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Difference Maker: Sage Nelson

Sage Nelson grew up in Eagle County and, lucky for the students at Battle Mountain High School, she came back and makes a difference to each of them every single day. It’s not just that she is a kind and caring special education teacher, she fills that in-between space of parent, caregiver and friend. She helps young people navigate an awkward time in life.

“I love helping them realize they are in control of their lives and emotions,” Sage says. She helps students understand that they can be wrapped up in all external factors but they can choose how to respond.

How can they choose to respond? It’s a mix of neuroscience, mindfulness and being aware of responses. Sage works with U.BU’s Emily McCormick to help the kids be proactive in their reactions instead of, well, reactionary.

“So many kids are in a heightened state more often than we ever were. We are teaching them the skills to be mindful and bring their brains back on line. Instead of negative self talk, we teach them how to turn it around and take back control of their emotions and their brains,” Sage explains.

It’s not just teaching them how to respond as positively as possible that makes a difference. Sage makes a difference by caring and listening.

“Sage Nelson is *that* teacher. The one every teen hopes they get for at least one class. She is the trusted advisor, the shoulder to cry on, and the compassionate devil’s advocate. Sage is the teacher students — even those she doesn’t know — turn to when they’re struggling with challenges,” Emily says enthusiastically. “They choose her because she listens — truly listens. She empathizes. She doesn’t downplay the import or impact of the issues teens are facing. She treats students fairly and holds them accountable. She offers an open door and open arms; I’ve lost count of the number of times a student has popped into Ms. Sage’s room requesting help. She is a champion and a cheerleader, that trusted adult, and the most authentic, caring, humble human being I’ve met in my work with the local schools.”

Just a few tips Sage offers that are evidence and researched based. They are easy to do and come from a place of gratitude and can build each of us up. Gratitude: be grateful each day. In Sage’s classroom, her students write down three things they are grateful for each morning. This positivity builds and rewires the brain.

Check in with yourself, see where your emotions are and identify how you are feeling. Then take action, whether it’s deep breathing or finding something else that calms. Sage recommends making glitter jars — little shiny jars of wonderment and relaxation.

Give hugs and express love to someone else to build connections. Touch is healing.

Even though Sage is a high school teacher, many of her connections last for years. Her students stay in touch with her for years after graduation. “It’s a blessing as a teacher you’re always influence them in a big way.”

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