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South Jordan Journal

At every South Jordan school, teachers’ dedication during COVID-19 honored

Jul 06, 2021 03:50PM ● By Julie Slama

Welby Elementary teacher Leslie Foltz receives applause from students, her principal Aaron Ichimura, Jordan Education Foundation, Jordan School District superintendent and others after being told she was one of Jordan School District’s outstanding teacher of the year. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama|[email protected]

Welby Elementary teacher Leslie Foltz was answering students’ questions in the front of the room as they were writing reminders in their planner. Her head was down, listening to one of the second graders so she didn’t take note of a few people initially walk into her classroom before members of the Jordan Education Foundation, Jordan School District Superintendent Anthony Godfrey, her family, Principal Aaron Ichimura and others came in to congratulate her on being one of the district’s outstanding teachers of the year.

“I was overwhelmed,” she said. “People kept walking in. I was still trying to process what was going as JEF came in with the principal and superintendent, then I saw my family and figured it out. I never dreamed I’d get this honor.”

Along with presenting her balloons and flowers, in came lunch for her from Café Rio and “I already had a Dr. Pepper on my desk, so I was set,” she said.

Foltz, however, was just one of Jordan School District’s outstanding teachers of the year—in a year that each school’s selection received a crystal award, a yard sign and $500, said Anne Gould of the Jordan Education Foundation.

“There were so many heartfelt applications, it was just too hard to select just a few,” she said. “So many teachers stepped up to bat that we needed to honor one from each school.”

Godfrey also acknowledged the teachers’ extraordinary efforts.

“It’s great to honor teachers at every school after seeing how hard they have worked through the pandemic, giving their hearts and souls for students to make sure things go well for students,” he said.

In South Jordan, other teachers honored included Bingham High athletic director Andee Bouwhuis; Elk Ridge Middle School teacher Amanda Mair; Mountain Creek Middle AP geography teacher and digital coach Andrea Hogan; South Jordan Middle School orchestra teacher Rich Munro; Daybreak fifth grade teacher Mauree Pierson; Eastlake fourth grade teacher Brittnee Jarvis; Elk Meadows fifth grade teacher Emily Crane; Golden Fields kindergarten teacher Emily Rock; Jordan Ridge fourth grade teacher Melissa Handy; Monte Vista third grade teacher Staci Velarde; and South Jordan sixth grade teacher Amanda Oettli.

At Valley High, the entire faculty was honored.

Foltz, who has been teaching more than eight years, found her niche in fourth grade and became her school’s lead. After preparing for fourth graders with her team after the soft closure of schools in spring 2020, she learned that Ichimura needed a second grade teacher.

“I was willing to move; I want what’s best for students and so I learned second grade curriculum in a matter of days,” she said.

She applied and was granted a Donors Choose grant to get materials needed to teach the younger grade. She also stepped up to teach ArtSmart in her class, something that usually parents volunteer for, but because of the pandemic, they weren’t allowed to enter the school building.

“I wanted the year to have as much normalcy as it could,” she said. “I knew they couldn’t have storytime on the carpet, but we could do art and they could have portfolios to take home of their work at the end of the year. It was one more thing to handle and we’re all feeling pulled 100 different ways, but I thought it was important. This crystal reminds me of what we do and the importance of it, even on the hardest days.”

Even with family health and other issues a concern, it was coming into the classroom that helped Foltz this year.

“What I’ve learned most during the pandemic is calmness during chaos,” she said. “I learned to leave everything at the door and do my job first, and when I’m with the second graders, I focused about each one of them and balanced academics with their social-emotional needs. I’ve love second grade and I love dual immersion and teaching English all day, but I miss teaching math and miss my fourth graders.” 

Foltz is planning to return to teach neighborhood students in the upper grade this fall.

In Bouwhuis’ nomination, colleagues pointed out that she helped create an online curriculum for the PE program and created an intervention program for students to improve their grades all while continuing to have “amazing relationships” with students and student-athletes.

“Amanda Mair laughs, cries and struggles with her students; she fights for them,” a nomination said. She is known by her colleagues for leaving kind notes “and remembers details and asks after their lives in a most sincere and caring way,” even while navigating through COVID-19. “[She] just went above and beyond at every turn to make sure her students had every opportunity to succeed.”

Hogan has been innovative and found new ways to intergrade technology to engage students. So when the pandemic hit, Hogan was ready and was able to help others make the transition and not only focus on her students’ academic success, but with their emotional and social well-being, according to the nomination, which added, “Despite being such a great teacher, Andrea will be completely mortified by the attention, she is getting for this award. She loves to quietly support in the background, coaching and moving people in the right direction.”

Munro was “somewhat behind” using technology prior to 2020, his nomination stated, but now is classified as “exceptional.” He also is known to be a student advocate, often tutoring students afterschool or ensuring they’re allowed to participate in the music program—and he is noted to “make all of us laugh.”

Pierson is known for her organizational skills and made online schoolwork easy with clear instructions. The nomination said “She is amazing, the best teacher I have ever had” and “the epitome of a fabulous teacher.”

Jarvis not only made the switch last year from in-person to virtual learning by helping students and parents navigate the “stressful situation by remaining flexible, calm and organized,” but she made herself available each day. She has continued to teach individually or in small groups while overseeing student council and Junior Achievement and basically working “12-hour days.”

Crane is described as an “exceptional leader” and a teacher who “preservers in the challenges by focusing on the positive.” The nomination said, “Her optimism is contagious” and “Mrs. Crane turns something as negative as the pandemic into an opportunity for students to be celebrated and recognized.”

Rock typically can be found drinking Dr. Pepper between classes, but with her kindergartners, she is “friendly” with a “can-do” and “don’t-sweat-the-small-stuff” attitude. Her nomination states: “Emily is the epitome of the type of steady, super flexible, always positive, super skilled and professional educator that every parent wants for their child.”

One of Handy’s colleagues described her tenacity: “She wasn’t going to let them fall through the cracks, just because it was COVID.” She is known to challenge students and explain a concept again and again to ensure students understand.

Velarde is described as a “go-getter and full of kindness” and “one, if not the most, optimistic people I know.” In the nomination, it said: “Staci is one of those rare individuals that has full understanding of problems and setbacks, but works to turn difficult situations into a positive learning experience.”

Oettli is known to differentiate learning to meet all the needs of her students and even videotaped math lessons in an engaging manner that was easy for students to learn the concepts during last spring’s shutdown of schools. In December, students wrote letters of appreciation to their teacher and as parents put it together, they told the nominator that it was impossible to read and not have tears came to their eyes because of her powerful impact on students’ lives.

The Valley High faculty was honored for its ability to provide connection, unity and love to overcome adversity, uncertainty and fear during the pandemic. Even while the teachers faced “fear, anxiety, pain and loss that 2020 brought to the world, their ability to battle through any and all personal struggles to be there for their students has been exemplary,” the nomination said, adding that “Valley has always prided itself on the magic that happens within our walls. The drive behind this magic is the relationships developed between teachers and students” including this hard year where faculty demonstrated “their grit, courage and love for students.”