The readers of the White Bear Press have spoken and the winner of the 2021 Readers’ Choice Best of the Press Contest is St. Jude of the Lake’s sixth-grade teacher Jill Ryan. 

Second-grade teacher Sarah Sowada of St. Jude of the Lake was also voted a finalist. This is her fifth year at the school. 

St. Jude of the Lake is a catholic elementary school in Mahtomedi for grades kindergarten through sixth grade. The school has suffered decreased enrollment over the past couple of years, but was able to offer sixth grade to students in 2021 and is planning to add seventh and eighth grade sequentially over the next two years. 

Ryan, a former fifth grade teacher, switched to teach sixth graders this school year. 

“They are so excited to be back at school and we have a great curriculum for the sixth graders,” Ryan said. 

She taught for five years in both public and private schools before leaving teaching to stay home with her kids for seven years. Now entering her sixth year at St. Jude of the Lake, she feels at home within the school’s community. 

“I love going to work there every day, it doesn’t even feel like work,” Ryan said. “The families are great, the students are great, the people I work with are really wonderful, and everybody wants to be there.” 

Sowada added, “It’s a really great place to work. I have a lot of flexibility in what I can teach and how I teach and I think that’s really great for the students.” 

Students and staff at St. Jude of the Lake practiced in-person learning for all of the 2020-21 school year, and despite challenges with masks and social distancing, Ryan is proud of students, parents and faculty for pulling it off. 

“It was making sure every single child and their family’s needs were met,” Ryan said. “Everybody wants to take care of each other so they all do their part.” 

As the 2021-2022 school year kicks off, both Ryan and Sowada are excited to rejoin students in the classroom and are grateful for the recognition from the community. 

“I was blown away, it was totally unexpected and very much appreciated,” Ryan said.  “This is a huge community with a lot of great schools and a lot of great educators so I just feel very lucky.” 

Sowada added, “I was very surprised and I was honored that someone even thought to nominate me.” 


Caden Christiansen is a contributing writer for Press Publications. He can be reached by emailing or calling 651-407-1200. 

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