Turning On the Light Bulb 7

Sentinel teacher Inspires with Imagination and Innovation


Today, Maria Bray leads business education classes at Sentinel High School but not too long ago—or perhaps a lifetime ago—she walked across a stage to be crowned Miss Williams County (North Dakota) 1987.

“My talent was singing,” she says. “I love show tunes!”

Bray competed in six pageants and was awarded Miss Congeniality at each one, and this attribute—the ability to happily adapt to differing people and situations—is what makes her one of Sentinel’s most beloved teachers.

She leads by example and looks at each student differently by honoring her students’ individuality and tailoring their learning experiences.

“No one learns the same way. When I get a student who is having a difficult time or one who is head and shoulders above the rest, I think this: ‘What would I expect a teacher to do if one of my children were in this position?’ I try to add some comedy and lots of real-life experience into my lessons,” says Bray, who has two “smart, talented and handsome” sons with her “amazing” husband Mike of 24 years.

After graduating from the University of Montana with a bachelor’s in business administration, Bray entered the business world but shortly thereafter found herself back in school inspired by the teachers who made her want to work hard and do well and who have influenced her own approach to teaching.

“Those teachers were the ones I felt I’d let down if I didn’t do the best job I could,” she says. “They were kind but not afraid to tell students that they needed to do better. Somehow, these teachers made connections with almost all of the students. … I wanted to be like them.”

For most of her 18-year teaching career, she taught at Meadow Hill Middle School. Four years ago, she moved to Sentinel where her teaching style has evolved to address the fact that high school students are much closer than they think to being in the working world.

“I try to help them along by showing them their ideas count and can be the key to solving an issue, whether it is in our community, homes or around the world,” she says.

During the summer of 2014, along with two other teachers, Michael Dorshorst and Cameron Johnson, she guided 30 students on a project called i3 Missoula (inspire, imagine and innovate). It challenged students to work collaboratively on problem-solving and to seek solutions to issues facing Missoula. Students were put into groups, and each group—with the guidance and leadership provided by Bray, Dorshorst and Johnson—identified a problem and developed a solution, which was presented to the public. Projects ranged from mental health awareness and support to green projects for Missoula’s streets.

“They worked to make their solutions become reality,” Brays says.

Bray also had a team of students compete in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest in which students created a lesson based on the i3 Missoula model and earned a spot as one of five state finalists.

“We didn’t make it to the national competition, but Sentinel High School was the only AA school to make it to state,” she says.

“It’s exciting to be watching the ‘light bulb’ light up when a student comes up with the correct answer or a new way to address an issue,” she says. “I love watching them learn, spread their wings and grow.”