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South Jordan Journal

While focusing on online instruction, South Jordan teachers get thanked, honored

Jul 27, 2020 12:20PM ● By Julie Slama

Eastlake third grade teacher Andrea Utley, who was teaching at home during the soft closure of schools, was told to leave her zoom meeting to go outside, where she learned she was an outstanding educator of the year. (Photo courtesy of Jordan Education Foundation.)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Third grade teacher Jody Herzog was outside South Jordan Elementary this spring, wearing a mask, handing students their belongings that they didn’t take with them when Utah school buildings were abruptly closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was about 9 a.m., and some students started to come, and some more, and I was thinking, ‘This is great that they’re coming right away to get their things,’” she said. “I was able to talk to a few of them, and I didn’t realize that other teachers didn’t have students there. I was so oblivious. Then, there all these horns, and I remember thinking, ‘I wish they’d stop honking so I can hear my students.’ I didn’t realize it was the celebration committee coming to give me a prize, and the students were hanging around for that moment. It was one of the biggest surprises in my life.”

Along with the third grade teachers who emerged from inside the school, was Mayor Dawn Ramsey; Superintendent Anthony Godfrey; members of the Jordan Education Foundation; her principal, Bev Griffith; her family; and the school mascot, who actually was her former principal Ken Westwood, who nominated her on his last day at the school shortly before “soft closure” and being transferred to another elementary school.

“With the school closure, I didn’t think the outstanding educator awards was going to happen,” Herzog said. “But everyone—my family, colleagues—knew about it. It was originally scheduled for the Tuesday assembly after we shut down, so when I said to my colleagues, ‘I don’t know about doing this,’ during the soft closure, they knew I would and knew I’d be receiving this award. It was a very memorable day and one I will never forget. It was nice to be recognized for a job that is usually underappreciated that I love and work really hard at.”

Jordan Education Foundation team member Anne Gould said that is one of the reasons they went ahead to honor 61 teachers—one per school—and one principal with outstanding educator awards.

“We felt it made a bigger impact to do it now, plus it was a real morale booster,” she said. “I’m so glad we did it. It was really fun to see them at school, on zoom or knock on their doors to surprise them.”

Ramsey said it’s one event she looks forward to every year.

“We have the most amazing teachers here in Jordan School District,” she said. “I’ve had the privilege of surprising our Outstanding Educator of the Year award winners for the past six years as a member of the Jordan Education Foundation board of directors, and it remains one of my all-time favorite events. These teachers represent all of the excellent teachers we have both here in Jordan and across the state. I am truly grateful for the professionalism, passion and expertise of our teachers and express my gratitude to educators everywhere for their consistent, heroic efforts, especially throughout this challenging pandemic.”

Each of the 61 teachers received a yard sign both at their home and school plus $250 and a swag bag full of prizes. 

From the 61 teachers, 19 were selected to be honored at the awards banquet, which was postponed because of COVID-19. The 19 winners included three South Jordan teachers: Herzog as well as Eastlake’s third grade teacher, Andrea Utley, and Jordan Ridge’s third grade teacher, Kimberly Sanders. They received $1,000, a glass plaque and the gift bag.

Herzog, who just finished her 20th year teaching, said she always knew she wanted to be a teacher.

“I always dreamed about it,” she said. “I used to play school when I got home from school with all my stuffed animals. I knew what I wanted to do.” 

So, when schools went online, she jumped on board like other teachers, but it made her realize how she valued making connections in the classroom even more.

“It made me realize what a big part the students are in my life and the joy they bring to me,” she said. “It’s not something to take for granted.” 

That was evident in her nomination, which gave several examples of how she relates to students from flash card engagement to reading books out loud with different voices. One nomination even mentioned how Herzog, after learning her student got into Ballet West’s “Nutcracker,” came to see her perform and gave her a keepsake afterward.

Her former principal summed it up with: “Building relationships is not a technique or strategy for success in Ms. Herzog’s class,” Westwood said. “It defines her as a person.” 

The nomination also pointed out how her students’ reading and math scores improve, how she collaborates with her colleagues and is involved in many activities and boards at the school, including starting a Hope Squad to provide emotional support for students. 

Westwood then added: “Every school should have someone like her who lifts, leads and inspires all around her.”

At nearby Eastlake, Andrea Utley also was surprised by her colleagues, who invited her to an online meeting.

“I thought I was to be on a Zoom meeting with my team, but when I got on, it wasn’t just my team,” she said. “It was JEF, and about 20 other people outside my front door.”

As she walked outside, she found the similar prize patrol on hand, along with a couple students and a student’s grandmother, who had volunteered as a mystery reader in her classroom. The grandmother presented her the award.

“My principal nominated me, but any of my team members could have gotten it,” Utley said. “We work as a team. I am really humbled.” 

In her nomination, she was commended on using best instructional practices and data to drive instruction as well as championing reading through creating a student book club, discussing Battle of the Books with students, and videotaping herself reading and implementing techniques from “Teach Like a Champ” book, which was part of a grant she received.

Her colleagues supported the nomination, citing she has shared and collaborated with other teachers with Nearpod lessons, math strategies, her student reward system for positive behavior and classwork and other classroom methods and projects.

She has taught 18 years, 15 of those in third grade, and she still is excited to see students learn.

“I love teaching third grade. At this age, they’re really respectful, sweet and super independent,” Utley said. “They have a sense of humor, and they’re curious. I want to make a difference with kids. When I was 11 or 12 years old, I didn’t enjoy babysitting and thought teaching would be miserable. I wanted to be a businesswoman.”

That changed when she was a teenager. Utley volunteered at Midvale’s Family Support Center’s crisis nursery, where she met Samantha, a little girl who was both deaf and blind who was waiting for a foster family.

“She changed my life,” Utley said. “She would cry the whole time until I got there and stayed with her. I realized that maybe I can help other kids too. She made a huge impact in my life.”

Utley now is being recognized for doing that as parents thank her, especially during the soft closure.

“The motto in my classroom is ‘I can do hard things,’ so when a student says it and believes that, it makes it worth it,” she said. “I’ve taught them a life lesson.” 

Before her last Zoom lesson with her class, Utley drove to each of her students’ houses and gave them a can of root beer, an ice cream cup and a twisty straw so they could have an end-of-the-year root beer float party.

“It was really fun to see the students from a distance when I dropped off the supplies for a final good-bye,” she said. “I told my class about the award and a few of them went to the school and took their picture with the educator of the year sign. I’m really excited about connecting with kids and seeing them learn in person.”