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South Dakota Educator Named National Life Group’s ‘LifeChanger Of The Year’ Grand Prize Winner

Shane ThillMontpelier, VT (April 13, 2016) - National Life Group announced today that Shane Thill, Director of Second Chance High School and Assistant Principal at Mitchell High School, in Mitchell, South Dakota, has been selected as the Grand Prize Winner for the national 2015-2016 LifeChanger of the Year award.

LifeChanger of the Year is an annual program that recognizes and rewards outstanding K-12 educators and school district employees who have demonstrated a proven ability to make a beneficial difference in the lives of students.

Thill was selected for the top award out of more than 600 teachers, administrators and school district employees from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. He was chosen for his dedication to going above and beyond to provide opportunities for at-risk students, helping them develop confidence and leadership skills.

“Shane exemplifies what it means to be a LifeChanger. He is selfless, compassionate and genuinely concerned about making a positive difference in the lives of students,” said Mehran Assadi, President and CEO, National Life Group. “The hundreds of comments we received on his nomination profile page from students, former students, parents, colleagues and community members are proof-positive that he is indeed changing lives.”

Thill established a high school level Rotary Club, called ‘Interact,’ and has coordinated with local businesses and organizations in the community to obtain scholarship applications, volunteer opportunities and work experience options for students. He has been known to stay up all night if students need him and invests personal time, energy and resources to help them succeed in life.

“Shane and his wife Deb opened their home up to me, helped me get a car, and cared in ways I would have never imagined,” said former student Selena Thomas. “I completed my schooling at the Alternative School in about two and a half months, but the lessons I learned went beyond the doors of that building.”

Colleagues report being inspired by Thill and many go to him for advice. Community leaders acknowledge the confident and engaged students he presents to them and appreciate his impact on Mitchell’s youth and their futures.

“I have worked with Shane for the past 10 years and he has always been an inspiration. Many of Shane’s students have every reason to fail, yet he is able to show them success,” said Mitchell High School Principal, Joe Childs. “He takes those who have little hope of succeeding, and he offers them a second chance. Shane gives all of his students a chance to buy in to the program, a chance to graduate, a chance to find success and, for many, he’s offering a chance at a better future. Many times, I have heard former students explain that they wouldn’t have made it without him.”.

As the National Grand Prize Winner, Thill receives a $10,000 cash award, which is split between a $5,000 individual award and a matching $5,000 donation to Second Chance High School.

In addition to Thill, 14 other educators from across the country were recognized as 2015-16 LifeChanger of the Year finalists. Each received a cash award and was honored during a surprise ceremony at their school.

National Grand Prize Finalists ($5,000 cash award split between the individual and the school)

Theresa Barkhimer, School Based Social Worker - Shawnee Middle School - Shawnee, OK

Marla Cosner, English/Social Studies/Music Teacher - Mesquite Continuation High School - Ridgecrest, CA

Dennis Kass, History/Law/Social Studies Teacher - Infinity Math, Science & Technology High School, Chicago, IL

Amanda Reyes, Physical Education Teacher - Tippit Middle School - Georgetown, TX

LifeChangers ($3,000 cash award split between the individual and the district)

Tollis Bond, Kindergarten Teacher - Northwest Elementary School- Chatsworth, GA

Annette Christiansen, Junior/Senior English Teacher - Stevenson High School - Sterling Heights, MI

Raymond Churchill, Music/Theatre/Choir Teacher - Griswold High School - Griswold, CT

Gerald Fitzhugh II, Principal - Thomas G. Connors Elementary School - Hoboken, NJ

Lee Kaiser, Counselor - Centreville Elementary School - Centreville, VA

Beau Menchaca, Higher Education Coordinator - Century High School - Santa Ana, CA

Stephanie Owens, Consultation Teacher - University High School - Orange City, FL

Dan Pastrick, Eighth Grade Science Teacher - Hebron Middle School - Hebron, IN

Sandie Shepherd, Maintenance Worker - Roseburg Public Schools - Roseburg, OR

Coleen Thurber, Assets Teacher - Rolling Hills Elementary Schools - Aurora, CO

Thill and the four Grand Prize finalists were also recognized at a national awards ceremony this week in Los Cabos, Mexico.

LifeChanger of the Year winners are selected by a committee comprised of past winners and education professionals using the following criteria:

  • Contributing positively to the school's culture and providing a nurturing atmosphere
  • Being involved in leadership within their school and/or community
  • Demonstrating a proven record of excellent performance at the professional level
  • Adherence to high moral and ethical standards.

National Life Group® is a trade name of National Life Insurance Company, Montpelier, VT.