It’s been said that teaching is the profession that teaches all other professions. To be sure, the next generation of engineers, entrepreneurs, artists and accountants is being created by the women and men who helm the classrooms of today. Few times before in the history of public education have there been more challenges to inspire higher levels of learning in schools. It’s taken heroic measures to lead students through unexpected surges of COVID-19, turn to technology to reach students who could not come to school because of illness, and re-teach social skills to those traumatized by the effects of the pandemic. While the previous two school years have been held out as the tough “COVID-19 years,” the academic aftershocks of COVID-19 are actually being felt in our schools right now. From the workforce shortage to economic pressures to the “COVID slide” of scholastic progress, it seems like a never-ending uphill battle. In such a difficult time, when so many have gone above and beyond to meet the academic and emotional needs of students, it’s been a challenge for CSD school communities to choose just one teacher as a nominee in Canyons District’s 2022 Teacher of the Year selection process. A record 1,800 nominations were submitted this year during the public-nomination process, and from those nominations winners were selected. Every school- or program-based Teacher of the Year received a gift bag full of donated prizes worth more than $500. From the field of the amazing educators featured here, CSD will select one teacher who will be the overall Teacher of the Year. The first-place pick will receive a $1,000 cash prize. The winner, to be announced at the April 19 Board of Education meeting to be held at 7 p.m. in Hillcrest High’s new auditorium, also will represent Canyons in the state Teacher of the Year contest. CSD’s Teacher of the Year program is proudly co-sponsored by the Canyons Education Foundation.
If a movie about super teachers were ever made, Lucie Chamberlain would be a prime candidate for a leading role. Fortunately for her kindergarten students at Alta View Elementary, she already thrives in a supporting role for them. Parents thank her for being a “super teacher.” She is also described as an “amazing colleague.” Whether students need help in the classroom or from home while sick, Lucie goes above and beyond to help them learn, overcome fears, and feel important and cared for. Lucie is the reason a number of kids went from hating school to loving it, according to parents. The way she exudes patience, sweetness, positive energy, and love for her students with special needs melts is appreciated and admired. One parent noted: “Both my kids wish she could be their teacher forever.” Another added: “She treats every student like their learning and their feelings are her priority.” Super teacher, indeed!
Michelle Erb has been called a “fabulous teacher,” and her fifth-grade students, parents and fellow faculty members can attest to that description. Michelle uses her great sense of humor to connect with her students and create a comfortable environment for learning. Her happy demeanor and good heart help students persevere through day-to-day challenges. It’s clear by the enthusiasm she exudes and the caring attitude she shows that she is invested in the success of every student at Altara Elementary. The Kitthawks can feel how much she cares, too. As an Altara Elementary co-worker noted, “Her students talk about how she always laughs, cares about them, and is really funny.” It’s no wonder she’s beloved by everybody she works with and teaches.
There’s a noticeable dynamic about Danielle Kuresa’s first-grade classroom: The bright and colorful room reflects her affable personality and approach to teaching. Known for being an outstanding educator, Danielle also brightens up the lives of her young students and colleagues with a much-appreciated quick wit and a commitment to excellence using evidence-based strategies to support each student. The engaging and fun learning strategies she uses help build a strong foundation of resilience, love of learning, and empathy for others, one parent explained. “The students in her class go to school knowing she genuinely cares about them and wants them to succeed and be happy. Mrs. Kuresa is the reason my child enjoys school, despite his challenges.” A colleague said Danielle, whose preparation and organization are top notch, “makes everything better for everyone.”
During her eight years as a second-grade teacher at Bella Vista, Tanya Patino has brought love, compassion, leadership, dedication, and high expectations. She runs a tight ship and demands things to be orderly, but those demands come from a place of warmth. Students know that her classroom is a safe and inviting place. Parents, students and teachers alike look up to her for wisdom and value her insights and abilities. One parent wrote, “Students learn about responsibility and develop grit in her class while also learning to advocate. In her class, students take pride in their achievement, even when they aren’t perfect. These are crucial character traits that last a lifetime. She is absolutely, without a doubt, the best!” Another parent agreed by saying, “Ms. Patino guides students and families, training both to rise up and become the best version of themselves. She prepares families and students to meet these challenges head on. She exemplifies the best of what public education can offer.”
The Brookwood Bears in Aimie Rizzuto’s second-grade class have won big by having her as a teacher. As one happy parent put it, “My daughter hit the jackpot getting her!” Aimie helps students navigate through an important grade level by focusing on them as students and as individuals with needs and feelings. They learn through her creative and interesting lessons in the classroom and on Google Meets. Along with working hard, the students also get time to giggle and have fun each day. This includes extra-special experiences like fancy dinner dates with plastic wine glasses in the classroom. She also provides a “vacation corner” for kids who need a break. It’s part of her commitment to making school a positive, safe space for the students. Her love for teaching and her students’ love for learning go hand in hand. One admirer aptly described her impact: “This young age is pivotal in a child’s learning career, and to have a teacher who pushes them to do their very best and who is their personal cheerleader as well makes allthe difference.”
When you visit Butler Elementary’s website, you’ll spot a graphic that reads, “Every child in this school is someone’s whole world.” Parents whose precious little worlds are in Jessica Nelson’s second-grade class are grateful they’re in her good hands during the school day. Jessica goes to great lengths to demonstrate respect and appreciation for each student and creates an environment that’s warm and welcoming. She’ll nudge students who are capable of doing more, and meet students who need more help where they are. Parents appreciate the attentive way she recognizes the needs of students outside of academics and takes time to understand their unique situations. Her dedication and creative solutions show how much she genuinely cares and how invested she is in their success. A parent of students with ADHD and autism lauds Jessica for adapting to assist kids — and parents — from all walks of life. “I could not sing higher praise,” the parent noted.
A parent whose child is in Heather Derderian’s fifth-grade class believes she checks all the boxes and has all the right qualities and characteristics of what makes a great teacher. The multiple nominations Heather received compiled an impressive list about what makes her thrive in her role. Heather cares about students, knows when to push them and when to help them, remains calm and positive, communicates well, creatively engages them, stimulates their minds, constantly smiles, helps sick kids keep up from home, works hard, is knowledgeable, makes her students laugh, and spends a lot of time to help them succeed. One parent, who complimented Heather for being “such a hard worker,” also made a keen observation that speaks to the time she puts into her students’ success. “Her car is one of the first here and last to leave. I feel that shows the dedication she has to being a teacher.” Another fan shared this compliment: “If I were to become a teacher when I’m older, I’d want to be just like her.”
Emily Walker is so skilled at teaching, building relationships, and handling difficult situations, her colleagues have a hard time believing she’s only been at this for three years. Her growth as an educator has been incredible, one colleague noted. She creates a safe, positive environment for all students and is able to help them succeed academically with her instructional design and delivery. “Emily was born to be a teacher,” another co-worker wrote. “She cares so much about the students at Copperview and puts her heart and soul into her teaching.” She is kind, compassionate, and positive while using evidence-based best practices in her teaching to help students blossom. Those who know her know how much time she invests in planning and preparing lessons so she can reach all of her learners. That has resulted in continued growth in students who are very happy to be in her classroom. “We love you and are so glad you chose Copperview,” a colleague wrote. “Thank you for all you do to support our students, families and staff.”
Every school year, Oaklie Gallagher decorates her room to the max in a new theme. One thing remains the same, though: Her classroom is always a safe, welcoming, and comfortable place where students feel her love and concern for them. Oaklie helps instill confidence in her students, who learn that mistakes and success are part of the learning process. “She is the kind of teacher that her students will always remember because of the way she makes them feel,” one colleague marvels. “She helps them become people who love to learn. We are incredibly lucky to have her here at Crescent Elementary! She is an inspiration to us all.” Oaklie is also a big help and a problem-solver as part of the Building Leadership Team and a leader in integrating appropriate technology use into her lessons. She also has a growth mindset, having earned her master’s degree in education and endorsements in teaching English as a Second Language and Reading. With her passion, dedication and positivity — not to mention her calm and caring attitude and great communication skills — Oaklie is a huge asset to students, parents, and co-workers alike at Crescent Elementary.
The challenges of teaching in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic have been doubly difficult for Draper Elementary’s Katie Tinoco. Her Mandarin Chinese-English Dual Language Immersion teaching partner has been stuck in China since August so she’s had to mentor and guide many substitutes, write additional lesson plans, and pick up the slack on many occasions. Her colleagues say Tinoco is one of the most dedicated teachers they have ever met. “She is always looking for ways to better her craft and help her students be as successful as they can be,” one fellow teacher says. Katie is data-driven, so she always knows where each of her 56 students are on their way to end of year benchmark goals. “She helps students understand why they are learning something, not just to learn it, and she does it in an engaging way,” her impressed colleague adds. “Her classroom is well-managed and students know that it is a safe place to learn.”
Greg Platner is an all-star at East Midvale Elementary where he’s taught fourth-graders for the past seven years. Beyond sharing his love of sports with students at recess and in clubs, he’s known as an “intentional educator” who works overtime to ensure his students are learning and feel welcome and included at school. In addition, Greg facilitates the school’s “All-Pro Dad Program” to encourage more dads to volunteer and become involved with the school. His students say he’s a super cool teacher who cares about their learning as much as who they are and their interests. Colleagues attest that Greg is a respected leader in the school community and strives to continue learning about how to be an even better teacher. Though he’s serious about helping students reach their potential in education, Greg also loves to have fun with them and make them laugh with his keen sense of humor
If you ask any student in Samantha Hercules’s third-grade class to name her favorite student, the answer would be unanimous: “Me!” Samantha goes to great lengths to make each student feel special while helping guide them on their learning journey. “Ms. Hercules inspires students to love learning and school,” one parent remarks. “She creates a place where boundaries are set, expectations are reachable, and then makes it magical for the students.” One parent gushed about how Samantha is so approachable even her timid daughter feels comfortable with her. “My daughter loves her and has grown so much in her class.” Samantha observed the patterns, likes, and dislikes of another student, who’d struggled in the past. She modified routines and even customized his desk to accommodate his habit of moving his feet a lot so that his environment for learning would be enhanced. She met him at his level, accepted him, and now they have a great bond and he’s made a 180-degree turn to enjoy going to school. Another student made her some drawings of people. Samantha put them on the wall, introduced the drawings as new students and let the kids name them. How fun is that? She wisely gives students “brain breaks” to stretch or do yoga poses with her, encourages reading by allowing kids to check out books from her personal library and pushes them to work hard and grow.
Whether she’s helping a child learn to love school or patiently spending time to help her class grasp a challenging concept, Kristine Wilson’s students know she’ll be there for them. “Mrs. Wilson is the type of teacher kids will reach out to knowing she will do everything she can to help them overcome difficulties and reach their true potential,” one parent said. “Parents and students all love her.” Kristine has a gift of being able to instill her love of learning to her students, even those who’ve struggled. Their self-esteem, reading abilities, and communication skills improve as she guides them in a positive direction from the level they started. “Her never-ending patience, leadership, and connection to every single student at Edgemont is surpassed by no other,” a parent marveled. Parents are grateful for Kristine’s talent for approaching children, keeping their attention, making an impact, and changing their little one’s lives for the better. “You can feel the passion she has for teaching radiating from her,” a parent added. “She is honestly the best teacher my child has ever had. I continue to be amazed by all she did for my child and continues to do for her students.”
Laura Bossard has a very challenging position, and if you ask her students, parents, colleagues, and her special education team, there’s not a better person for the job. One colleague calls her “a positive force in education.” Another co-worker added: “As soon as you meet Laura, you will quickly recognize her amazing knowledge, talent, love, and passion for her students. Her ability to adapt to teach students is beyond the normal level and capacity of other teachers I’ve met.” Laura adores the children she teaches and the kind souls she works with at Granite. She advocates for students of special needs, never treats them differently, and always includes them in school activities. “She treats them as equals and fights for their rights,” a colleague explained. “She makes sure everyone will succeed in life — within the classroom and out in the real world.” With a sparkling personality and a heart of gold, Laura is a “shining light” as a teacher and leader. She’s willing to roll up her sleeves and help anyone. Parents are grateful for how Laura pushes children to reach their potential, and uses rigorous content while also making learning fun and exciting for her fourth- and fifth-graders. “She is compassionate, fun, loving, smart, and kind,” a colleague wrote. Parents, students, and co-workers all agree: She can simply spread warmth with her smile.
Young dual-language immersion students at Lone Peak Elementary get an out-of-this-world educational experience thanks to Xiqiang Wang. Not only is he a star teacher, Xiqiang helped students send video messages to Chinese astronauts. He’s embraced this immersion opportunity since transitioning from teaching middle school. “Since first grade is their first experience with immersion, it is important that they are in a classroom that is energetic and fun,” Lone Peak Principal Tracy Stacy said. “The students need to feel loved and challenged at the same time. Mr. Wang has provided this for our first graders.” Xiqiang’s positive and encouraging approach to teaching fosters an excellent learning environment. Students receive individual help when he notices they are struggling academically or emotionally. He also works closely with his first-grade team to create meaningful learning opportunities for students. Added Principal Stacy: “We feel very fortunate to have Xiqiang as a member of our Lone Peak family.
Christina Oropeza teaches third grade but considers the entire school to be on her team. “She believes all Midvale Mustangs are ‘our students’,” a colleague wrote. “She goes above and beyond to ensure all Midvale students are successful and learn at their highest potential.” She’s also devoted to her students individually. A parent of a child who needed a little extra mental-health support appreciates how well Christina works with the student and communicates with parents. “I know there are other students in her class who also require this extra time and support,” the parent wrote. “She makes me feel like my child is the most important student in her class. I know other parents must feel this way, too. My child loves being in her class.” When it comes to educating the whole class, Christina garners respect for consistently implementing effective strategies. She uses data to drive her instruction and meets learners where they are to best help them. She works hard to help her team members. “Christina is a great teacher!” a parent wrote. “She recognizes the positives each student brings to the class each week.”
Kallie Leonard hasn’t had the easiest assignment since joining the Midvalley Elementary staff in January 2021. Parents of her students know that and love her dearly for it. She gracefully and patiently helps students who have some emotional challenges and have experienced trauma. She advocates for them, shows compassion, treats them with kindness, and finds ways to connect, motivate, and make a difference. Her classroom is their safe place. “She truly believed in my son when he didn’t even believe in himself,” one grateful parent noted. Midvalley peers laud her for working tirelessly to create and implement individual plans for students. A colleague offered this compliment: “She has successfully created a safe and loving environment that provides stability and high expectations.” Parents thank her for influencing their children to love attending the Canyons Youth Academy, for helping them learn how to learn, improve behavior, and express hidden emotions. “I don’t know if you can fully understand just how much Ms. Leonard has impacted my family’s life,” a parent exclaimed. “Because of her instruction, my daughter has been able to overcome her social barriers and is now able to live a happy and fulfilling life.”
For 25 years, Becky Lind has poured her heart and soul into educating students and helping colleagues educate theirs. Oak Hollow colleagues have been privileged to watch and learn from how Becky teaches and collaborates using a variety of evidence-based instructional techniques with positivity, energy, and an unparalleled work ethic. She’s had a major influence on countless lives. While Becky earned two master’s degrees and has enough knowledge and experience to be an administrator, she’s enjoyed being in the classroom with the children too much to change career paths. She’s also thrived as a team leader and supervisor. She is a great team player. She demonstrated that several times this year by willingly taking a fellow teacher’s outdoor bus duty without complaint. That’s just who Becky is. As a colleague aptly put it, “Someone in their final year of teaching might easily do the bare minimum, but she puts more hours in than anyone else. She’s a leader, a mentor, and a friend to all who know her.”
Danielle is one of a kind in her ability to create a culture of love of learning. Take one step into her classroom and you’ll feel that excitement and energy. All are welcome and feel safe upon entering her doors. Students who have struggled with confidence are willing to take a few more chances. As a result, they are shining. Students will repeat or reference class mottos daily to encourage each other up. Similar to their role model, her students cheer each other on and support one another’s progress. It isn’t uncommon for students trying something new to receive standing ovations. In addition, parents feel included as part of the class. Danielle is an excellent communicator and continually reaches out to see how she can support parents. She believes she is one part of a village helping to support students and families in the lifelong pursuit of learning. Principal Deidre Walbeck sums it up nicely for faculty, parents and students: “We feel very fortunate to have her as part of our Oakdale family.”
Along with being an excellent educator, Xiomara Ruiz is an exemplary human being who is a compassionate and dedicated role model personally and professionally. She makes learning fun, and has a great love for her students and for teaching them. The fact that she asked if her students could be included in a photo of her being presented the Teacher of the Year award offered insight into how important they are to her. She also has a phenomenal understanding of students’ needs. Impressively, she’s doing all this while working towards earning a master’s degree. In the nomination process, Xiomara was given the ultimate compliment, being described as, “the kind of teacher that impacts the child for life.” She’s also consistent at keeping parents informed. “Xiomara is innovative, fun, funny, great to be around, and overall a huge positive boost to our school,” Park Lane Principal Justin Jeffery said. “We love her.”
Kind. Warm. Patient. Loving. Those are just a few of the words that Peruvian Park parents use to describe Laura Baird. “She has been extremely helpful to us as a family, advocating for our child when he needed counseling services, and following up to make sure they happened,” one parent wrote. “She has been a dream! We love her.” Laura visited another student’s home with goodies when the family had COVID-19. Another marveled at her efforts to drop off a gift for the holidays because their child was in quarantine. “Her smiling face and warmth of heart makes my child want to go to school each morning,” a parent pointed out. “She is a very good human being.” Colleagues praise Laura’s work and team-building ethic. “She puts the needs of others before her own,” a colleague notes. “She sets a standard of excellence for her students and works individually with them to help them achieve their full potential.” She is also working on a master’s degree while teaching full-time. Principal Leslie Jewkes says Laura is the kind of special teacher that every student and parent hopes for and every colleague cherishes. “She is so humble that this recognition may be very uncomfortable for her, but it is very much deserved.”
Amy Ebert, beloved for being one of the sweetest and kindest people around, has a way of making every student feel important. Her demeanor and dedication make her a perfect fit for many students who struggle with anxieties and self-doubt and who need extra empathy and compassion. She is always inclusive. One student endured a complicated and strenuous back surgery, and Amy went above and beyond to keep this student up to date and progressing during recovery. She adores her students and wants them to succeed and be happy. “I have never seen a teacher show so much love and compassion to her students,” one parent noted. “I can’t say enough good things about Ms. Ebert.” Amy never raises her voice and is calm and gentle. She adapts to each student’s learning level and makes students love being in her class. She is extremely organized but flexible, accommodating with PTA programs, and efficiently communicates with parents. Her engaging projects makes learning fun. Her colleagues love her, too. She shares ideas and helps her team with implementing technology strategies into their teaching and problem-solving challenging situations. “She is a fantastic teacher and an amazing person,” one of her colleagues gushed.
Rebecca Jimas is much more than just a talented teacher at Ridgecrest Elementary. She’s also the mother of Ridgecrest students, a leader in the surrounding community and a strong, thoughtful building team leader at the school. That’s why her administration lauds her as being “a Ridgecrest Tiger, through and through.” Rebecca has a gift for motivating students to learn. She’s open to new and improved strategies, which she displayed this year by working to adapt a school-wide writing strategy that helped students work through complex math story problems. She helps students believe they can achieve what she asks them to do, and because they believe it, they go do it. This factored into her students of all learning levels earning improved and impressive overall benchmark achievements in academic assessments. “She believes in the potential of greatness in those around her and then does whatever is in her power to bring it about,” Ridgecrest Assistant Principal Sara Allen noted. “Her high expectations, collaboration, and strong support of others make us all better at what we do.”
Alli Weaver is known throughout the community as a phenomenal teacher with a positive attitude and desire to help students succeed. The love she has for being a teacher is evident by how she responds to students. She has a great rapport with her students. She even remembers their names, family members and details about their lives long after they have left her class. Students love how well she treats them, how attentive she is to their needs, and how encouraging she is. To Alli, the job of being a teacher does not stop when she goes home. Principal Shawn Walker says she constantly looks for ways to benefit her students educationally, mentally, socially, and emotionally. This includes checking in and dropping off homework to her students’ houses if they have not been to school. She also goes out of her way to pitch in wherever and whenever needed. “She is a truly compassionate person,” Walker says, “and one of those that you know was born to be a teacher.” Alli is in high demand for help with all things technology, and gladly covers duties, shares creative lessons, and helps with grant writing. “Alli is the face of Sandy Elementary,” Walker says.
Second-grade students in Silver Mesa’s Dual Language Immersion program might not realize how lucky they are. On the Spanish side, they are instructed by the school’s 2021 Teacher of the Year, Maite Gallo. And on the English side, they are fortunate to have Megan Guzman as their teacher. Talk about a dynamic duo. Megan uses her positive energy to get the most out of her students. Principal Julie Fielding smiles thinking about how excited Megan was to show the academic achievements of her students this school year. “She knocked it out of the park!” the principal exclaimed. “She’s amazing. I’m very excited that she gets a chance to shine.” Megan received the most nominations of Silver Mesa teachers for this honor. Fittingly so, too. As Fielding notes, “The students love her and the parents love her.”
Fans of the Hallmark Channel might recognize Sprucewood Elementary kindergarten teacher Tiffany McDaniel, who’s been in several of their movies with her family. On Tuesday morning, Tiffany was featured in a different kind of movie — a fun short video produced by “Sprucemark” to help make an announcement worthy of the silver screen (or at least projector screens and computers). Her kindergartners’ giddy screams made it clear they approve. So does Sprucewood principal Cathy Schino. “She has been a superstar through some very challenging health issues, but hasn’t missed a beat educating her young minds with a positive spirit we would all be lucky to come in contact with.” She’s so dedicated to her students that she’s come to school every day while receiving difficult treatment for her medical condition. Her passion for education, love for her students and her joie de vivre help give Sprucewood students a big head start on their educational journeys.
Sara McBee’s classroom after school is like that cool house in the neighborhood where the kids hang out. Her magnetic personality attracts students of all ages to check in with her. She’s gifted at educating and connecting. Sara also is a dedicated teacher who continuously works to ensure her students reach their potential. “She really cares about her students as if they were her own,” Principal Dr. Angela Wilkinson said. One parent witnessed Sara’s ability to turn a stressful and emotional situation into a learning experience for the whole class. Early in the year, several classmates didn’t understand, like, nor want to be near a student with special needs, who is funny and likable but can be difficult. Concerned, Sara invited the parent of the student to talk to her class about her son’s situation. She explained his special adaptive equipment, and shared why he sometimes got frustrated and cried. “McBee opened the door to a beautiful teaching opportunity,” the parent says. “She encouraged and nurtured the class, not only with my child but with every child. The change that happened in that classroom went from the fear of the different to inclusivity and acceptance.” After that, the student’s math and reading skills, self-esteem, and peer relationships improved. Students learned to see past his differences and they came to love one another. In a world where special needs kids are often shunned, this parent noted, Ms. McBee created a world where every student matters.
Some Willow Canyon Elementary parents have noticed something strange this year. Their children have a hard time on the weekends because — get this! — they would rather be at school. These younger extended-core students have something else in common: They’re in Jessica Blackman’s class. Principal Michelle Snarr is thrilled how well Jessica has taken to her new assignment and how much her students have embraced learning with her. “Jessica has brought such positivity and excitement for learning into the classroom,” Snarr says. “She has the opportunity to teach a diverse population and uses each student’s interests, along with her creativity, to build on their foundation of learning.” Parents appreciate the excitement she brings to class, how she finds different ways to keep students engaged and the way she celebrates accomplishments, both big and small. She is outgoing and lively, and cares deeply for the kids that come from all over. She’s also adept at strategizing with students and keeping parents informed. “She’s awesome!” one parent noted. Another parent added, “Jessica goes above and beyond. We appreciate her ingenuity and positivity!”
Kelly Gill is as much of a learner as a teacher — and she’s top notch at both. She loves to learn about the people she will be working with and asks about specific things in their life. She wants to know them so she can know how to help them succeed. She is also driven to learn how to use technology to build a positive learning environment. Kelly is in charge of guiding Willow Springs teachers through the process of creating goals for multi-language students. Data drives her instruction. She takes the time to write feedback to students so that they improve. Her big heart cares so much she’ll seek out help so they can receive all the support and love they need to be successful learners. Her warm and welcoming demeanor makes her classroom safe and comfortable. Students trust her and know they can go to her and be positively influenced. That also helps her prepare teachers to be ready. “I feel so thankful for Kelly. She goes about her business without a lot of show or asking for recognition,” Principal Marianne Yule wrote, glowingly. “Her heart is completely dedicated to her students and to our school. Kelly Gill is so deserving of this award.”
Albion Middle Principal Dr. Molly Hart has unofficially given Brooke Harris an expanded job title: “Brooke is a health teacher extraordinaire!” She teaches her subject content with professionalism and empathy. Parents are happy with what their students are learning. She gets lots of parent praise, which is outstanding given the sensitive nature of her curriculum, Hart says. Brooke received the most of any teacher at Albion Middle when students were encouraged to write thank you notes to any teacher they wished. “Brooke knows how to build respectful and caring relationships with adolescents,” she adds. Brooke has worked with others across the state and teaches during the summer months. She has hosted multiple student teachers successfully. She co-leads the school’s student government, coaches the intramural girls basketball team and has worked with the Knights’ “Girls on the Run” group. She successfully hosted a coat drive to benefit students in another part of our community in honor of a fellow teacher, and a cereal box drive during the winter holidays. Hart offered a quick example of Brooke’s impact on students: “Recently, when a group of students was gathering on the weekend and a student had a mental-health crisis, the students knew exactly what to do because of what Brooke had taught in her classroom. The parents involved were exceptionally grateful and appreciative of Brooke, her classroom teaching, and her obvious care for her students.”
The nominations Katherine Cance received from her Butler Middle students were enough to melt your heart and elicit a smile. “She has an amazing personality,” a student wrote. “And if you’ve never met her, you need to — she’s just phenomenal.” Other students love that she (in their words) is “super funny,” “super sweet and still strict at the same time,” and is, last but not least, “cool.” “There is no way to not like her,” a student wrote. “She makes class fun, and that is pretty rare.” Katherine’s colleagues think she’s pretty cool, too. She offers schoolwide support, serving as an National Junior Honor Society advisor, PTSA representative, BLT committee member, and the English language arts team lead. That’s in addition to the countless hours she spends helping students individually in her classroom after school. “Katherine is a reliable friend and advocate, and the heart of our school,” a colleague wrote while also applauding her ability to connect with students, even ones who can be difficult. She also comes in clutch on difficult days. As one student says about her: “Sometimes, Ms. Cance’s class makes my day better.”
One of the many things that makes Chantall Rigg special is her ability to connect with the students she teaches. She creates a welcoming and warm environment that promotes educational growth and provides support. Students trust her. They know she has their backs. “She helps me with everything, including when I start to get anxious,” one student wrote on the nomination form. “She will do anything to help.” Her teaching style is amenable to making learning enjoyable. Students are engaged, receive detailed explanations of lessons, and feel comfortable to reach out if they aren’t quite grasping it. Along with educating students, she entertains them with her sense of humor. “Mrs. Rigg makes learning fun and relevant to all of the students in her class,” another student wrote. “Every time students enter her classroom, they leave feeling better than before. She’s not just a teacher — she’s a friend.”
One word could be used to describe Lynne Martin: Dedication. Lynne continuously strives to improve her instruction skills and grasps new strategies to implement in her science classes. For example, she’s embraced placing her eighth-grade students into small groups for increased interaction and learning. Another colleague describes Lynne as being “reliable and responsible.” She provides engaging, rigorous, and AVID-related strategies, excels at creating content on Canvas for accessibility, and has passion and strong content knowledge about science. She’s also adept at adjusting curriculum to meet students’ needs and successfully builds positive relationships. “Lynne is a huge asset to the faculty at Eastmont,” a colleague wrote. Another fellow Eastmont teacher marvels that she’s able to accomplish so much at school and home. “She is a working mother of four who somehow juggles everything with dignity and grace.”
During this year’s public-nomination window, Jordan Geist received more than 30 nominations from students, parents, fellow teachers, and school staff. She simply has a knack for enhancing the lives of people who cross her path. She’s the first to offer to help cover a class that needs a substitute. She’s known to check on colleagues who have fallen ill. And she’s a much-beloved educator who builds trust with students, cultivating relationships by treating them with respect. Students notice how kind and helpful she is to all students. Parents appreciate Jordan’s amazing communication skills and how she provides insight on student successes and struggles, and classroom learning activities. Jordan has been instrumental in the implementation and success of Midvale Middle’s after-school program. “Ms. Geist is a knowledgeable language arts teacher and her students show incredible growth and proficiency,” Principal Mindy Robison says. “She is an inspirational colleague, who daily ensures that she is supporting all members of the staff. Ms. Geist is incredibly deserving of this honor.”
Among the handfuls of nomination forms students submitted for Indian Hills Middle teacher Katie Buffington, one teenager succinctly summed it up. “Miss Buffington is good.” Indeed, she is. Fortunately for the Warriors, she’s good at a lot of things. “She is good at explaining and helping everyone figure things out together,” one student noted. Students also admire how she’s good at respecting everyone, teaching, connecting with students, finding ways to help, being patient, making things fun, showing kindness, comforting you when necessary, being supportive, and making sure they understand the subject. She’s also engaging and will go out of her way to answer questions. Students trust her and feel safe in her classroom. And Katie not only makes students want to come to her class, they look forward to it. “She teaches me great things academically, but also teaches me how to be a better person,” a student added. One other thing a student says she is good at? Being “generally awesome.”
Fun fact: Of the hundreds of Canyons District teachers to receive Teacher of the Year nominations this year, Mount Jordan Middle’s Skyler Bluemel got the most — 45 of the 1,744 that were submitted through the District’s online nomination tool. Parents and students alike gush about Skyler’s work as the choir and theater teacher. One parent thanks him for going out of his way to help persuade her son to join the musical after the pandemic and general teenage stresses took a toll on his mental health. “The musical ended up being a major positive in my son’s year,” the parent wrote. “It opened up a whole new world to him and became his happy place.” Not only do students have a blast participating in school musicals with Skyler, they also gain confidence and enjoy the camaraderie. “He is a great teacher,” a student noted. “And he’s a really good director. I mean, did you see ‘Matilda Jr.’ last year?” Students enjoy how he excels at teaching them and making them laugh. “He is like my best friend, and concert choir is definitely my favorite class because of Mr. Bluemel and the amazing class,” a student remarked. “I love how we can have fun and still learn about music.”
Elisa Taysom has many admirable traits that help her successfully teach the Accommodated Core Class at Union Middle. She’s positive, encouraging, very patient, and calming. Students in Elisa’s class have a wide range of abilities — including academic, behavioral, communication, and social skills — and she is able to individualize instruction to help each child be successful with eagerness and expertise. Elisa is invested in the students’ growth. “She is a wonderful, calm, kind teacher,” Mount Jordan Principal Kelly Tauteoli says. “She is clear on expectations and has very clear procedures and routines. This gives our students with more severe disabilities a sense of security and safety.” And that is a critical part of the recipe for success in educational growth.
Rique Ochoa, a revered Alta High institution, has been bringing history to life, opening minds, and educating students since the school’s doors first opened 44 years ago. When it comes to Alta, he is a big part of the school’s history. Along with leading students to high levels of achievement in government and history classes, Rique has overseen Alta’s Social Studies Colloquium since 2011. This provides the rare opportunity to meet and learn from some of the nation’s top scholars. Four Pulitzer Prize winners are among the preeminent educators who have visited Alta, making presentations and sitting down with small groups of students from his class. Alta’s top teacher award is just one among many honors Rique has earned throughout his admirable career. Most notable was when he was one of three U.S. teachers selected for the prestigious American Civic Education Teacher Award. A grateful parent reflected what many think of Rique, describing him as engaging, caring, friendly, and funny. “He’s truly a treasure.” While helping students prepare for AP tests and adulthood, he’s also instilled a love of learning in countless teenagers over the decades.
Nicole Shon has been able to accomplish something quite remarkable while teaching chemistry and science at Brighton. Not only do her students love her, but she’s also helped them to learn to love challenging courses that cover everything from protons to the periodic table. You could call it a symbiotic relationship. “She is literally the best teacher I’ve ever had,” one student said in her nomination. “I genuinely love going to her class.” Masterfully, Nicole makes students feel comfortable enough to ask questions with her fun personality while also helping them learn concepts that aren’t always easy to grasp by presenting well-prepared lessons. More than anything, students know Nicole cares about them. “She just really wants all of us to succeed,” another student remarked, “and will put in so much effort to make sure that that happens,” another student remarked. “She is loved by her students and known for her kindness and patience in teaching a challenging subject,” Principal Tom Sherwood says. “She makes it her personal responsibility to ensure that all students learn and enjoy their experience in her classroom.”
Jeramy Acker has helped lead the charge with the Chargers since the doors opened at Corner Canyon in 2013. Over the years, he has held numerous teaching assignments and coached several different sports and competition teams. He is currently the head coach of the Chargers’ debate team. Remarkably, he recently took his debate squad of four students and helped transform it into a region championship team. Jeramy approaches all of his responsibilities in a professional manner. He cares about his students but challenges them in a way where they perform at the highest level possible. He has had a positive impact on the lives of many students throughout his career, and continues to motivate, inspire, and connect with teenagers from all backgrounds. Jeramy’s commitment to the Corner Canyon community in all aspects of his life is greatly appreciated, says Principal Darrell Jensen.
Sam Richins can do it all. He’s taught geography, philosophy, psychology, U.S. history and American problems. He has led Canyons virtual high school classes in his spare time. Sam, a hoops junkie who played high school basketball, even coached the school’s basketball team for several years. Teaching is a passion for Richins. His dedication benefits everyone around him, and he lives up to a quote he shared with the Midvale Journal years ago. “It’s an honorable way of making a living and making a positive impact in the world we live in,” Sam said. He has been named Teacher of the Year in the past by the Fraternal Order of Eagles and was honored by the Sandy City Youth Council for doing what he talks about — making an impact on the education of students. Students appreciate how well he relates to them. A former student noted, “Mr. Richins taught me over 10 years ago, and I still talk about what an amazing, engaging teacher he was.”
A few Jordan High graduates posted congratulatory social-media comments that highlighted the long-lasting impact Alaina Stone has made on her former students. “The way she taught me how to organize my thoughts for an essay seriously saved my life writing college papers,” wrote one former Beetdigger. The other gave an enthusiastic endorsement to the Jordan High English teacher, whose excellent teaching has withstood the test of time. “One of my favorite teachers! She literally did more than she knows to prepare me for college and life.” Many students have benefited from Alaina’s organization and attentiveness. She’s quick to respond to emails and has an open door for students with questions. If she doesn’t have the answer, Alaina shrewdly guides her students on their own discovery process. She also helps students develop the skills to work through assignments and class activities on their own. In doing so, Alaina helps her students develop dependability, accountability, and self-awareness. To her students’ benefit, Alaina holds herself accountable for learning how to make education more interactive and enjoyable.
When describing what Christine Phillip brings to the classroom, Diamond Ridge principal Amy Boettger gave this glowing review: “She is our amazing visual arts teacher who keeps the bar high for rigor for all her Diamond Ridge and Youth Academy students.” She motivates students to do their absolute best, and their grades and creations reflect the extra time and attention she devotes to her students, Boettger adds. Every year, Christine supports multiple students as they dive into their imagination to create art that is entered into the Canyons District Art Show. She helped a student reach the next level in art this school year, mentoring the first-ever Diamond Ridge student to have a piece accepted into the annual art show at the renowned Springville Art Museum.
When the 2022 Teacher of the Year nomination process began, student after student from Canyons Technical Education Center submitted Mary Lee Hackman’s name. Their glowing recommendations exemplify the connection Mary Lee makes with her students as an excellent Certified Nursing Assistant instructor and as a kind-hearted, genuine, and inspiring human being. A common theme: Mary Lee cares deeply about the young lives she teaches and touches. Students love the words of affirmation she speaks. She offers encouragement, support and “unconditional respect.” One potential nurse enjoyed learning what she was taught and by whom. “I would take the class again just to have her as my teacher. She made me love nursing.” Another student admires how “very, very humble” Mary Lee is. “She doesn’t think that she is anything special. If she were to win this award, she would know how much all of her students truly care for her.” Award or not, it’s clear her students know how much she truly cares for them.
For the past six years, Bonnie Freedman’s highest priority as an educator has been simple: Serve the needs of students. Teaching math in an adult education setting can be demanding, but Bonnie embraces that challenge and adapts her teaching to match the needs of each class and student. “It is amazing the ability she has to do this, considering that she teaches to an academically diverse group of students with a wide range of math abilities,” Entrada’s Adult Education Program Manager Mark Mataya says. “Consistently, students feel that the learning and the pace of learning matches their needs.” Over the years, student feedback about Bonnie has a common theme. Many students have admitted they have always struggled in math, but they finally feel confidence in their math abilities because of the way Bonnie teaches them, Mataya adds. Students love Bonnie because she is kind, considerate, patient, and approachable. They respect her because she respects them and expects them to try their best. She connects with her students, which makes learning more enjoyable. Three students who nominated Bonnie independently defined her teaching as conversations, not lecturing. “We are so grateful that Bonnie is a member of the Entrada High School team,” Mataya says.
In more ways than one, William Jackson has put his stamp on the lives of students at Jordan Valley School. Along with being a wonderful teacher, he’s also a big advocate for his students. One way he showed that this school year was by having signature stamps custom-made for each of his students who are unable to write their own names. They are now able to put their stamp on their papers and documents. Another neat way he helped students was by using the interactive Nearpod lessons to engage them. When it came time to learn about photosynthesis with that teaching tool, he helped his students grow plants in the school’s greenhouse. His classroom staff speak very positively about him for being calm but fun. He’s also reliable and dedicated. “They love teaching with him,” Principal Stacey Nofsinger says. “He has a growth mindset and seeks resources and supports to enhance his classroom instruction, knowing it will benefit his students.”
Canyons Online English language arts teacher Mariah Higgins taught her class how to write an evidence-based argument so well that one of her students used the template to contend for her to receive a distinguished honor. The touching nomination worked. Part of the student’s argument for Mariah: “The first reason why Mrs. Higgins should be Teacher of the Year is the way she helps us learn the lesson. She makes the course interesting while we still learn. This shows that instead of just memorizing the information, we can see why this is being taught and store the information better. Therefore, because of her ability to teach the lesson while still making it interesting means she should be considered a good candidate.” Students also like how she answers their questions and offers suggestions to improve their assignments. Canyons Online Administrator Michelle Shimmin is grateful that Mariah, the middle school team lead, has gracefully handled obstacles of starting a program from scratch with aplomb, patience, and tenacity. “Mariah is one of the very best I’ve had the privilege of working with,” Shimmin says. “She leads her team to a problem-solution mindset, and because of that, she has impacted every student that she has encountered.”
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