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2016 UEA Excellence in Teaching Awards

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UEA Names Top Educators and Public Education Advocates

Awards presented at KeyBank Superstars in Education Banquet

A student in Jennifer Boehme’s sixth-grade class at Elk Meadows Elementary with a rare genetic disorder that affects mental development and physical abilities loved her class. At the end of the year, he had to decide…either he could spend another year in Mrs. Boehme’s class or attend a special school. He chose to stay and had another fabulous year. A year later, the student passed away. A colleague wrote that he “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.”

Students in Robert Osborne’s class for at-risk youth in Granite School District, portray 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!,” wrote one student. “Oz is the Beez-Neez. He’s like my favorite teacher…I didn’t even like school until I came to (the youth-in-custody program)! He made a huge impact on my life! I’m really glad I got a chance to meet him,” said another.

Boehme and Osborne are two of the 10 educators honored with 2016 UEA Excellence in Teaching awards during the KeyBank Superstars in Education banquet May 13. The event was held at the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium in Draper.

Award recipients were selected based on their impact on individual students or groups of students. Each winner received an award, a poster to display at their school and a check for $1,500, courtesy of award sponsors EMI Health, Jordan Credit Union, the UEA Children At Risk Foundation and the Utah Education Association.

UEA Excellence in Teaching award recipients for 2016 are (click on name for profile):

  • Jennifer Boehme, sixth-grade teacher at Elk Meadows Elementary, Jordan School District;
  • Robyn Bretzing, PE teacher and soccer coach at Timpanogos High School, Alpine School District;
  • Alley Chai, fourth-grade teacher at Upland Terrace Elementary, Granite School District;
  • Catherine Douglass, third-grade teacher at Elk Meadows Elementary, Jordan School District;
  • Ric Jaggi, sixth-grade science teacher at Fossil Ridge Intermediate School, Washington County School District;
  • James Maughan, eighth- and ninth-grade French teacher at West Hills Middle School, Jordan School District;
  • Wendi Nelson, social studies teacher at Spanish Fork High School, Nebo School District;
  • Robert Osborne, Youth Educational Support Services Program, Granite School District;
  • Shannon Richey, third-grade teacher at Old Mill Elementary, Wasatch School District; and
  • Shaundell Smith, librarian at Sand Ridge Junior High School, Weber School District.

The UEA has presented more than 140 Excellence in Teaching awards since 2000. KeyBank has sponsored the banquet since 2012. As part of a new partnership in 2016, KUED produced a video profile on each of the 10 winning teachers shown at the awards ceremony. The video profiles are available online at

“It is a tremendous honor to recognize these outstanding educators. They are a shining example of the great work happening in our public schools each day,” said UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh. “The only thing that could be better is if we could personally recognize each and every teacher for the remarkable work they do day in and day out in classrooms across Utah.”

“We are privileged to support the Utah Education Association as it honors our state’s educators,” said Terry Grant, president of KeyBank in Utah. “These exceptional teachers comprise a vital part of our communities by ensuring our children receive quality educations. Quality education helps our communities thrive and thriving communities benefit all of us.”
In addition to recognizing the state’s outstanding educators, the UEA presented 2016 UEA Honor Roll Awards to Jim Hofeling, Jordan Credit Union, and Tami Pyfer, education adviser to Utah Governor Gary Herbert.

Charles E. Bennett Human and Civil Rights Award was also presented to Treasure Mountain Jr. High (Park City) teacher Laura Bechdel.

About the Utah Education Association
For more than a century, the Utah Education Association has been dedicated to preserving and enhancing Utah public education. The UEA represents 18,000 active classroom teachers, retired educators, administrators, licensed educational support personnel and campus education students. The UEA has local affiliates in each of the state’s 41 school districts, Applied Technology Colleges, and the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind.

About KeyBank
KeyBank is part of KeyCorp, one of the nation's largest bank-based financial services companies with assets of approximately $98.4 billion. Key provides deposit, lending, cash management and investment services to individuals, small and medium-sized businesses under the name of KeyBank N.A. Key also provides a broad range of sophisticated corporate and investment banking products, such as merger and acquisition advice, public and private debt and equity, syndications and derivatives to middle market companies in selected industries throughout the United States under the KeyBanc Capital Markets trade name. For more information, visit KeyBank is Member FDIC.

Award Winner Profiles

Jennifer Boehme

Sixth-grade teacher at Elk Meadows Elementary, Jordan School District

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.”

- View Video Profile

Robyn Bretzing

PE Teacher and Soccer Coach at Timpanogos High School, Alpine School District

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.

View Video Profile 

Alley Chai

Fourth-Grade Teacher at Upland Terrace Elementary School, Granite School District

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.

- View Video Profile

Catherine Douglass

Third-Grade Teacher at Elk Meadows Elementary School, Jordan School District

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. 

View Video Profile 

Ric Jaggi

Sixth-Grade Science Teacher at Fossil Ridge Intermediate School, Washington County School District

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.” 

View Video Profile 

James Maughan

Eighth- and Ninth-Grade French Teacher at West Hills Middle School, Jordan School District

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.

- View Video Profile

Wendi Nelson

Social Studies Teacher at Spanish Fork High School, Nebo School District

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.”

- View Video Profile

Robert Osborne

Youth Educational Support Services Program, Granite School District

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!” 

View Video Profile 

Shannon Richey

Third-Grade Teacher at Old Mill Elementary School, Wasatch School District

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. 

View Video Profile 

Shaundell Smith

Librarian at Sand Ridge Junior High School, Weber School District

“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.

- View Video Profile

Charles E. Bennett Human and Civil Rights Award

Laura Bechdel

Laura Bechdel, Language Teacher at Treasure Mountain Jr. High and Park City High Schools, Park City School District
(Remarks by Heidi Matthews, NEA Director and librarian at Treasure Mountain Jr. High, Park City

It is my sincere honor to recognize my friend and colleague Laura Bechdel. Laura's incredible influence on the Hispanic students at Treasure Mountain Junior High has expanded to their parents and our community.

During her first year teaching Spanish at Treasure Mountain Junior High, Laura researched and presented a course option for a Spanish ‘Heritage Language’ class. The course was approved under the title ‘Spanish for Spanish Speakers’ and has blossomed with far-reaching impacts in our community. This class is a catalyst for elevating and deepening the understanding of the Latino culture and important issues in our school and world.

The Heritage Language classes are united communities. Yes, the study of the Spanish language is intense, but under Mrs. Bechdel's leadership, the students study and act on other current issues as well. Students research and debate Presidential candidates’ immigration policies, visit college campuses, talk with successful Latinos about paths to higher education and celebrate cultural poets, artists and writers. The depth of experiences that students have in this class unites them - and enriches the entire school.

This unity and excitement has expanded into the community. Working with ‘Latinos in Action,’ Heritage Language students have volunteered and raised funds for non-profit organizations. Laura has successfully united these students in the purpose of claiming their cultural heritage. With language instruction at the heart of this cultural identity, students report that their relationships with their parents and family members have improved.

By bringing this class to Treasure Mountain Junior High, Laura started a movement of celebration of heritage that has widespread impact. She is so deserving of this recognition of her work for the cause of human and civil rights through education.

It is our honor to present the 2016 UEA Charles E Bennett Human and Civil Rights Award to Laura Bechdel. 

UEA Honor Roll Awards

Jim Hoefling and Jordan Credit Union

(Remarks by UEA Communications Director Mike Kelley)

Jim Hofeling served as president of Jordan Credit Union from 1990 until his retirement in 2015. During that 25-year period, Jordan Credit Union demonstrated its commitment to Utah public schools by leading out with many innovative programs to support teachers and students.

For example, Jordan Credit Union increased its commitment to youth scholarship programs. The company instituted Project 100, where each week credit union representatives show up at a faculty meeting and award $100 to a randomly selected teacher. And, the credit union regularly contributes to school district educational foundations.

A significant contribution to educators came following a focus group the UEA held with educators in their first three years of teaching. Teachers were asked what they needed during their early years. Among other things, they said they had limited funds to secure an apartment or set up their classrooms. Upon learning this, Jim worked with fellow credit union colleagues to establish an attractive loan program for new educators to help them get started.

Jim was instrumental in founding the UEA Business Partnership Board, which has grown to more than 20 corporate officers, managers and sales and marketing directors who work with the Association to provide business support for programs aimed at supporting Utah students and teachers.

In 2014, the UEA unexpectedly lost the primary sponsor for its Excellence in Teaching awards. With continuation of the program in jeopardy, Jim proposed the idea of finding 10 organizations to each sponsor an individual award. He then personally obtained commitments from fellow school credit unions, which ended up sponsoring six of the 10 awards.

For their long-time commitment to public education and to Utah children and teachers, it’s our privilege to present a 2016 UEA Honor Roll Award to Jim Hofeling and the Jordan Credit Union.

Tami Pyfer

Education Adviser to Utah Governor Gary Herbert
(Remarks by UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh)

Tami Pyfer is a fearless advocate for public education. She is relentless in her mission to change the dialogue around public education to one of positive comments and factual information. Tami has sacrificed her personal time, including giving up vacation, to speak to our teachers on how we can all change the dialogue around public education.

Tami builds relationships across the aisle and is thoughtful and educated in her advocacy of policies that will benefit public education. She has brought stakeholders together and believes in collaboration and respect.

Tami is always there to listen to concerns and provide input on critical issues facing our Utah Schools. She went “on the road” visiting multiple schools across this state to get an accurate picture of what our students and teachers are facing in our Utah classrooms.

Governor Gary Herbert provided the following tribute: “It is my pleasure as governor to congratulate my Education Adviser Tami Pyfer for being honored with a 2016 UEA Honor Roll Award. Tami has not only been an educator, she has also spent time in public service as a City Council Member and as a member of the Utah State Board of Education. These roles have given her greater perspective on the needs of the entire community and insights on budgeting, making her even more effective in her current role as the Education Adviser.
“Under my direction, Tami is working diligently to bring all stakeholders together in order to increase public dialog and better understanding of educational issues. Tami brings not only beautiful music to the Governor’s Office through her wonderful singing voice, but also laughter, excellence and professionalism. Utah is fortunate to have her strong voice advocating on behalf of all school children and their parents.”

Tami’s integrity, passion, and knowledge of public education are unmatched. She is most deserving of this award, an outstanding educator, and someone whom I am honored to call my friend. It’s my honor to present Tami Pyfer with a 2106 UEA Honor Roll Award.

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For Professional Educators

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The 2016 Excellence in Teaching Awards are sponsored by:

  • EMI Health

  • Jordan Credit Union

  • UEA Children At Risk Foundation

  • Utah Education Association