Bainville History Teacher Honored

Montana Historical Society
  • November 08 2021

April Wills, a fifth-grade teacher at Bainville Public School in northeast Montana, is the winner of the Montana Statehood Centennial Bell Award honoring the Montana History Teacher of the Year at the fourth- through sixth-grade level for 2020-2021.

Chosen by a panel of Montana history experts, Wills is the 32nd annual winner of the award. Montana history teachers at the fourth- through sixth-grade levels are chosen in uneven numbered years. Montana history teachers at the seventh- through twelfth-grade levels are chosen in even numbered years.

Wills received a plaque and a $4,500 prize on Statehood Day, Nov. 8, at a ceremony at the State Capitol in Helena. The money can be used for the purchase of Montana History materials, field trips, guest speakers and anything else that will enhance her teaching of Montana History.

The award is sponsored by the Montana Television Network, the Montana History Foundation, Sons & Daughters of Montana Pioneers, the 1889 Coffee House in Helena, and in cooperation with the Montana Historical Society.

Wills is a native of Columbus, who graduated from Broadwater High School in Townsend, and received her elementary education degree from the University of Montana in Missoula. She received her master’s degree in Learning and Technology from Western Governors University. Wills also is a Montana Teacher Leader for the Montana Historical Society, presenting Montana History to Montana History teachers across the Treasure State. 

Wills has taught Montana history at Bainville School since 2014. 

“I mesh traditional teaching practices with technology, and whenever possible I bring in trunks from the Montana Historical Society and state parks,” she said. “We visit museums, cultural centers, and have guest speakers that can expand our learning.”

Wills recalled that one year when the studied the stars, students entered a quiet, dark room flickering with stars, listened to the sounds of drumming, and gazed on planetary views. They learned about the ways that the Crow tribe used astronomy and listened to oral star stories.

“Students were fascinated,” Wills noted.

In her nominating letter, Samantha Keefner, a fellow teacher at Bainville School, said Wills has worked hard to bring the history of our state into the classrooms of many other educators.

“Without April’s expert lead, I would have never known to utilize the many wonderful traveling trunks that the Montana Historical Society has available to schools with different focuses in Montana History,” Keefner wrote. “Her passion and excitement for Montana History is present in everything she does.”

Student Tally Berwick added that his favorite part about the Montana history unit was getting to pick a famous person from Montana and making a movie about that person.

“I chose Charlie Russell,” Berwick wrote. “It was really interesting learning about his life and the impact he had on Montana.”

For more information about the award and the Nov. 8 ceremony, contact Norma Ashby Smith, award coordinator, at