Vicki Ardnt-Helgesen is currently teaching Advanced Placement American History (AHAP) and Sociology at SM East. She has been teaching in the Shawnee Mission School District for over 30 years.
Throughout her time at East Ardnt-Helgesen has gone by many names. In the 80s and 90s, back when she taught current SM East math teacher Hannah Pence it was “Attila”, as in the Hun leader who symbolizes cruelty and rapacity. Sometime after that, one student looked up during class and said, “You’re like Yoda, you unleash the force within us!”. The name stuck. Now, every new batch of upperclassmen she encounters (Sociology and AHAP are both for 11th or 12th grade students only), she greets the new students by saying, “You can call me Yoda, because I’m short, old and wrinkled.”
Yoda was born in 1949 in Valley City, North Dakota. She was the first born of six children to her biological parents before their divorce, the ‘first litter’ as she calls it. Yoda was eight years old when her parents got divorced. Both parents later remarried and had three children each with their new spouses. In total, Yoda is the oldest of her 11 full and half brothers and sisters.
Yoda lived in North Dakota and Minnesota throughout her childhood. Although living mostly with her mother, she also spent a lot of time with her grandparents.This was a highlight of her childhood, when her siblings, grandparents and great grandparents would get together and play music. Yoda remembers Sunday nights where she would play cello, percussion and sing.
Junior high school was a difficult time for Vicki Ardnt. Not only was she one of the few kids in her school with divorced parents, but her mother started drinking and became an alcoholic. As the oldest child in her family there was an added responsibility and pressure because all of her siblings looked up to her. Despite these issues, Yoda enjoyed her childhood. She grew up in a time when things were much freer and kids would go out in the morning to play, return later to eat, then keep playing until nighttime.
High school was an interesting time for Yoda in a building with a total student body of 1200 people. Ardnt got into lots of trouble; she was frequently given detentions for correcting or talking back to her teachers. At the time Yoda was heavily interested in music and biology, but saw no future in these fields. She ended up majoring in history and sociology at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. Later she got masters of history and sociology at the University of Minnesota.
During her freshman orientation tour at Augustana, Yoda met her future husband, John Helgesen. They got married in 1970 and moved to Kansas for her husband’s new church minister job. Yoda always assumed she would be a stay-at-home mom, but when John wanted to go back to college and get a degree in Psychology she realized she needed to get a job. Yoda took a six-week student teaching job and became officially accredited as a teacher.
Yoda’s first teaching job was at Johnson County Community College, where she still teaches and recently celebrated her 35th year as an educator. Two years after arriving in Kansas one of her friends mentioned the Shawnee Mission School District to Yoda. She was reluctant at first, even saying that she was really angry about teaching high school.
However, Yoda still ended up getting a teaching position at SM Northwest. She taught sociology and European History Advanced Placement for two years and then went to SM North where she taught for six years. When some teachers were transferred, she asked the administrators: “Any place but Shawnee Mission East.”
Incidentally, East is where Yoda was transferred. She originally didn’t want to teach at SM East because she felt that as a woman still in her twenties, she was out of place compared to the rest of the staff. Many of the older teachers looked down on the young and quirky newcomer. This did not stop her from teaching an array of different classes throughout the years including sociology, psychology, government, standard history, world history, European history and German.
Yoda has a student following so loyal that she has various visits and new emails every day from former students who still keep in contact. Teaching has impacted her as a person as well:
“Being a mom helped me be a better teacher, and vice-versa,” Yoda said.
Yoda says coming to East was the best thing to happen to her career, and she doesn’t wish she was anywhere else.
“I feel blessed because I feel like this is where I’m supposed to be and this is what I was meant to do.”