2020-21 CCSD Teachers of the Year (scroll down)
Degrees and Certifications:
Cache County School District Teacher of the Year: Randall Beach
Green Canyon High School band director Randall Beach has been creating stellar band programs for over 30 years. Beach has a way of inspiring his students to reach their potential, and in the words of Green Canyon Principal Dave Swensen, “watching him conduct a practice is like watching a masterpiece unfold.” We are proud to announce that Beach is the 2020-21 Cache County School District Teacher of the Year.
Randall Beach has always loved music, but as a child, he had a hard time picking just one instrument to play. Because of this, he learned to play the piano, alto saxophone, trumpet, drums, and other percussion instruments at an early age. He worked in Mountain Crest High School’s band program while he studied at Utah State University. Once he graduated, he began his first year of teaching in 1990. After briefly teaching band in Arizona, he moved to Utah County where he worked with BYU and high school bands for over 18 years. After earning his master’s degree in percussion performance from BYU, Beach returned to Cache County and became the band director at Sky View High School in 2009. He taught there until he transferred to Green Canyon High School when it opened in 2017. Over his career, Beach has led bands from these schools to many division, regional, and state titles.
As a teacher, Beach is known for having a gift to motivate students while still being aware of their unique needs. “He has an incredible gift in communicating, inspiring, and motivating,” explained fellow Green Canyon teacher and color guard coach, Katy Anderson. “It's an honor to observe him during band practice each day.” Anderson started working with Beach when she was still a university student and this is their eighth season working together. She continued, “He constantly tries to grow and improve. Even though he's easily one of the best band directors in the state, he isn't satisfied. He works to improve and create the best possible program and atmosphere for his students, and they turn into incredible musicians and people under his tutelage.”
Other colleagues at the high school are equally impressed with Beach’s efforts and dedication to his students. Green Canyon secretaries Wendy Balls and Amy Goodsell appreciate the enthusiasm and excitement Beach has brought to the school since the day it opened. “He has a gift of keeping the focus of his students and molding them into great musicians and students,” Balls said. She and Goodsell described how every summer Beach is outside with his marching band students during rehearsals. No matter how hot or long they may be, he is out there with them. “He is simply amazing,” they declared.
Green Canyon teacher and wrestling coach, Ryan Webb, believes that Beach is the epitome of a true leader. “In band, there are so many components that have to come together. The reality is that one person can’t do it all,” Webb explained. “What Randall has been able to do is establish a vision and organize a group of leaders (both youth and adult) who ‘march’ toward that vision with equal parts unity and loyalty. The kids and adults with whom he works are fiercely loyal and work hard for him; for the vision.” Webb concluded, “That’s a leader in my eyes.”
Not only is Beach beloved by his colleagues, but his students also adore him. Annalee, a junior at Green Canyon, said, “Mr. Beach is the best teacher ever! He helps all of us so much and he cares a lot about us.” Her classmate, Bethany, agreed. “Mr. Beach is the best teacher I have ever had in my entire life,” she said. “All the stuff that he says motivates me to do my best--no matter if I am doing band, or something else. He is not a run-of-the-mill kind of coach either; he doesn’t say empty words. He means everything he says.”
Perhaps Beach’s greatest strength is his ability to encourage and influence students to pursue greatness. “Mr. Beach is a really big inspiration for me,” explained Isaac, a junior in the Green Canyon band. “He really helps motivate us to achieve our best and work to achieve that level of perfection that he knows we can make. I am really appreciative of him for that.”
Beach said that he has high expectations of his students because he knows they are capable of achieving excellence. “High school kids are capable of way more than we often ask or expect of them,” he said. “If we keep raising the standards higher and higher and give them the resources and the instruction that they need in order to get there, they’ll always rise to the occasion. There is nothing more fun than being really, really good at something. If you’re going to do something, do it all the way.”
Beach was honored as the CCSD 2020-21 District Teacher of the Year during the September 17th board meeting. He was also awarded a free year-long car lease from Murdock Auto Group during a Green Canyon football game on October 2nd. “We want to thank all of the Cache County School District teachers and administrators for their tireless, and often underappreciated, dedication to the youth of Cache Valley, and recognize Randall Beach as the Cache County School District Teacher of the Year,” a spokesman for Murdock Auto Group said.
Degrees and Certifications:
Birch Creek Elementary: Danielle Bingham
Danielle Bingham is an expert in classroom management. She believes that every student is different and unique, so her techniques to help her students succeed are as individual and diverse as her students are. Bingham directs her classroom with love and kindness. Because of this and many other reasons, she has been chosen to be Birch Creek Elementary's Teacher of the Year.
Bingham's desire to teach started when she was a young girl. She has always loved working with children and teaching them new things. She thrives on making a difference in young people's lives. As a teacher, her motto is a quote by educator Ignacio Estrada: "If a child can't learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn." Bingham applies this idea in all of her class plans and curriculum.
For the first year of her teaching career, Bingham taught math at Sky View High School and South Cache Middle School. The next year, Bingham taught Language Arts at White Pine Middle School. After this time, she decided she wanted to teach elementary school and she started teaching 5th grade at Birch Creek Elementary, where she is currently in her fourth year.
Considered a masterful teacher by her colleagues, Bingham believes she has succeeded when her students learn and grow. "I define success as that moment when I see the lightbulb go off for a student who has been struggling with a concept and they persevered," she explained. "I define success as when a student feels safe, loved, and valued in my class."
Bingham takes time to care for the individual student's needs. She works tirelessly to make learning engaging, challenging, and fun. Her colleagues note that she keeps an organized and well-run classroom, while still maintaining a great relationship with her students.
Birch Creek principal Trudy Wilson is impressed with how Bingham can help students individually while still bringing her entire class together to work together and achieve success. "She is an amazing teacher who cares a LOT about her students," she said. "Her classroom management is awesome, and even though she lays down the law, she also shows how much she cares while doing it. She is a great representation of our school!"
Degrees and Certifications:
Cache High School: MaKaela Cutler
MaKaela Cutler has CCSD in her blood. Her mother, current Mountain Crest principal Teri Cutler, worked at many schools throughout the valley and Cutler grew up moving around the valley and attending different CCSD schools. Little did she know that she would eventually become an educator and be chosen as Cache High’s 2020-21 Teacher of the Year.
While pursuing a psychology degree at USU, Cutler worked as a special education aide at Cache High. After graduating from USU in 2018, Cutler earned her teaching certificate and began teaching psychology at Cache High. With the help of Cache High Principal Sheri Hansen, Cutler later received an endorsement to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) and started teaching that as well.
“MaKaela is impressive,” Principal Hansen said. “She is a self-starter who can get more done in ten minutes than the average person can do all day. She is a thorough, precise, and critical thinker. MaKaela is passionate about education and helping kids and she has valuable leadership skills which she demonstrates daily as she works with youth. She is a team player and works well with others. Students look up to her because she is an excellent role model. She is honest, dependable, and proactive. MaKaela is an all-around good person and kind adult.”
Cutler is not only an inspiring teacher, but she strives to have a personal connection with her students. Santos, a senior at Cache High, said, “Kaela actually cares. She’ll check up on you when you’re not at school. If you’re behind on stuff, she’s always there to remind you.” His classmate, Dixie, has also been positively impacted by Cutler. “Ever since I got here, she has been so helpful,” she said, “and I get along with her like she is my friend and not just my teacher.”
Cutler believes that building relationships is paramount to a successful educational experience. She hopes that her students always know that she is there to support them, even after they’ve graduated and moved on from Cache High.
“I want my students to know that even after they leave Cache High, we’re not going anywhere,” Cutler explained. “I hope they know they can always count on me for the rest of their lives. I will always be there for them. Even though I was their teacher in high school doesn’t mean I will stop looking out for them and want to know what they’re doing. I am proud of my students for what they do every day and that they strive to be what they really want to be.”
Degrees and Certifications:
Canyon Elementary: Jocelyn Murdock
During her 15 years of teaching kindergarten at Canyon Elementary, Jocelyn Murdock has helped hundreds of young students learn and grow with her natural kindness and genuine care. Principal Stacie Williamson describes Murdock as a “delight” and an “incredible team player.” She said, “Jocelyn is always willing to go the extra mile and help on any team--and she does it all with such a positive attitude! It is truly my pleasure to get to honor her as Canyon’s Teacher of the Year.”
Murdock graduated from Utah State University in 2006 with a dual major in early childhood education and early childhood special education. “Because I studied early childhood education, I’ve always liked the early childhood years,” Murdock explained. “I love that age group; they learn so much. It is fun to see them grasp and catch onto new learning. They can go from not knowing any of the alphabet at the beginning of the school year to reading by the end. It’s amazing to see their growth and their personalities.”
It is this growth that brings joy to Murdock’s teaching. Not only has she taught kindergarten since she began teaching, but she has been in the same classroom for all those years. Her first class of kindergartners recently graduated from high school and are moving on to big things. Murdock said that even though it feels strange to see her students get married and go off to college, it is fun to see who they have become and the great things they do.
Principal Williamson has worked with Murdock for many years and considers her a pivotal staff member at Canyon Elementary. “She has been giving Colts the foundation they need, as one of our phenomenal kindergarten teachers, since the beginning of her career,” she elaborated. “For many years, Jocelyn has been known for her organization, excellent classroom management, wonderful communication skills, fairness, kindness, and her true love for her students. I love going into her classroom to observe her teach any subject. Not only is she prepared with a great lesson full of movement, repetition, activity, and engagement strategies, but it is fun! She is having fun and so are her kids!”
Murdock has faced some formidable challenges during her time as a teacher. For example, in her first year of all-day kindergarten teaching, 20 out of her 22 students did not speak English. Principal Williamson remarked that although it was incredibly difficult, Murdock approached the challenge by loving each of her students and helping them through their anxiety of being in the classroom. By December, the students were flourishing.
“Seeing that lightbulb moment is my favorite part about teaching,” Murdock said. “We work and we work and they might not be getting it--but then all of a sudden, it just clicks and they just take off. It seems like every child gets to that spot where it all makes sense.”
She continued, “All children can learn. All children deserve to learn. And when I give it my all, they flourish, and they do their best. We see so much growth from them! We come together and create something amazing.”
Degrees and Certifications:
Cedar Ridge Elementary: Allison Erickson
Allison Erickson has been chosen to be Cedar Ridge Elementary’s Teacher of the Year. Erickson is a first-grade teacher who works with the Chinese dual language immersion (DLI) program at Cedar Ridge. She teaches English writing, reading, and vocabulary to her young students.
Soon after graduating from Utah State University with a degree in elementary education, Erickson taught for eight years in Preston, Idaho, before taking a 16-year break to raise her two children. Once they were both in school all day, Erickson began working in Cache County School District as a reading aide. During those seven years as an aide, she rediscovered her love for the classroom and decided to return to teaching. She has now been teaching first grade for six years.
Teaching first graders was intimidating at first for Erickson, who previously taught third and fourth graders. She was “scared to death” and nervous about teaching such young children how to read and write. However, she found that her time as an aide had given her valuable experience and she was confident in her abilities to help students succeed. Never afraid of a challenge, she pursued professional development with new techniques and methods that were not in place when she began teaching 30 years ago.
Erickson has found that she really enjoys teaching first-grade students. “They are kind, pure, innocent, and sweet,” she explained. “They aren’t mean to each other. They love their teacher and they love each other.” Her students' admiration and love for Erickson is apparent when observing her interactions with them.
The years Erickson spent away from the classroom, along with raising her own children, gave her valuable experience which she draws upon as she teaches. However, her philosophy as an educator never changed. “The more you teach your students, the more they learn,” she said. “You have to be the one in front teaching. You don’t just ask them to do things. You have to go through all the motions, modeling and showing them how to do things. That is when they learn.”
Principal Amy Bassett described Erickson as “a master teacher” with the ability to engage her students. “She has every student's eyes glued on her,” Bassett explained. “She makes learning exciting. She has a calm demeanor and is a lot of fun!"
Degrees and Certifications:
Greenville: Nena Copeland
Fourth-grade teacher Nena Copeland has been named Greenville Elementary’s Teacher of the Year! Copeland’s eyes light up when she talks about teaching fourth grade. She loves that fourth graders are so young and sweet, but still capable of having deep conversations. She appreciates the opportunity to have these conversations with her students and dedicates herself to helping them through their challenges.
Before teaching at Greenville, Copeland and her husband worked for eight years at a school for teenagers with addictions and behavior issues. After getting her degree, Copeland worked with preschool and high school special education. This experience inspired her to focus her career on working with students in their formative years of learning. She made the switch to fourth grade, specializing in students with special needs, and is now in her eighth year of teaching at Greenville.
Copeland hopes that her students focus on the positive when they are faced with difficulties. She teaches them to feel empowered in hard situations instead of feeling helpless. “I want to help my students realize that they can do hard things,” she explained, “and that they can overcome hard things --it's just a choice. Being proactive is super important.” She continued, “I want my students to think about what they can do and not what they can't do-- and find a solution to anything they struggle with.”
Not only does Copeland have a passion for teaching, she also has a passion for learning. She graduated from Utah State University with a dual major in elementary and special education. She also has two master's degrees — one in English Language Learning (ELL) for all content areas and another administrative master's degree in educational leadership. Copeland finds it fun to learn and grow, and whenever she realizes that she doesn’t know how to do something, she seeks a way to learn how to do it.
Because Copeland remembers how challenging it was for her to learn a second language during a time when she lived abroad in Brazil, empathy drives her to learn ways to better help her students overcome their own challenges. “I hate to be sedentary,” she said. “I want to learn, and I want to be a leader that people would follow.”
Along with her degrees, Copeland is constantly pursuing endorsements and taking classes to further develop her skills as an educator and leader. She currently works on the team developing an online curriculum for Cache Students Connect.
Principal Troy Pugmire is honored to have Copeland as a part of the Greenville staff. "Nena always has her students' best interests in mind,” he said. “She inspires students to achieve at high levels and instills in them a love of learning. She is kind and genuinely loves her students.” Pugmire also acknowledged Copeland’s valuable contributions to school and district committees, calling her “an amazing teacher who is truly making a difference!” He concluded, “Greenville students, staff, and parents are lucky to have her."
Degrees and Certifications:
Green Canyon: Mariah Checketts
Congratulations to Green Canyon Teacher of the Year, Mariah Checketts! In only her first year of teaching at Green Canyon, Checketts has already established rapport with her students and colleagues. Her dedication to the Green Canyon Pack is exemplified by her care and attention to her students, along with her personal desire to learn and grow.
Checketts teaches Spanish 2, the Freshmen orientation class (Wolf Pack Academy), and Biology for the English as a Second Language (ESL) class. She is also a part of the ESL team and works with ESL students in her Tutorial class, helping them with any subject they need. She graduated from Utah State University with a degree in Health and Spanish Education and later got her biology endorsement. She also earned her master's of administration from USU. After teaching in Colorado and Wyoming, Checketts has found her place in CCSD.
Checkett's philosophy as a teacher is to hold her students to high expectations while providing enough safeguards so that they can feel successful. She said that the most significant "win" for her is when students go from failing and having attendance problems to getting A's and feeling like that they can do school on their own. She believes that every student can learn; they just need to believe in themselves to achieve success. She tells her students, "here are the expectations, and guess what, you're not going to fail. But I need you to work hard and I'm here to help you."
Despite growing up in a bilingual Spanish and English family, Checketts did not love her Spanish classes growing up. Even though she could fluently communicate with her family, she struggled with feeling successful in her Spanish classes at school. It wasn't until later that she realized that not only did she love Spanish, but she could help students feel that learning a second language is enjoyable. "I am not here to correct my students," Checketts explained, "I am here to help them and show them that it is fun."
Green Canyon principal Dave Swenson is impressed with Checkett's dedication to her students and her ability to always help out when needed. "Mariah constantly puts forth a tremendous amount of effort for our students," he explained, "especially those who are struggling or disadvantaged. Often you will find Mariah after school or on Saturdays working with students at Green Canyon. She not only teaches students academic skills but also consistent life skills they so desperately need. She does not give up, even on the most challenging students."
Checketts loves being a part of the Green Canyon team. Though she is honored to have received this award, she emphasizes that she is a member of a fantastic Pack. "I know that I couldn't do it by myself," Checketts concluded. "I am always getting help from other teachers. Everyone here cares about the kids. We're a pack and we're in it together. I just love to be here."
Degrees and Certifications:
Heritage: Mary Knight
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, 6th-grade teacher Mary Knight wanted to instill a sense of courage in her students. Instead of making these uncertain times feel frightening or stressful, she wanted it to be an adventure. Her theme this year is “Life is an adventure. Be bold. Be brave.” This creative energy and dedication to her student’s well-being have made Knight a well-deserving recipient of Heritage Elementary’s 2020-21 Teacher of the Year award.
Knight graduated from San Jose State University with a degree in Liberal Studies and later went on to get her master’s in Curriculum and Instruction from California State University Bakersfield. She taught elementary school for five years in California before taking a break to raise her children. After moving to Cache Valley, she began teaching again at Heritage Elementary and has been teaching there for four years.
Heritage principal Lance Robins believes that Knight is a team leader, mentor teacher, and overall, “a fantastic person.” He explains that Knight is one of the first to be at school and one of the last to leave the school. Along with that, her selflessness is evident in how she is consistently helping those around her to be the best they can be.
Knight’s dedication to her students has not gone unnoticed. Last year, she received the Excellence in Teaching Award from the Utah Education Association. She was one of only ten teachers in the state of Utah to receive this award, which is presented each year to teachers whose efforts in the classroom have significantly impacted the life of an individual child or group of children. Knight was nominated by her colleagues, who have seen the positive impact she has had on her students and fellow educators.
Rebecca Petersen, Knight’s student teacher, is grateful to be able to learn from her example. “She is a super-great teacher, so organized and on top of things,” Petersen explained. “She has great relationships with all of her students and always has their best interests at heart.”
As an educator, Knight believes that mistakes provide important opportunities for growth. She teaches her students that it is crucial to learn from their mistakes and make a better choice next time. “They can do anything if they just try,” she continued. “If they learn how to read, they can learn anything that interests them. Reading is the key. We talk about problems in the world, and I tell them that they can be the ones who change the world. They bring up issues like global warming, pollution, recycling. They feel the weight of our society and I challenge them to be the ones who find solutions! But first, they have to learn how to read, how to do math, how to do science, so they have the tools they need to solve these problems.”
Degrees and Certifications:
Lewiston: Lisa Anderson
Congratulations to 2nd-grade teacher Lisa Anderson, Lewiston Elementary’s Teacher of the Year! Anderson is fun, thoughtful, and dedicated to giving her students the experiences and care they need to succeed. A local to the area, Anderson attended Lewiston Elementary herself as a student, only to come back years later as a teacher herself. She even works with some of her own childhood teachers! Anderson is giving back to the community she loves, by inspiring her students to love learning.
Anderson graduated from Utah State University with a degree in early childhood education. While at school, she worked at the USU Dairy and Aggie Creamery. It was there that some of her coworkers inspired her to take the path to become an educator. She loves to work with young students and her love for them has only grown through her 17 years of teaching. After teaching for several years in the Jordan School District, she took a break to raise her five sons. Twelve years ago, Anderson and her family moved back to Cache Valley and she began teaching at her alma mater, Lewiston Elementary, where she has worked ever since.
Lewiston Elementary Principal Leslie Burt believes that the school is a better place because of Anderson’s fun and positive attitude. Her contribution to many teams and committees shows her dedication to the school. “She serves on the school SAT/TAG team where she has great ideas and supports for helping both teachers and students,” Burt explained. “She also serves on the Socials Committee as the gifts coordinator. She always comes up with the perfect gifts for retirements and fun ways to celebrate everyone. Lisa works to find ways to bring out the best in all of her students. She is an excellent educator and colleague.”
Key to Anderson’s excellence is her desire to create hands-on experiences for her students to illustrate what they are learning in class. She described the excitement that her students feel when they get to put on science goggles and be like “real scientists.” For example, to finish up a unit on earth science, Anderson and her students create model volcanoes that they “explode” outside to highlight the principles they learned in class. Activities like these show how Anderson strives to get her students interested and invested in science and learning.
“My biggest desire for my students is that they learn to love learning,” Anderson explained. “I want them to learn how to learn. I don’t want them to just go through the motions, but to learn because they just really want to know.”
Degrees and Certifications:
Lincoln: Camilla Frenzel
Congratulations to Camilla Frenzel, Lincoln Elementary School's Teacher of the Year! Her dedication to understanding and respecting each student makes her classroom a positive space where she and her students can grow together. Through example, she teaches that it is crucial that they feel safe to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes.
Not only does Frenzel enjoy working with children, but she also loves learning about teaching. She graduated from Utah Valley University with an undergraduate degree in Elementary Education and later got her Masters of Education at Utah State University. She received an endorsement in English as a Second Language (ESL) and an endorsement in Elementary math. She started teaching in 2004 and is in her fifth year of teaching 6th grade at Lincoln Elementary.
Lincoln Principal Audrey McKell considers Frenzel an exceptional educator in many ways, such as how she manages her class with kindness and is always thinking of unique ways to present engaging lessons. Frenzel truly cares about the academics of her students as well as their well-being. She also goes the extra mile when planning instructional lessons, ensuring that her students will be engaged and have hands-on experiences.
McKell said she has seen Frenzel coming to class countless times with some material that she will use for science projects that day. Her dedication to real work application extends outside the classroom through her fun experiments and projects. For example, every year, Frenzel hosts and raises hundreds of trout in her classroom that are then planted into rivers and lakes in Utah. This and other projects teach students about important subjects and give them experience in real life while creating fun memories.
Frenzel's philosophy is to focus on the individual. "I believe that every student, teacher, and classroom is unique and that a teacher's role is to adapt the process of learning so that each student can be successful," she explained. "It is important for students to feel cared for and know that the teacher has high expectations for their class and for them individually. Each member of the classroom must be dedicated to learning and growing and learn how to persevere. This will help students learn how to push forward in new situations and experience the world as lifelong learners who look for opportunities to grow."
Frenzel's student-teacher Janey Boam agrees that Frenzel is well-deserving of this award, based on her remarkable manner of connecting with each student. "I think she is the Teacher of the Year because she really tries to reach out to all of the students," Boam explained. "She works to understand them and discover what they need. She tries to teach as much as she can personally and work one on one with the students."
Not only is Frenzel a stellar teacher to her students, but according to Principal McKell, she is wonderful to work with as a fellow teacher. "She genuinely cares about her colleagues, gets to know each of them, and shows interest in their lives," McKell said. "Camilla is approachable and willing to share ideas or help at the drop of a hat. She is always there to lend a helping hand, a caring ear, or experienced advice. She's a great teammate and friend. For all these reasons and more, Camilla is one outstanding educator."
Degrees and Certifications:
Millville: Karel Dimalanta
Congratulations to Karel Dimalanta, Millville Elementary’s Teacher of the Year! Dimalanta, who is a 4th-6th grade resource teacher, works tirelessly to help the students she serves--her colleagues call her “a marathon woman.” She has a reputation for going above and beyond and always being on top of everything. Her dedication to her students and her school is apparent in the attention she gives to everyone she meets.
Born in New York, Dimalanta spent much of her childhood living around the country and the world because her dad was in the Navy. She graduated from Utah State University in 2014 with a degree in special education, emphasizing mild to moderate disabilities. She began student teaching at North Park Elementary, but after the first trimester, a position opened up at North Cache Middle School, and she began teaching full time. After finishing the year, Dimalanta switched from secondary to elementary education and has now been teaching as a resource teacher at Millville Elementary for six years.
Dimalanta loves being a resource teacher because she appreciates the opportunity to target individual students and discover individual interests and needs. She believes that every student can learn and improve. Her philosophy is that even though it may seem impossible if you set high standards for everyone, they will usually achieve it.
“I just like the teamwork that it takes to run the resource room,” Dimalanta explained. “It’s not just me in here. Brandon [Taukeiaho] is my co-teacher and we are the supervisors of nine aides. Most teachers don’t like having a ton of commotion in their classroom, but I do. I love seeing all the groups working and learning together. And sometimes learning is noisy and that’s okay.”
Millville principal Brady Johnson appreciates how Dimalanta always has a smile on her face and how she is constantly researching ways to help students learn. “Her knowledge of special education is an asset to the school and its staff,” Johnson shared. “She is extremely accommodating of others’ time and schedules and is willing to do whatever is necessary to help kids. The staff at Millville greatly appreciate her devotion to her students and the student body as a whole. She is very deserving of this recognition.”
Degrees and Certifications:
Mountain Crest: Tyler Hansen
Congratulations to Tyler Hansen for being named the Mountain Crest Teacher of the Year! Hansen has a talent for bringing his passion for learning into his teaching. On any given day, you can walk into his classroom to find his students studying crocodile teeth, learning about waterproofing evolution on the feathers of living ducks, or analyzing the many plants that fill his classroom. His wide range of interests also leads to a full schedule -- in addition to teaching an online earth science class, Hansen teaches agricultural biology, botany, environmental science, and AP Biology at Mountain Crest.
Hansen knows what it is like to eat, sleep, and breathe science. As a biology major at Utah State University, Hansen found that he loved researching and working with all kinds of science. As he neared graduation, he wanted to find a way to share his enthusiasm for biology while giving himself a break from the constant lab work. He decided that teaching would be the best route since he could bring everything he loves about science and share it with his local community.
In addition to his degree in biology and minor in chemistry, Hansen also dabbled in the humanities and philosophy. Ever since he fell in love with classic existentialist philosophers in high school, philosophy has been his passion outside of the sciences. He loves reading good books and he has been able to apply what he learns from these books in his life and his work.
“A lot of the philosophical principles that I apply to my teaching have to do with metaphysics, or the nature of reality and how we perceive reality,” Hansen elaborated. “In addition, epistemology is the study of how we learn things and how we know things, and that blends quite well with biology.” His understanding of pedagogy, the nature of reality, and how philosophy applies to science all lend to Hansen’s teaching methods and his desire to understand the world around him.
Mountain Crest Principal Teri Cutler refers to Hansen as a “Master Teacher” who brings a palpable excitement to every subject that he teaches, and is involved in student learning before, during, and after school hours. “He is innovative and creative,” Cutler explained. “He invites his students to be curious by incorporating experimentation and investigation into his teaching. Mr. Hansen is amazing with the special education and at-risk populations and can get them excited to learn about science. He gets to know each of his students one-on-one and makes sure they know how important education is to their future. He loves to teach. He loves to learn. He especially loves to see students learn and lives for that moment when a student “gets” it.”
For example, Hansen wanted his students to learn the genetic principles and technology behind genetic testing. After four years of grant writing, he amassed a lab capable of testing genetics right in Mountain Crest. This year, his entire AP biology class tested their genetics, focusing on their sleep cycles. The class analyzed their chronotypes (whether they were night owls or morning larks) and took a survey on their sleep habits to send to scientists who will publish these and other findings. These and other hands-on projects and activities set Hansen’s classes apart.
Hansen hopes that his students gain the skills necessary to continue their discoveries after leaving his class. “I hope they know where to find reliable material for figuring things out,” he explained. “I also hope that they understand some basic scientific principles behind some of the environmental impacts that we have on the planet and, hopefully, how to start being more active about preventing environmental issues at a community level. Above all, I hope they understand that science does not have to be a boring subject, but that science is fun.”
Hansen firmly believes that no good teaching is done in isolation. He would like to thank his fellow teachers and administrators for their friendship and support.
Degrees and Certifications:
Mountainside: Kim Turnbow
Congratulations to Mountainside Elementary Teacher of the Year, Kim Turnbow! Turnbow loves to read and she’s passionate about teaching her students to have a love of reading. She demonstrates through example that it is okay to make mistakes as she strives to create an environment for her students to learn and grow.
Turnbow studied early childhood special education and elementary education at Snow College and Utah State University. After graduating from USU, she taught for seven years at multiple elementary schools across the valley before taking a break to raise her children. She came back to teaching seven years ago and has been teaching third grade at Mountainside Elementary since her return.
Turnbow enjoys working with third-grade students because they are transitioning from learning how to read to reading to learn. She knows that it is often a big jump for students, but she encourages them to make it fun by using their literacy to learn new things. For example, they read Harry Potter as a class and do activities to go along with the book. Turnbow, herself, loves Harry Potter, and she, along with her students, looks forward to coming back to school after Spring Break so that they can begin reading the book together as a class.
Turnbow was inspired to become an educator by the example of her mother, who worked as an aid in a special education classroom. Turnbow’s passion for teaching is evident and her only rule in class is “Respect.” She teaches that it is okay to make mistakes, and since we all make mistakes, you shouldn’t make fun of other people when they do something wrong. Turnbow’s ability to lift her students and bring out the best in each of them makes her classroom a safe place to learn.
“I hope that my students feel comfortable here and they feel loved,” Turnbow explained. “If they know that I am here for them, then they will learn from what I do. Even if we have bad days, I want them to know that they can always come to me for help.”
Mountainside Elementary principal Cam Amott appreciates the ability that Turnbow has to connect with her students and find ways to motivate them individually. “Kim holds herself and her students to the highest standards,” Amott said. “She always knows exactly which assignments a student might be missing. This creates a culture of responsibility in her class. Kim also lifts the teachers around her with her positive attitude, creative ideas, and sense of humor. She is an exceptional educator and well-deserving of Mountainside’s Teacher of the Year award.”
Degrees and Certifications:
Nibley: Kathy Larkin
Congratulations to Kathy Larkin, who has been named Nibley Elementary’s Teacher of the Year! Larkin is known for giving her students unique learning opportunities through hands-on experiences. Through these activities, she helps her students make connections between what they are learning and experiences in their own lives. Larkin believes that the best way to help her students achieve personal success is by gaining confidence in themselves.
Larkin, who received her bachelor’s degree from Utah State University in elementary education and early childhood development, has been teaching kindergarten at Nibley for 21 years. Her passion for teaching kindergarten comes from a desire to help guide students as they begin their own educational journeys. Larkin enjoys working with kindergarteners because she feels that her personality clicks with her students. From her studies in early childhood development, she understands their train of thought, and this has helped her know how to help them and talk through their problems.
In the classroom, Larkin makes purposeful learning a priority. Her goal is to help students apply what they are learning at school to their personal lives. Larkin believes that when students feel like the information they are learning can apply to real-life situations, it helps them see the importance of what is being taught. For example, when Larkin teaches about shapes, she has the students think about things in their life that are that specific shape. This helps open their eyes to new things while helping them connect to the world. “They're so hungry to learn, that they are involved in their learning,” she explained.
Every spring, Larkin brings several types of animals and insects into her classroom. In the past, these have included mealworms, caterpillars, and even baby chickens. Larkin uses this experience to teach about life cycles as the students watch the mealworms go from larva to beetles and the caterpillars turn into butterflies. When her class hatched chickens, Larkin taught about other types of animals that come from eggs and allowed her students to participate in something that most of them had never done before. Along with living animals, Larkin also has her students grow lima beans to teach about the different parts of the plant and the potential every seed has to grow.
“Kids need to have hands-on experience with learning,” Larkin observed. “Every child can learn. You just have to find out how they're going to learn.” Hands-on learning is just one way Larkin keeps things fun. She also incorporates movement into her classroom. For example, every five to eight minutes, the students stand up and participate in exercises like alphabet yoga or moving around the classroom. This helps them to stay engaged with learning and still get their wiggles out.
Nibley’s principal, Dee Ashcroft, believes that as a teacher, Larkin has found her calling in life. “It takes a special person to teach kindergarten,” Ashcroft said. “You have to be patient, kind, organized, caring, hard-working, and sometimes, I believe just a little wild and crazy. Kathy has all of these qualities and many more.”
Degrees and Certifications:
North Cache: Kelli Christensen
Congratulations to Kelli Christensen for being named North Cache Middle School’s Teacher of the Year! Christensen graduated from Utah State University with a degree in mild to moderate special education. She currently teaches 8th-grade resource English and study skills. Her genuine care for struggling students is what makes her an exceptional teacher--one who gives students the support and encouragement they need to succeed.
“Mrs. Christensen shows an incredible amount of patience and concern for each student,” a North Cache parent explained. “Her amount of preparation, diligence, and work on behalf of each student to succeed is extraordinary.” Though Christensen sees many students moving through her class every day, she loves teaching middle schoolers and strives to give each of her students the time and attention they need.
Christensen believes that middle school is often a difficult time for adolescents, and for students with additional learning disabilities, it can be especially challenging. Christensen hopes that by showing her students that they have someone in their corner, they will rise to the challenges they face and come through triumphant.
Because her oldest son suffers from a rare autoimmune disease, Christensen has a unique perspective on the importance of hard work and positivity. Through the illnesses, surgeries, and doctor’s visits, Christensen encouraged him that he could do it and that everything would be fine. Though there are still struggles, her son has done extremely well and is currently studying engineering at the University of Utah. Christensen believes that constantly reminding yourself that “you can do it” leads to miraculous results, both in and out of the classroom.
“All students need someone who will notice them,” Christensen said. “I really believe in standing up for the underdog. I think that all kids can learn. But a big part of it is that kids need the right support. If someone is in their corner, holding them to high expectations, then they will respond accordingly. I hope my students always know that I genuinely care for them and I believe that they can do it and they can succeed.”
Degrees and Certifications:
North Park: Alison Sorensen
Congratulations to Alison Sorensen for being named North Park Elementary’s 2020-21 Teacher of the Year! Sorensen starts each school year with Lego-themed activities and slightly modifies the Lego Movie theme to fit her mantra - “Second grade is awesome.” She and her students sing, “Second grade is cool when you’re part of our team.” Sorensen works diligently to make sure every one of her students feels loved and a part of the team.
Sorensen started her career in education as an AmeriCorps teacher at Lewiston Elementary, where she taught kindergarten and first grade before switching to North Park Elementary. After taking a break to raise her children, Sorensen returned to North Park to teach first grade for one year. She is now in her third year of teaching second grade.
Second grade is fun for Sorensen because the students are more capable of doing things independently, but they still have a lot of innocence and desire to be at school. She loves getting them excited about literature, studying different authors, and even writing their own stories. Sorensen’s class recently started practicing different writing styles, and she found that they love writing narratives and creative stories.
Sorensen enjoys using music as a teaching tool. Her classroom learns a new patriotic song every month, along with other songs to help them remember lessons and information. For example, Sorensen believes that friendship and learning how to make friends is an essential part of second grade. To help reinforce the importance of working together and building friendships, she introduced her class to the song “Count on Me” by Bruno Mars.
In addition to using music in her classroom, Sorensen incorporates the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs into her teaching style. The Hierarchy of Needs is a psychology theory that categorizes human beings' basic needs. Sorensen believes that if students' basic needs are not being met (physiological, safety, and belonging), they will struggle in the classroom. “If a child’s physiological needs aren’t being met, it will be harder for them to learn,” she explained. “I like to look at each child, and if they’re struggling, I try to see what they need. If they aren’t succeeding at school, it’s often some specific, yet important, things that they need.”
North Park principal Jullie Payne appreciates that Sorensen goes above and beyond to help all of her students and is constantly trying to meet her students’ needs inside and outside school hours. “Alison Sorensen loves her students and loves teaching. She puts her whole heart into teaching,” Payne said. “She makes learning fun! She is calm and cool, yet bubbly and happy. This draws her students to her and they thrive in her class. She also is a great faculty member. She cares about her colleagues and is always thinking of bringing the faculty and staff closer together. She wants to keep North Park fun, even during difficult times, like teaching during a pandemic! Alison Sorensen is very deserving of the Teacher of the Year award!”
Degrees and Certifications:
Providence: Milissa Chugg
Congratulations to Milissa Chugg, Providence Elementary School’s Teacher of the Year! Chugg is in her fourth year of teaching fifth-grade dual immersion French. Her helpful and reliable attitude makes her a valuable asset to her school and our district, not to mention the many students she inspires daily.
Chugg always wanted to be a teacher, though life took her on a less traditional route to her end goal. She started her college career at Ricks College in Idaho, then studied a year at Utah State University before finishing her degree in liberal studies at California State Hayward. After a few years, Chugg decided to go back to school and get her master’s degree in elementary education at the University of Phoenix. Going to school online-enabled her to spend time with her son and be a mom. She started teaching at Nibley Elementary 13 years ago, before transferring to North Park Elementary, and finally to Providence, where she has been for four years.
Through her years of experience, Chugg has found that teaching can sometimes be challenging, but she lives for the moments when her students light up as they understand a topic she is teaching. “The fun part of teaching is working together with the kids and experiencing things with them. Teaching is a challenge, but it helps me remember that we can all do hard things,” Chugg explained. “Especially with everything that happened this last year, we can do hard things. We can grow and learn and be patient with each other.”
Providence Principal Jeff Keck observes Chugg working hard every day for her students and has witnessed the respect she receives from other teachers. “Milissa is so organized and very helpful to her team,” he said. “She has been a staple at Providence and has influenced the lives of so many students. Milissa is always willing to take on extra tasks to help her peers and is super reliable. She is a very talented teacher and cares for her students individually. She is determined to help each of her students succeed as well as helping them feel that she cares about their future. She is very deserving of this award.”
Degrees and Certifications:
Ridgeline: Jennifer Loscher
Ridgeline High School is mixing it up this year by nominating school counselor Jennifer Loscher as their 2020-21 Teacher of the Year. Loscher has overcome many personal challenges to be where she is today. In Principal Brittany Foster's words, she teaches “a curriculum of grit and resilience to the entire student body.” Her love and care for each individual student that comes into her office set her apart as not only an exceptional counselor but a caring colleague, teacher, and mentor.
Loscher has been working as a school counselor at CCSD for over 13 years. She worked at White Pine and North Cache Middle Schools and has worked at Ridgeline High School since the school opened five years ago. She began her undergraduate career at Utah State University in business information systems but soon realized that she did not want to work behind a computer for the rest of her life.
Too practical to entirely scrap the degree, Loscher added a second undergraduate degree in social work and later got her Master's in school counseling psychology. She feels like her degrees are a perfect fit for school counseling. She can use her brain's logical side with business information systems and social work and psychology support the more emotional side.
Principal Foster describes Loscher as the definition of grit, saying she is one of the hardest workers Foster knows. Loscher always encourages students to push through and do hard things. "In more recent times," Foster explained, "she has been an incredible inspiration to the students and staff at Ridgeline in demonstrating that she takes her own advice to heart. The resiliency Ms. Loscher has shown to us all daily is a tremendous example of what it means to be a true RiverHawk."
Almost two years ago, Loscher experienced a stroke. Though it left long-lasting side effects and challenges, Loscher has pushed through with a positive attitude, finding the silver lining in her trials and newfound empathy for her students. "You just have to work through things," Loscher explained. "I feel like it has made me a better counselor and helped me better understand students and their struggles. I can tell them that I know it is hard, but you can do it--because I am doing it, too."
Loscher’s colleagues agree that she goes above and beyond for her students. Ridgeline Counselor Tara Johnson appreciates her positive energy. “She is so thorough and follows through on everything,” Johnson shared. “Jen always wants to help others, and when she wants to get something done, she has the tenacity and the heart to make it happen."
Degrees and Certifications:
River Heights: Melissa Grish
Melissa Grish believes that she could teach the 3rd grade for the rest of her life. She loves the energy her students bring and she reciprocates with an energetic, upbeat attitude. Her positivity, creative lessons, grit, and passion for lifelong learning are all reasons why she is River Heights Elementary School Teacher of the Year 2020-21!
Grish’s passion for education began at a young age. She remembers her 5th-grade teacher standing up on his desk to teach about history, and since that day, she has wanted to be a teacher. A native to North Carolina, Grish came to Cache Valley because she researched and found that Utah State University had an excellent elementary education program. She fell in love with the valley and the mountains, and after graduating from USU, she decided to stay.
Grish started as a part-time art teacher at River Heights until she was offered a position as a 4th-grade teacher. After a year in that position, she took a break from teaching to have her daughter and then returned to River Heights as a 3rd-grade teacher. She is now in her sixth year of teaching 3rd grade.
Allison Adams, Grish's student teacher, appreciates Grish's support and willingness to let her try new things. "She is so good at giving me new ideas but also letting me choose my own way to do things," Adams elaborated. "Ms. Girsh is a support in and out of school, and she has been so supportive in helping me get a job. Not only that, but she cares about her students. She gets to know each student so well, and she makes them feel loved and important, and I think that's why they succeed."
Grish loves working at River Heights and appreciates the support that she feels from her colleagues. She also enjoys her place in 3rd grade since she gets to be creative with the curriculum and they always have a lot to learn and discover as a class. "I can have a tough day or wake up exhausted, but when you step through that classroom door, those kids give you energy," she described. "Their energy is contagious, they love you, and they love learning. And that's why I am here, to teach them to love learning and to be lifelong learners."
Principal Stephanie Adams believes that Grish is an expert in her field and appreciates that even when things get hard, Grish faces every trial with a smile on her face. Adams also acknowledges Grish's help in planning and directing school assemblies in fun and creative ways. "Melissa is always willing to help in every way possible to make our school a better place," Adams explained. "She is kind not only to the kids but to all those she comes in contact with daily. She is a true example of teaching and working with grit and grace. She is one in a million and we are so glad that she is here with us at River Heights."
Degrees and Certifications:
Sky View High School: Christa Bell
Christa Bell is an exceptional educator whose teaching methods focus on the student first, content second. "My personal philosophy as a teacher is that you have to love students," she explained. "You have to love being around students and love teaching students. If you don't have a relationship with them, it doesn't matter what you know. Nothing is going to stick." This conviction has enabled Bell to be an impactful, influential teacher. She has been chosen to be Sky View High School’s Teacher of the Year.
Bell received her bachelor's degree from Utah State University in English education and a master's degree in philosophy from Illinois University. She has taught for sixteen years in the Cache County School District: twelve years at North Cache Middle School and four years at Sky View High School. She currently teaches ninth-grade writing, literature, and AP Literature.
Bell started out as a business major at Utah State, but did not thrive in her math classes. Eventually, it came to a point where she felt she would have to either leave school or change her major. She realized that she was outstanding in her English classes, and after switching majors, she was on the Dean's List every year. A past English teacher's example motivated her to ultimately pursue a career in education.
Once she earned her bachelor’s degree, Bell wanted to get her master's degree in something that she found genuinely intriguing, so she chose philosophy. This part of her education enables her to tie morals and ethics into literature and to help her students analyze characters and figure out why they do the things they do.
Sky View Principal Mike Monson calls Bell a "kid magnet” whose students love being in her class and will rise to any challenge she gives them. "Christa is one of those people that meets every day with joy," he explained. "In French, they call it "joie de vivre"... the joy of life. She has the ability to challenge the best and brightest of students in her AP Literature class, yet also reach a 9th-grade freshman that does not like language arts."
Bell's students agree that her classes are a joy to be a part of and her attentiveness to their education is apparent. One student declared that "Mrs. Bell should be the teacher of the year every year! She makes me feel appreciated and she gets me involved every day, no matter what we are doing." Another student explained, "She is always really nice to everybody. She makes us feel like we know what we are doing, even when we don't. She gets down on our level to talk to us and she always helps us out when we need it."
"At the end of each year, students get to write about a teacher that has impacted their life," Principal Monson said. "Christa Bell gets many, many nominations through beautiful essays or expressions. I really think that combinations of challenging students, but making it so they love it, is the pinnacle of what teaching and learning are all about.” He continued, “Christa is well respected by our faculty. They made this nomination and there were so many kind words expressed by her colleagues that it was evident that they recognize her teaching talents as well. We are all very happy to have Christa Bell represent Sky View as Teacher of the Year."
Degrees and Certifications:
South Cache Middle School: Rod Buttars
Rod Buttars is always there when people need him. From injuries to technology questions, he drops everything to help those around him. And as a teacher with over 15 years of experience and a certified EMT, Buttars is well-qualified in what he does. We are excited to announce that Mr. Buttars is South Cache Middle School’s Teacher of the Year!
After graduating from Utah State University in Earth Science Teaching, Buttars started his career at Willow Valley Middle School. When the grades realigned and Willow Valley became Wellsville Elementary, he moved to South Cache Middle School, where he has been teaching science for the past five years. During this time, he returned to school and got his master’s degree in Secondary Education.
On top of being a teacher, Buttars is a certified Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). His journey to become an EMT began many years ago when he lived right across from a volunteer fire department. For years, he would watch the volunteers show up in response to emergencies. The fire chief, noticing his interest, encouraged Buttars to join, and finally, he decided to stop watching and go help. After he finished his master’s degree, Buttars started taking classes at Bridgerland Technical College in fire management and EMT training. A couple of years later, Buttars became part of the fire department.
Buttars’ skills as an EMT have benefited many students and staff at his school. “Rod is just the best,” South Cache secretary Jody Stout said. “Anytime we need him, he drops everything to help us. If anyone has a cut, or a broken arm, or trouble breathing, he is there. He is so good with the students.”
Principal Doug Snow appreciates Buttars’ large skill set and his contributions to South Cache. “His pedagogy is just phenomenal,” Snow said. “He knows how to teach. He understands the age group of his kids and his classes are fun. He knows what he is doing. Daily, he is helping a teacher somewhere with their technology. He is soft-spoken and a good example, and though he has a lot on his plate, he hits it out of the park.”
Buttars also worked at the CCSD district office as a science specialist for two years, developing middle school curriculum. Tim Smith, Chief Academic Officer, worked closely with Buttars and agrees that he thrives in the classroom. “Buttars is an outstanding teacher who loves being with kids and teaching middle school,” Smith explained. “That’s where his passion lies. We are very lucky to have him in the classroom and in this district.”
When asked about his goals as a teacher, Buttars said that he hopes that students become more curious about science and gain confidence in their ability to understand it. "I want students to leave my classroom knowing that they can succeed in science and that it can be fun," he explained. "I want them to enjoy what they are learning while they are here." His hope is that giving students a positive experience with science during middle school will encourage them to take more science classes as they continue their education.
Just as importantly, Buttars cares deeply about the well-being of the students in his class. "I want my students to know that they were cared about in middle school and that someone was watching out for them. Then, when they move on to high school, they can take those positive feelings and emotions and they can be successful there, too."
Degrees and Certifications:
Spring Creek: Dee Downs
Congratulations to physical education teacher Dee Downs, who has been named Spring Creek Middle School’s 2020-21 Teacher of the Year! Downs’ contagious joy and ability to connect with colleagues and students make him well deserving of this award. Through example, he teaches the importance of a growth mindset and helps his students learn at high levels in every aspect of their education--and he does it all with a smile on his face.
Erica Smith, a fellow PE teacher at Spring Creek, believes that it is the connections that Downs creates with all of his students that make him such a great asset to the school. “He helps students that just need that extra little push, help getting organized, or just someone to motivate them to want to improve,” Smith said. Whether he is working with physical education, the lunch program, or teaching, Downs goes above and beyond to help students accomplish their goals and overcome obstacles.
A Smithfield native and Sky View alumnus, Downs grew up in a family of teachers. Both of his parents worked in education, and he and his sister both took that route. Downs considered his dad, Chad Downs--a former CCSD teacher, principal, and assistant superintendent--to be an important inspiration in his life. He said that his father’s positive and happy influence touched all those around him. Downs aspires to have those same qualities.
After graduating from Utah State University with a degree in secondary education with a social studies composite emphasis, Downs worked at Mt. Logan Middle School for two years before joining Spring Creek in 2016. An active person who enjoys golfing, riding dirt bikes, and sports in general, Downs received his PE endorsement soon after graduating. He now works as a PE, Educational Skills, and Work Completion teacher for Spring Creek.
Both students and colleagues alike have felt Downs’ influence. Spring Creek’s Math Department Head John Sanchez said that he and Downs became fast friends when Downs joined the Spring Creek family five years ago. They served on many of the same school committees and even planned, began, and completed their master’s degrees in administration at the same time. Sanchez appreciated Downs’ tremendous support to him through his encouragement, motivation, and sense of humor. It is this sense of humor, as well as personal integrity, that draws people to Downs.
“I especially appreciate Dee for his kindness,” Sanchez further explains. “He always leaves you feeling better than you did. His catchphrase is ‘see you in a minute’ which leaves you wondering if he is actually coming back in a minute. Students enjoy his jovial character and know that he expects them to perform at high levels.”
Downs strongly believes that all students can learn at high levels. One of the most important things he teaches his students is to have a growth mindset. He wants them to understand that no matter what they are confronted with, they can always accomplish the task--it is just a willingness of the mindset.
Downs understands that PE can be frustrating to a lot of students because it pushes them outside their comfort zone, causing some students to shut down. To overcome this, Downs teaches his students to have grit and work through whatever challenges they face. “I want them to come into my class and tell themselves, ‘I am going to accomplish this today, and I am not going to give up until I accomplish it,’” Downs explained. “Even when they are not comfortable working with a team, I want them to figure out why things aren’t going right. Is it the defense? The offense? By developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills, while working as a team, students can solve problems and accomplish difficult things.”
Principal Blair Powell agrees that Downs’ positive attitude and genuine kindness make him a joy to work with. “I would say that one of the traits that set him apart is how he is such a cheerleader with kids,” Powell elaborated. “He sincerely believes in them and their abilities and can often get students who have given up to try again. With his colleagues, he is patient and willing to listen and is always looking for ways that he can help. He is well-regarded as an innovator in the school and is constantly looking to improve.” Downs doesn’t just look out for his own students, but he is looking out for all students and faculty at Spring Creek.
Degrees and Certifications:
Summit: Sarah Francis
Congratulations to Sarah Francis, Summit Elementary School’s Teacher of the Year! Francis’ class motto is to “Work Hard. Be Nice.” She believes that these two simple rules, along with strong relationships and a growth mindset, are the secret to success. Her sense of humor and desire to go above and beyond make her an easy choice for this award.
Francis graduated from Utah State University with a degree in elementary education. She taught 6th grade for one year in Salt Lake City and then took a break to raise her three children. As each of her children went through Summit Elementary School, Francis fell in love with the school. When she resumed working, she served as a reading aid for two years and then as an art teacher for one year. She soon decided she wanted her own classroom again. After two years teaching 3rd grade, Francis landed back teaching 6th grade. She is now in her fourth year of teaching 6th grade at Summit Elementary and feels she has found her niche in the school.
“I love teaching 6th grade,” Francis explained. “Sixth-graders get my humor, and it is so much fun. They are independent and can do stuff for themselves, but they are still young and love singing songs to learn their math and other subjects. They just have a different energy that I love.”
Her students are not surprised that Francis was named the Teacher of the Year. Without skipping a beat, one student exclaimed, “Mrs. Francis is the best teacher in the whole world!” Her colleagues agree that Francis is an exceptional educator who truly cares about each student. She works hard to build trust and rapport and loves to see her students succeed.
Francis believes that this success comes from two things--relationships and a growth mindset. Her philosophy is that people show up and perform their best when they feel cared for and valued. She hopes her students know that she is in their corner 100% of the time. This, she says, makes all the difference in their lives and their performance.
Francis also hopes that her students feel safe to make mistakes and grow in her classroom. “We work hard in our classroom to be brave enough to make mistakes and to learn from them,” she explained. “Sometimes it takes a little while, but after a few months, they are so willing to raise their hand and tell me what they did wrong on a problem. It’s exciting to see that confidence that comes from them knowing that it’s okay to fail.”
Summit principal Aimee McNeil appreciates Francis’ unique contribution to their school and believes she is well-deserving of this award. “Sarah cares about her relationships with her students, as well as her colleagues and community,” McNeil elaborated. “She is compassionate, kind, and thoughtful in her teaching and her interactions with others. Sarah goes above and beyond to offer her students opportunities to excel and experience new ways of learning through science and math. She is a valuable member of our Summit team and is very deserving of this honor as our Teacher of the Year.”
Degrees and Certifications:
Sunrise: Priscilla Lund
Congratulations to Sunrise Elementary’s Teacher of the Year, Priscila Lund! Lund is from Sao Paulo, Brazil, and has been living in Cache Valley and teaching first-grade Portuguese dual immersion at Sunrise since 2016. Lund loves waking up to the view of the beautiful Utah mountains and the fresh snow in the winter.
From the time she was young, Lund always knew she wanted to become a teacher. When she was eight years old, she would play “school” with her four-year-old brother, showing him how to read and write. Her mother was impressed by Lund’s ability to teach her younger brother. From that time on, Lund grew up believing that she would teach. Lund moved to the United States in 2016 to gain more experience in American schools and continue learning and growing as an educator.
When Lund first started teaching at Sunrise, she was teaching fifth grade. Then, when the opportunity opened up for her to teach first grade, she jumped on it immediately. Lund observed that while she enjoyed teaching older students, she couldn’t see the full progress of their improvement because they were already fluent in the language. While teaching first grade, Lund enjoys seeing the improvements that first graders make every day, not just with the language but with social skills and navigating life.
Lund explained that the first couple of months at the beginning of the school year can be challenging. The students come into her classroom and everything is new. Most of them don’t know any Portuguese. It is their first time spending the whole day at school and their teacher does not speak English, so they can be fully immersed in Portuguese. However, Lund believes that watching her students progress throughout the year is the most rewarding thing she can experience as their teacher.
“Language really helps you with other things and other skills in life,” Lund explained. “When you learn a language, it’s not only the language itself. It works with your brain, so your brain works differently, and you're able to solve problems faster and have more critical thinking skills.”
Sunrise Principal Derek Beer says that Lund works tirelessly to improve her classroom by researching, making videos, creating dances, and making learning fun. “Priscila Lund is working day and night to empower teachers here in the United States as well in Brazil with a channel dedicated to helping teachers with ideas and resources,” Beer explained. “She is always willing to embrace new challenges, and she has the determination to overcome challenges and to do extraordinary work no matter which grade she teaches.”
Degrees and Certifications:
Wellsville: Lori Marchant
Congratulations to 4th-grade teacher Lori Marchant, Wellsville Elementary’s Teacher of the Year! Principal Glen Harris believes that teachers like Lori Marchant make Wellsville Elementary a great place to learn and grow for children and adults alike. Marchant’s ability to connect with each student and her genuine love for them is evident in her students’ performance and respect for her.
Marchant, who is in her 12th year of teaching, has been at Wellsville Elementary for about five years. She started her undergraduate degree in deaf education but switched to elementary education before graduation. Marchant considers teaching to be “the best job ever” and she never wants to do anything else.
Marchant’s calm yet firm presence in the classroom is appreciated by her students, who reciprocate with love and respect. She is skillful at accommodating student differences and adapting or modifying work for individual students to help them be successful.
Principal Harris believes that Marchant’s students recognize that she loves them, cares for them, and is committed to helping them learn. “Lori teaches with enthusiasm and an element of being ‘fun’ that the students really appreciate. It helps them to feel comfortable in her presence,” Harris said. He described Marchant as the type of teacher any parent would love for their child because of the great learning opportunities she provides during each school year.
A mother of young children herself, Marchant is dedicated to both her family and her students. Though it may be hard to work while raising a family, she feels that she gets the best of both worlds: she gets to teach and do what she loves and her own children are only classrooms away. She loves spending time with her family and enjoys the time she gets to spend with them both within and outside school hours.
Marchant genuinely believes that her students are 100% the best part of teaching. She loves building relationships with them, seeing their successes, and getting to have fun and laugh with them. The students appreciate her attention and show it through their high level of engagement in class.
“The biggest thing is that I just want everyone to feel safe and loved and successful,” Marchant shared. “I want them to know that I love them no matter what and that they can do anything if they work hard enough. They really can accomplish anything they set their minds to.”
Degrees and Certifications:
White Pine: Jamie Ravsten
Congratulations to Jamie Ravsten, White Pine Elementary’s Teacher of the Year! Ravsten teaches special education resource classes with students from kindergarten through third grade and is in her third year at White Pine. A huge Journey fan, Ravsten has brought her love of rock into her classroom to help teach students to always believe in themselves. Every student has a binder that reads “Don’t Stop Believing in Yourself,” to remind them that they can do anything as long as they don’t stop believing.
Ravsten comes from a family of educators but planned to become a lawyer--until she took a special education class at Utah State University and discovered her passion for teaching. Ravsten loves the behavioral aspect of working with her students. She enjoys being able to help them manage their behavior and learn in the process.
At the beginning and end of each school year, Ravsten reads a book where the main character Piggie throws a ball and it lands behind him. He believes he threw it around the world. His friend Gerald, the elephant, gets upset because Piggie didn’t actually throw it that far, but Piggie doesn’t care because he had fun. In Ravsten’s class, the students get to practice throwing a hacky sack Piggie’s way and Gerald’s way, to have fun. “You don’t have to be the best, but you have to be your best and have fun while you’re learning,” Ravsten explained.
Ravsten makes it a priority to ensure that every student's needs are met and that each child is given the best educational experience possible. “A child is never stuck in a certain place just because they have a certain disability,” Ravsten observed. “We can do anything. We just have to keep trying.”
Ravsten is known to go the extra mile to help her students succeed, in spite of some of their unique challenges. White Pine Elementary’s principal, Shellie Healy, describes Ravsten as cheerful, energetic, and unfailingly patient. Healy describes Ravsten’s classroom as an exciting place where learning is fun. “She is a truly dedicated professional who loves challenges,” Healy explained. “The more challenging the child’s needs, the happier Jamie is!”