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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published February 03 2013

Music teacher finds ‘community feeling’ at Oil Patch school

WILLISTON, N.D. – Concordia College graduate Nicole Pomerleau knew the Williston Middle School would be a good fit for her first teaching job after meeting with recruiters at a job fair.

But she was wary after hearing stories about the town in the middle of an oil boom, so Pomerleau decided to visit Williston and see the town for herself before signing a contract.

“You hear so many horrible things,” said Pomerleau, a band and music teacher. “But coming out here, it didn’t seem as bad as other people made it.”

Pomerleau, a Richfield, Minn., native, lives in one of eight apartments the school district owns to provide affordable housing for teachers.

While most two-bedroom apartments rent for $2,500 a month in Williston, Pomerleau and her roommate, a first-year math teacher from Chicago, share rent of $850.

The teachers who live in the apartments support each other and have game nights and social activities as a group.

“It’s a community feeling,” said Pomerleau, 23. “It’s a great place to start out.”

Pomerleau teaches seventh- and eighth-grade band at Williston Middle School and sixth-grade band at two elementary schools in addition to music elective classes.

In the music classes, about half of her students are from Williston and the other half are students who have moved to the area from around the country. Some live in campers, hotels or with extended family.

One challenge is accommodating for new students who arrive throughout the semester, she said.

“When you get a new student, it kind of changes everything up,” she said.

Pomerleau estimates she had seven new students arrive throughout fall semester, compared to just one new student she had during the semester she was a student teacher at Discovery Middle School in Fargo.

She finds that students in Williston are especially welcoming to new students.

“Here the kids have just gotten used to seeing new faces,” Pomerleau said.

Pomerleau is one of about 40 new teachers Williston Public Schools recruited for this school year, said Superintendent Viola LaFontaine. Last year was the first time the district recruited at a Minneapolis job fair, which is where Pomerleau found out about the job.

The district is working with the city and Williston State College on a housing project that would give the school district up to 10 additional apartments for teachers, LaFontaine said.

Pomerleau said one of her first impressions of Williston was while she was in the district office and overheard community members offering rooms for rent so teachers would have a place to live.

“It was a nice first impression,” she said.

Pomerleau expects to eventually return to the Twin Cities area, where her family lives, but she’s glad she chose Williston for her first job.

“It gives me the opportunity to see something new,” Pomerleau said.


Amy Dalrymple is a Forum News Service reporter stationed in the Oil Patch. She can be reached at adalrymple@forumcomm.com or (701) 580-6890.