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South Jordan Journal

South Jordan teachers honored by community as ‘outstanding educators

May 02, 2019 03:06PM ● By Julie Slama

South Jordan Mayor Dawn Ramsey gives Welby Elementary’s resource teacher Hailey McCall a congratulatory hug as she was honored as Jordan School District’s outstanding educator of the year for her ability to relate to students as well as promote STEM education. (Photo courtesy of Jordan Education Foundation)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

“This was absolutely a surprise and such an honor,” Eastlake third-grade dual-immersion teacher Jennifer Robinson said shortly after the “prize patrol” walked into her room to present her with balloons as a Jordan School District’s outstanding educator of the year. “I’m grateful. I love what I do. It’s so awesome to watch the students learn and grow through the school year.”

That prize patrol included Jordan School District Superintendent Patrice Johnson, Mayor Dawn Ramsey, Jordan Board of Education and Jordan Education Foundation and others, including the honoree’s family. 

Robinson was one of 17 teachers and one principal who was selected and honored as an “Outstanding Educator of the Year” by the Jordan Education Foundation. Other South Jordan teachers honored with the top award include South Jordan Elementary’s Mallory Morrill, Welby Elementary’s Haley McCall and Valley High’s Melinda Fatani.

“This is the best day of the year,” Ramsey said. “The teachers’ reactions are so neat; their families are there; it’s just a great way our community can come together to support education.”

The honorees were not only surprised at their schools, but they also were honored at an April 10 dinner, where a Bingham High School student, Savanna Seuss, received a $2,000 scholarship. Also, five other Jordan District high school students received $2,000 scholarships. The evening also included two new scholarships, one earmarked for a West Jordan High student and the first-ever scholarship in honor of Johnson, who will be retiring in June.

While many recipients enjoyed the evening, Robinson didn’t attend, giving the presenters her own surprise: She would be on her honeymoon during the recognition dinner.

“It’s all so exciting, and getting that award blew my mind away,” she said. “How do you have two once-in-a-lifetime events happen at the same time?”

The Eastlake teacher was well deserving, said principal Suzie Williams, who said Robinson mentors new teachers and has introduced peer observation to inspire teachers to continuously improve their teaching skills.

“She is encouraging and a genuine loving person, who has worked with some challenging students to help them with their struggles and turn them around,” Williams said. “She is a responsible leader in our school.”

Robinson’s nomination showed students progressing and excelling at standardized assessments but also giving students personal attention.

“She helped my son so much last year,” one parent said. “He was really struggling with reading and math. He wasn’t very confident in himself because he wasn’t on the same level as the other kids. But by the end of third grade, his confidence had grown so much. Ms. Robinson showed him that even though things are challenging and hard that he could do anything.”

Parents of South Jordan Elementary’s outstanding educator of the year, Mallory Morrill, feel the same way.

“As a parent and volunteer, I see firsthand how much she loves and cares for each student. She celebrates each child’s successes and works to help each improve,” one said in Morrill’s nomination.

Others mentioned Morrill’s instructional creativity when after reading “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” they returned from recess to find large items of food made out of fabric spread all over their desks and classroom.

“We were talking about measurements and different kinds of weather, so after lunch, I put up giant bacon, ice cream, spaghetti, eggs, carrots — different things I had sewn — so they could measure them and have their photos taken with them as they retold the story,” the first-grade teacher said. “They really had fun, and it’s memorable.”

Morrill said she was pleased families could remember so many of her classroom teaching moments.

“It was very touching,” she said about the nomination letters Principal Ken Westwood gave her at a school assembly where she was surprised with the honor. “They are specific things that kids remembered, what parents saw I was doing. I didn’t expect that. Just to be recognized and hear these nice words really is very sweet.”

Jordan Education Foundation Executive Director Steven Hall said it is the recognition teachers receive that is what they appreciate.

“The board of directors at Jordan Education Foundation wants to reach out and recognize an outstanding teacher in each school because they are the bedrock of our community,” he said. 

Other South Jordan honorees included Daybreak’s Katharine Bolliger, Elk Meadows’ Laura Packard, Golden Fields’ Stephanie Murray, Jordan Ridge’s Becky Worwood, Monte Vista’s Heather Miller, Elk Ridge Middle’s Jonathan Lawes, South Jordan Middle’s Laraine Lawes, and Bingham High’s Alexus Brecht Waite.

From there, the top 18 educators from across the District were selected.

Robinson said she was humbled.

“I am thankful that the community recognizes excellence and how teachers help prepare students for all professions,” she said.

At Welby Elementary, resource teacher Haley McCall was on her lunch break in the faculty room when the prize patrol surprised her. 

“I was bright red,” she said about the surprise. “It means a lot to be recognized for my time and effort.”

McCall’s teaching efforts excel beyond the typical classroom, to one that includes introducing and now coaching the school’s robotics teams, a coding club and creating family math and STEM nights.

“These are life skills for our students to learn for post-secondary schools and for their future lives,” Haley said.

Principal Jen Fisher said that not only is her emphasis on STEM but also helping struggling students.

“She’s working with all of our students in school, encouraging them to learn and succeed,” she said.

Teachers agree. In her nomination, one teacher wrote: “When Haley was on my team, I had a class full of struggling students both academically and behaviorally. I was overwhelmed by them and couldn’t get on top of things in any aspect of my class. Haley came to my rescue and volunteered to take one of my hardest students into her class. I watched as she worked wonders with this student. She took a personal interest in her and helped her succeed. I think of her example often of empowering students to make good choices and thrive in school.”

At Valley High, Melinda Fatani also faces challenges as a special education teacher.

“Valley students may be different stories than other high school students,” she said. “I lived most of my life sheltered, with wonderful support of my family and friends. I love being able to share that with these students, to let them know they have someone on their team.”

Fatani said in her recommendation that she was acknowledged for helping students from having someone to talk to or how she has helped many students struggling with math, like she did as a student.

“It wasn’t until I had a math teacher who was really good at demonstrating how to solve problems that I really understood and wanted to help other students understand them,” she said “When they finish that first quarter with good grades, they’re really proud of themselves, and that’s really neat to see.”

One of her students even said, “I don’t like math, but I really like my math teacher.”

When presented the award in her classroom, it was shared that when someone enters Fatani’s classroom “the only thing you can depend on is that the students are learning,” and Melinda’s students gain a sense of confidence in her room.”

Examples were given of students performing a bubble-gum blowing science experiment, creating a straw and marshmallow architecture or using a laser pointer to help them pinpoint locations on a wall-sized world map. 

Fatani appreciated the superintendent and others coming into her classroom to share the success with her students.

“It was really fun,” she said. “They’re a part of the success story and the celebration.”