HELENA – The State Capitol echoed with the ringing to the Statehood Centennial Bell at 10:40 a.m. on Thursday, November 8 to commemorate Montana’s admittance into the union 129 years ago.
Historians, educators, students and proud Montanans gathered by the bell for the occasion and to honor Tony Coppola with the Montana Statehood Centennial Bell Award.
This is the 29th year of Montana Statehood Centennial Bell Award which is given to the Montana History Teacher of the Year for their work and dedication to state history.
Coppola teaches social studies at Lone Peak High School in Big Sky and worked to create a class around the history perspectives of the indigenous people of Montana.
“In addition to his Native American Studies, Tony brings learning to his students about the role of Chinese, Irish, German, Scandinavian and the whole melting pot of immigrants who came as homesteaders, railroad workers, miners and other professions,” said Norma Ashby-Smith, who has coordinated the award since its inception.
Students of Coppola praised the history teacher for his passion about the subjects he teaches and how they have gained a better understanding of Montana’s place in the world.
“Mr. Coppola is one of the most engaging, exciting and energetic teachers I’ve ever had,” said Lone Peak sophomore Riley Germain, “During every single one of his lessons he always connects what he teaches to the real world and show us how to use that information in our everyday life.”
Coppola believes that by having his students understand Montana’s past they can help improve the state’s future.
“How are you going to be able to, as a citizen of the state, impact your future, if you have no idea how it got to where it is today? So I think you can use those tools of the past to make yourself a better citizen in the future,” said Coppola.
Coppola said he’s humbled and honored to receive the award but more importantly to hear the kind words from his students and how he’s bettered their school experience.
“You know they’re silly, I’m silly and I hope that I can give them a place where they can learn, feel safe and want to be there,” added Coppola.
As a part of the award, Coppola received more than $3,000 from The Montana History Foundation, the Sons and Daughters of Montana Pioneers, and the Montana Television Network.
Coppola plans on using the funds to expand the field trip opportunities for his students by taking them to the Montana Historical Society in Helena and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls.