Rykken with a Friend of Indian Education Award in 1997 for his successful collaborations with First Nations educators and communities of Wisconsin, partnerships that ultimately led the Black River Falls School District to center Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT) as a guiding principle.
Rykken worked with Ho-Chunk educators, elected officials, elders, and community members to develop a CRT framework for both the middle and high schools in Black River Falls. He now shares his approach for developing partnerships with First Nations educators and communities and for integrating American Indian Studies in presentations he calls “The Journey from Act 31 to Culturally Responsive Teaching.” In his presentations and publications, Rykken always states, “Our guiding principle, from the start, was to consider what was best for all our students, particularly when it came to understanding their history.”