UEA Excellence in Teaching Awards

Utah Education Association
  KUED Channel 7

UEA Excellence in Teaching Awards are presented to Utah public school teachers whose efforts in the classroom significantly impact the life of an individual child or group of children. In 2016, ten educators will each receive $1,500. The awards will be presented at the Superstars in Education celebration at the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium.

KUED, in partnership with UEA, conducted interviews with each of the winning teachers and a person who nominated them. Please enjoy watching these videos and learning more about talented Utah Educators.

Jennifer Boehme
Sixth-grade teacher at Elk Meadows Elementary, Jordan School District
You build those personal relationships with the kids and watch them grow.
~ Jennifer Boehme

With an unwavering belief that every child can learn, Jennifer Boehme creates a culture of learning in her classroom. She starts with building personal relationships. There is not one child in her class who doesn’t know they matter.

Matt was an older student in Mrs. Boehme’s sixth-grade class with Hunter’s syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that affects mental development and physical abilities. He loved Jennifer’s class. At the end of the year, Matt had to decide…either he could spend another year in Mrs. Boehme’s class or attend a special school. Not surprisingly, he chose to stay and had another fabulous year.

A year later, Matt passed away. A colleague wrote that Matt “didn’t leave this earth without knowing that people cared for him and that a loving teacher was able to open the world of learning to him. Matt was one of ‘her kids.’ He knew he mattered, that he had value and that he had friends. Jennifer’s empathy for her student and his family is a true testament to her character.”

Robyn Bretzing
PE Teacher and Soccer Coach at Timpanogos High School, Alpine School District
The most important thing I did at that moment was develop a relationship.
~ Robyn Bretzing

You will never find Robyn Bretzing sitting down during class. She is always working alongside her students to help them improve their personal fitness and find enjoyment in being active. She traveled the country presenting her unique fitness-based curriculum, which includes mountain biking, land paddling, bouldering, disc golf, yoga, spinning, step aerobics, kickboxing and TRX training. Robyn also assists with the girls and boys soccer teams – her teams have won four state high school titles and she was inducted into the Utah Soccer Hall of Fame. Her picture can be found hanging among many of the great Utah soccer legends at the Rio Tinto Stadium. The girls soccer team has one of the highest overall GPAs of any athletic team in the school because of Mrs. Bretzing’s commitment to academics.

Robyn organizes service events such as the Homecoming Carnival, Sub 4 Santa, Penny Wars and refugee relief. She promotes inclusion by asking her students to pick one at-risk student each month, get to know them, help them in school and invite them to games and school activities.

Alley Chai
Fourth-Grade Teacher at Upland Terrace Elementary School, Granite School District
I get to know each of my students individually and find out what they love.
~ Alley Chai

Creativity lives in Alley Chai’s classroom. At back-to-school night in her Harry Potter-themed room, she gives letters to each student assigning them to a Hogwarts house. She makes math videos every night for the kids to watch at home. She creates games to match each subject. At the end of the school year, she sends each student home with an individual summer packet containing activities and worksheets to help them stay up on what they learned.

A student in Alley’s class struggled with confidence in math and science. At the year’s first parent-teacher conference, Mrs. Chai told the student he was smart and that he was one of her favorites (which she probably told all the students that day). “My son was beaming from her compliments,” wrote the student’s mother. “The rest of the school year was amazing to watch. My son's confidence in his abilities grew. (Mrs. Chai’s) belief in my son changed his life...if you could see who he was before her class and see him now, you would understand the impact she had. I am forever grateful for her influence.

Catherine Douglass
Third-Grade Teacher at Elk Meadows Elementary School, Jordan School District
You must take care of their physical needs and their emotional needs before you can teach academics.
~ Catherine Douglass

According to a colleague, Catherine Douglass “uses drama to teach her students to be more fluent readers. She uses music to teach them math concepts. She uses movement to engage the whole learner and to quiet troubled spirits. She uses her love of quilting to teach geometry. She engages their minds as well as their bodies.”

Mrs. Douglass often has challenging students assigned to her class because she “is strict enough to handle them yet caring enough to meet their other needs,” said a fellow teacher.

One student had a difficult and sad background. He came to her not able to sit, listen or participate well. With love and acceptance, Cathy helped him transform into a kind and hard-working student. He made significant improvement under Cathy's care. Another student was struggling academically, but was otherwise happy and fun. Mrs. Douglass figured out the child had a hearing disability. Because the family was not able to afford it, Cathy worked through several agencies until she was able to find help in obtaining hearing aids.

Ric Jaggi
Sixth-Grade Science Teacher at Fossil Ridge Intermediate School, Washington County School District
Some kids really love science, some kids don’t know that they love science yet.
~ Ric Jaggi

Despite the challenges of a school with 60% poverty, 25% minority and 15% special ed, Ric Jaggi and his team consistently record some of the top proficiency scores in the state. Mr. Jaggi makes science hands on for his students. You will often find him in the lab serving as a learning facilitator while his students do the work.

In recent years, Ric has come up with an innovative email format that not only informs parents about what is going on in his classroom, but also helps the parents communicate. The emails are designed as a question-and-answer conversation, including questions to be asked, expected responses and the correct answers.

Parents responded: “Thank you for your communication. You make it easy to remind her about her work!” “It’s so nice to not have to read between the lines of what my son remembers about his class/assignments!” “It sure makes it nice for us as parents to know what questions we should be asking and the correct answers we should be expecting in return.”

James Maughan
Eighth- and Ninth-Grade French Teacher at West Hills Middle School, Jordan School District
It’s not for the paycheck, it’s to see kids be successful in life
~ James Maughan

A former principal said of James Maughan, “There is something special about James, and I believe he is one of the best teachers I have ever worked with!”

A student in Mr. Maughan’s class who was not performing well made remarks in class that let his teacher know he was smart but just not trying to the best of his ability. James talked to the student about his lack of motivation and what was causing it. He honestly told his teacher he didn't want to try to succeed.

Undaunted, James called the student’s mom to see if she had any ideas. The mom said, “(He) is not my smart son. He will be a construction worker. My other son is the smart one, so we put our effort into helping him.” James talked with the student again and told him about the conversation with his mom. He showed faith in the student and told him he was capable of being successful in school. The student completely turned his performance around because James showed an interest in him.

Wendi Nelson
Social Studies Teacher at Spanish Fork High School, Nebo School District
It feels good to know that you’re making a difference.
~ Wendi Nelson

Countless student teachers have trained at the hand of Wendi Nelson. Wendy acts as a coach and mentor, providing insight and guidance while letting them become autonomous teachers at the same time. She has coached cheerleading, served as department chair, taught AP classes, taken large groups of students to Washington DC, and served as Sterling Scholar Mentor.

Despite her success working with the schools brightest and most highly motivated students, Wendi willingly agreed to teach a class of highly at-risk students. These students had poor attendance, little home support and little value for education. Despite these challenges, Wendi provided a classroom environment that allowed the students to excel.

A fellow teacher wrote, “I have seen her students in this class go from rarely attending, to waiting at her door after lunch for class. They are respectful to her in ways that many teachers have probably never seen from these students. She helped them see that there is someone in their corner. Many of these students have lived their entire lives without someone like this helping them through life.”

Robert Osborne
Youth Educational Support Services Program, Granite School District
Help lead them from the darkness into the light.
~ Robert Osborne

Although Robert Osborne’s assignment could be described as a difficult one, he facilitates the learning of troubled youth through a genuine concern for them and their potential. A colleague wrote that he “inspires…kids by teaching them the value of a good education and that hard work is worthwhile. He truly believes that every one of his students, no matter what their circumstances may be, has the inner power to grow, change and become life-long learners as well as contributing members of society.”

Former students speak of Mr. Osborne (or “Oz” as they call him) as down to earth and caring: “Thank you so much for everything you’ve done and everything you taught me. You’re a cool teacher and you really know how to get through to us ‘young adults’, I'll never forget you!” “OZ is the Beez-Neez. He’s like my favorite teacher. I’m going to really miss him. It’s sad because I didn’t even like school until I came to (the YESS Program)! He made a huge impact on my life! I’m really glad I got a chance to meet him!”

Shannon Richey
Third-Grade Teacher at Old Mill Elementary School, Wasatch School District
Everything that we're doing in class adds another tool to their tool belt.
~ Shannon Richey

As a team leader, Shannon Richey is the “glue that holds her team together,” said a colleague. She helps her team “understand the need for good core instruction. She focuses on helping her team provide good tiered instruction backed by data, and brings students to the intervention team as needed with evidence of support.”

Shannon invites in volunteers from the community to her classroom to discuss careers, then helps students use technology to research, explore and create a presentation about a topic of interest. Her students can be found using Kahoots, Nearpod and other applications to create their presentations.

Shannon provides after-school tutoring and recently created a t-shirt factory. Through fundraising efforts she was able to provide each student with a “Math Makes our Brains Grow” shirt. According to a student, “Math makes our brains grow, because when we make a mistake then we correct it, it makes our brains grow bigger.” The students manage inventory and sales as they learn problem solving, networking, money and math skills. .

Shaundell Smith
Librarian at Sand Ridge Junior High School, Weber School District
The library is the heart of this school.
~ Shaundell Smith

“She is changing the culture of our school with books,” is how a teacher described Shaundell Smith’s contribution to the school. “She has awakened a passion for reading in students and teachers alike. Reading scores have been on the rise at our school…Since she's become our librarian, book checkouts have soared.” The teacher added that Mrs. Smith “volunteered to dress up like a Cyclops and storm into my classroom while we were reading about the famous Polyphemus. My students are still talking about her performance.”

Shaundell is known for her many book clubs, all successful in drawing in students and teachers. Each club appeals to different kinds of students. Through her clubs, many students have read their very first book.

One student hated reading until Mrs. Smith put a beautifully illustrated copy of The Odyssey in her hands. The student not only read it from cover to cover, but began to participate in class as they read. This “D” student is now a “B” student and who prides herself on knowledge.

Support for the UEA Excellence in Teaching Awards on KUED.org is provided by the Utah Education Network.