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IOWA FALLS, Iowa — To M.J. Belken, American History is the best story of all time. It’s what kept him teaching the subject matter at Riverbend Middle School for the last seven years.

It’s a topic that forces him to get creative in order to make it exciting and relevant for students.

“Half the battle is getting them to tune into you. I call it info- tainment,” he smiles.  “You have to be entertaining as you push that information across and if you can at least get their eyes up on you , their ears toward you that`s half the battle.”

Aside from our nation’s history, Belken’s classroom has its own story. A giant plastic shark hangs above the teacher’s desk, reminding him of the time he wanted to be a marine biologist but became a scuba diver instead. Other trinkets around the room have special meaning too.

“My artifacts are all from years gone by,” he says. “The kids do some projects and that`s our history. I’ll never lose some of my kids that go to the high school because I always have them.”

Freshman Isabel Nachazel’s interest for history sparked when she had Belken for a teacher in eighth grade. Her love for history encouraged her to run for student body president. She won. She says her ability to appreciate history comes from her teacher appreciating her.

“On the first day, he told us that he wanted to make his classroom a safe space for all of us where we could talk to him about anything,” she says.

Nachazel nominated Belken for the Golden Apple Award, a first in the school’s history.

“The best thing about my job everyday is that I get to come in and hang out with a great bunch of kids. It doesn’t seem like work if you love what you are doing,” he says.

Belken has been an educator for twenty years.