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2018 UEA Excellence in Teaching Awards

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UEA and doTERRA Present Top Educator Awards

Awards presented at KeyBank Superstars in Education Banquet

It’s not uncommon for Chad Warnick, agriculture teacher at Delta High School to get an early morning call to pick up a dead animal. He uses the cadavers for dissection in his classes, providing real-world experiences. His students visit veterinarian clinics, wild horse adoption facilities, floral shops, egg farms and other unique agriculture enterprises throughout Millard county.

A parent describes the classroom of third-grade teacher Leandra Bambrick as a “cozy corner coffee shop” with a variety of comfortable seating choices rather than traditional desks in rows. Her room at Morningside Elementary in Granite School District is full of exercise balls, core desks, fluffy rugs and yoga mats. “This kind of classroom environment promotes student empowerment, open collaboration, communication, creativity, movement and critical thinking,” said the parent. Bambrick personally raised the money to purchase the seating.

Most students Nicole Wallis teaches come from very humble circumstances. Many travel on dirt roads well over an hour to get to Bluff Elementary School in San Juan School District from remote homes, which makes her commitment to students all the more remarkable. “Not only was Nicole working hard in the classroom, but she was willing to meet with parents, doing many home visits,” said her principal.

Warnick, Bambrick and Wallis are three of the 10 educators to be honored with 2018 UEA/doTERRA Excellence in Teaching awards during the KeyBank Superstars in Education banquet May 19 at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi. Video profiles on each of the 10 winning teachers, produced by KUED-ch. 7, will be shown at the banquet awards ceremony and are available online at

Award recipients were selected based on their impact on individual students or groups of students. Each winner receives an award, a poster to display at their school and a check for $1,500, courtesy of award sponsor doTERRA.

UEA/doTERRA Excellence in Teaching award recipients for 2018 are (click name to view profile):

  • Leandra Bambrick, third-grade teacher at Morningside Elementary School in Granite School District;
  • Cassie Cox, English teacher at Two Rivers High School in Weber School District;
  • Ben Everitt, fourth-grade teacher at Thunder Ridge Elementary School in Alpine School District;
  • Nathan Holcomb, theater teacher at Hillside Middle School in Salt Lake City School District;
  • Carol Huebner, math teacher at Pine View Middle School in Washington County School District;
  • Rodney Hurd, social sciences teacher at North Sevier High School in Sevier School District;
  • Claudette Rush, English teacher at Riverton High School in Jordan School District;
  • Rickee Stewart, business teacher at Copper Hills High School in Jordan School District;
  • Nicole Wallis, fifth-grade teacher at Bluff Elementary School in San Juan School District; and 
  • Chad Warnick, agriculture teacher at Delta High School in Millard School District.

The UEA has presented more than 150 Excellence in Teaching awards since 2000. KeyBank has sponsored the banquet since 2012.

“The UEA is honored to recognize these outstanding educators,” said UEA President Heidi Matthews. “They are shining examples of the great work happening in our public schools each day.”

“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 will present three 2018 Honor Roll awards for outstanding service to Utah public education:

  • Rebecca Edwards, state representative from District 20
  • Robert O’Connor, principal in Park City School District
  • Rebecca Rasmussen, volunteer and substitute teacher in Washington County School District

Two additional awards were presented:

  • Charles E. Bennett UEA Human and Civil Rights Award to Jackie Thompson, former coordinator of the Educational Equity Department in Davis School District.
  • Elaine Tzourtzouklis Service to Association Award to Starleen Orullian, UniServ Director in the Granite UniServ. This is the first year this award is being presented.

Award Winner Profiles

Leandra Bambrick

Third-Grade Teacher at Morningside Elementary, Granite School District

A parent describes the classroom of Leandra Bambrick as a “cozy corner coffee shop” with a variety of comfortable seating choices rather than traditional desks in rows. Her room is full of exercise balls, core desks, fluffy rugs and yoga mats. “This kind of classroom environment promotes student empowerment, open collaboration, communication, creativity, movement and critical thinking,” said the parent. Bambrick personally raised the money to purchase the seating.

Student engagement in Bambrick’s classroom goes well beyond seating. Her classroom is right out of Harry Potter, filled with potion bottles, house flags and owl mail boxes. During the first week of school, each student participates in a Hogwarts sorting ceremony. According to the parent, “belonging to a group right at the beginning of the year [gives] the students a sense of pride and comradery.”

To facilitate small group interaction, Bambrick raised funds to purchase a classroom set of Google Chrome Books. This technology keeps students learning and involved. Similarly, the small group strategy aides struggling students who might otherwise feel overwhelmed and mentally disengaged.

Cassie Cox

English Teacher at Two Rivers High School, Weber School District

A parade of professional poets, authors, speakers and workshop coordinators have inspired the high-risk students at Two Rivers High School, thanks to the efforts of Cassie Cox. She spends many hours writing grants to make the visits possible.

Because Two Rivers is an alternative school, students don't have the same access to extracurricular activities, clubs or performances as their traditional high school peers. Cox provides opportunities for students to participate and encourages engagement in the community. She supports other hobbies and passions of students by giving artists a place to sell their art, organizing community events featuring students from her school and helping students pay to attend plays, performances and competitions. 

Cox is committed to allowing her students the ability to be themselves and achieve their goals. “She promotes student creativity in every aspect of her job and outside of school, as well as giving students information or the opportunity to attend community events,” wrote a former student. “She was the person who kick-started my career as a performance poet.”

Ben Everitt

Fourth-Grade Teacher at Thunder Ridge Elementary, Alpine School District

A co-worker calls Ben Everitt a natural leader. “He helps everyone in our school. We call him ‘Mr. Fix It.’ He helps solve printer problems, computer problems and pretty much anything else that needs to be fixed. Ben is a problem solver.”

But Everitt didn’t begin his career as a teacher. After starting and operating several companies with great success, he felt a strong desire to make a difference in the lives of children and teaching seemed a logical choice. He decided to share his knowledge and passion with students.

Everitt worked with other teachers to develop a schoolwide STEM program. He has spent many hours creating curriculum and writing successful grants to launch the initiative. He also wrote a grant to create a greenhouse at the school and spent innumerable hours volunteering his time to design, build and maintain it, complete with an aquaponics system. His work included coordinating several Eagle Scout projects and involving many volunteers. Teachers now sponsor a “greenhouse camp” during the summer, helping students understand more about their world.

Nathan Holcomb

Theater Teacher at Hillside Middle School, Salt Lake City School District

Managing a performing cast of 300 is no small task. Now consider these are middle school students from all different backgrounds, many of whom have never been in any kind of organized production. They must show up after school for two hours, four-to-five days per week to rehearse, build sets, help with sound, make costumes and everything else a full-scale performance entails. These are the challenges faced by Nathan Holcomb.

More than half the students at Hillside volunteered each of the last four years to be in Holcomb’s performances. “This might not seem like a big deal, but these plays have blown all of us away,” wrote a fellow teacher. “Nate gives the gift of music and theater to children who might not otherwise have any opportunities to perform.” Last year’s musical was so popular that all shows were sold out and another added.

Holcomb goes to great lengths to make sure everyone is involved and has something to do. Students who normally would have nowhere to go after school can participate and feel important, valued and respected.

Carol Huebner

Math Teacher at Pine View Middle School, Washington County School District

Sometimes Carol Huebner transforms herself into her alter-ego, Radical-X, to perform the “Math Rap” song or stands on her head to recite the Pledge of Allegiance as a testament to the power of the mind. Her entertaining demeanor puts students at ease and opens their minds for learning experiences. 

Using a system of incentive rewards paid in ‘kid currency’ and by adding a few friendly competitions, Huebner makes math fun. She views real-time reports to help her make immediate corrections. Using technology, she creates a new dynamic between the student and teacher. Software becomes the ‘grader,’ allowing the math learner to view the teacher as an ally rather than the red-pen-wielding enemy. The payoff is shown in end-of-level proficiency scores near 90 percent the past two years.

As the Mathcounts coach for her middle school, Huebner saw program sign-ups go from about a dozen students per year to more than a hundred. She admits it is sometimes heartbreaking when the number of participants must be whittled down to ten or so for the final competition.

Rodney Hurd

Social Sciences Teacher at North Sevier High School, Sevier School District

During ten years as an officer in the Marine Corps, Rodney Hurd traveled to many countries. These experiences bring the world to life for his students. He uses Mukluks from Norway and dolls from Japan when he teaches geography. He uses authentic Islamic clothing when he teaches about world religions. He brings his experience to teach life skills that will carry over into the lives of students.

Besides geography, Hurd teaches business law, economics and US government at the high school, in addition to teaching history at Snow College in Richfield. He also helps minority students with college and scholarship applications, allowing many to successfully attended the school of their choice.

Hurd teaches students to take a stand in government issues and encourages them to make their voices heard by communicating with government leaders. Each election year he takes students to the voting station where he encourages those eligible to register to vote on-the-spot. As students see their friends registering and people voting, they gain enthusiasm for participating in the democratic system.

Claudette Rush

English Teacher at Riverton High School, Jordan School District

Claudette Rush has been an integral part of the Language Arts department at Riverton High since the school opened in 1999. She established the award-winning Tabula Rasa literary magazine, incorporating student writing, art and photography.

Students say Rush provides a classroom where they feel safe and able to be themselves. Even students who don’t take her classes flock to her because of her caring reputation. “Many of the school’s unique students find Claudette the only teacher they are comfortable talking with,” said a fellow teacher. “Without Claudette, I feel many students would remain on the fringe and not become part of the school. She embraces their uniqueness and helps them understand that it is through their uniqueness that they are valuable. Claudette is my model for how to interact with all types of students in a compassionate way.”

Rush started and became the advisor of a Gay-Straight Alliance club. Initially the GSA meetings were poorly attended, but after several years it has grown to a much larger and inclusive group. They hold regular meetings, providing a safe environment for students.

Rickee Stewart

Business Teacher at Copper Hills High School, Jordan School District

Her principal calls Rickee Stewart a “natural born teacher” who “did not listen to her heart when she was younger and went to law school.” As a working attorney, she realized she wanted something else. She chose to leave a high-paying profession and become an educator. “Her experience in law has made her a powerful business teacher because she has experienced the business world with real-life experience as an attorney,” wrote her principal.

It is common to see Stewart working with DECA/FBLA students to prepare for competitions and plan service projects. Her students are examples of strong leadership, hard work and determination to succeed.

Stewart was recently married. In lieu of gifts, she invited well-wishers to donate a coat for the homeless students at her school. The response was amazing. The unique request caught the attention of local and national media. Stewart’s passion for Utah students made her a strong advocate, moving people to act. To date, the school has distributed more than 6,000 coats to students in several school districts.

Nicole Wallis

Fifth-Grade Teacher at Bluff Elementary School, San Juan School District

Most students Nicole Wallis teaches come from very humble circumstances. Many travel on dirt roads well over an hour to get to school from remote homes, which makes Wallis’ commitment to students all the more remarkable. “Not only was Nicole working hard in the classroom, but she was willing to meet with parents, doing many home visits,” said her principal.

Wallis recognizes her students’ circumstances are largely out of their control and their parents are doing the best they can with very limited resources. Sometimes the main constant in these students’ lives is their teacher. 

Two years ago, Wallis’ husband, who also taught at the school, was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. She helped with her husband’s treatment while still being a teacher leader in her school. Her husband passed away on a Thursday, the week prior to the school’s SAGE tests. Knowing her students would perform better with her in the classroom and not wanting the hard work of her students to be overshadowed by her personal loss, she returned the next Monday to be with them and administer the test.

Chad Warnick

Agriculture Teacher at Delta High School, Millard School District

It’s not uncommon for Chad Warnick to get an early morning call to pick up a dead animal. He uses the cadavers for dissection in his classes, providing real-world experiences. His students visit veterinarian clinics, wild horse adoption facilities, floral shops, egg farms and other unique agriculture enterprises throughout the county.

Warnick was nominated by several students. Here’s what they said:

  • “He knows what he is teaching and is passionate about it, which makes learning from him fun and rewarding.”
  • “Most impressive of all has been his continued investment in my success after graduating high school.”
  • “Because of Mr. Warnick, I received a national award that I never dreamed I would be able to get without the support, guidance and encouragement of this amazing teacher.”
  • “When I first took a class from him, I thought I was just there to learn how to make floral arrangements, but at the end of the year I was a state champion in the Floriculture CDE.”

During Warnick’s tenure at Delta High, the FFA program has grown from about 30 students to more than 100 and the agriculture program from about 90 to 160.

Charles E. Bennett Human and Civil Rights Award

Jackie Thompson

(Nomination comments by Denise Lake, award accepted by Thompson's son, Michael Thompson, pictured)

A giant is defined as a person or thing of unusually great size, power and importance. Let me tell you about this giant named Jacqueline Thompson.

Dr. Thompson retired from Davis County School District in May 2017. As the Coordinator of Education Equity, her responsibilities included the Parent Equity Committee, multicultural education, civil rights issues and AVID. Dr. Thompson received her doctorate degree in education from Utah State University in May 2010. She has taught school in Pocatello, Sacramento and in Utah. She worked at the Utah State Office of Education as the equity specialist. 

In 1987, she was instrumental in creating an Outreach Program with Hill Air Force Base, Davis County School District and Utah State Office of Education. 

She is a past president of Utah NAME chapter, where she co-authored an article titled, “A More Diverse Circle of Friends.” The article was published in the April-June 2011 issue of Multicultural Perspectives, the official journal of NAME. She was instrumental in starting the Dr. Martin Luther King speech, writing and video essays for Utah. Even today, students present their essays to the Utah State Board of Education.

Dr. Thompson has received numerous awards and national recognition. She is the recipient of the State Human Rights Commission – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 2011 Drum Major Award. Dr. Thompson does character portrayals which include Rosa Parks and Bessie Coleman.

She is a mother, a grandmother, friend, a teacher and an advocate for social justice and education. She is a very humble and quiet person, but the words that come from her mouth and heart are very powerful. She is someone who will always fight for the right and stand by your side, when you need her too. 

Dr. Jacqueline Thompson is a giant. She is a giant in advocating for children, teachers, families and everyone.

UEA Honor Roll Awards

Representative Rebecca Edwards

(Nomination comments by UEA President Heidi Matthews)

Representative Becky Edwards, from Utah House District 20, was elected in November 2008. From day one, she has been a champion of education, not just for Davis County, but for the state of Utah. Throughout her career, she has fought for students, educators, families, women and the underdog. She has been a woman of great courage, taking on difficult issues that other legislators shy away from. Because she is so respected by legislators on both sides of the aisle, she has been incredibly successful in passing difficult legislation. 

This year, Representative Edwards announced this would be her last session, which is a huge loss for us! Luckily, Representative Edwards decided to end her Legislative career with a bang, fighting two battles that are important to our students:

First, she was successful in passing legislation to change one of the statutes sent from Utah to the US Capitol to Martha Hughes Cannon, showing our students that Utah honors the contributions of both men and women to the great state of Utah.

Second, in the waning days of the 2018 legislative session, she successfully fought and passed legislation that made the Our Schools Now compromise a reality. Thanks to her work with the Our Schools Now advocates and legislators, we now have a path to historic funding increases in Utah. The Our Schools Now compromise and the accompanying funding package are a critical first step in providing Utah students with the public education they need and deserve. 

Bob O'Connor

(Nomination comments by Julie Hooker)

During his 10 years at Treasure Mountain, Bob O’Connor oversaw the development of the International Baccalaureate Program; realignment from a 6th-8th grade school to a 8th-9th; implementation of the SIOP program to ensure best practices for English Language Learners; created a gifted/talented program that included an award-winning robotics team; and supported the creation of an inclusive leadership program that provided opportunities for students with special needs to participate in the community.

Bob hired and empowered his teachers to ensure that the needs of all students were met. Along with being in the hallways during each passing period and the lunchroom Bob stood outside in freezing weather to meet and greet students each day. This accomplished two things: First, it developed connections with his 700 students. Second, because Bob took bus duty, his teachers could be in their rooms working with students before and after school.

Bob’s faculty called Treasure Mountain “Camelot” because we felt supported valued and able to focus on our students. As a veteran teacher, I can say that I have NEVER worked with a more effective administrator.

Five years ago, Bob was transferred to Park City High School to serve as principal. With Bob’s leadership, the 1,200-plus students there have excelled in everything from academics to debate to athletics to robotics. Bob manages to maintain the best and most effective parts of education while embracing new ideas that will serve students 

During his last year at Treasure Mountain, Bob realized one of our English language learners was in real trouble. She was tired, coughing up blood and without warm clothes and decent living conditions. Bob made sure her teachers and paraprofessionals could work with community resources like The People’s Health Clinic to help her. I was surprised when Bob missed the first part of the talent show on the last day of school before Christmas break. Then I learned that he partnered with a local hotel to get a bed, a sofa and other necessary items to the girl’s apartment. Bob loaded up his truck with everything this student and family needed. Essentially Bob was Santa for this 13-year-old student her older sisters and her nephews living in a one-bedroom apartment. This was the impetus for the Pop-Up Pantry at Treasure Mountain and Park City High Schools. 

Rebecca Rasmussen

(Nomination comments by Kristen Snow)

Rebecca Rasmussen has been an amazing volunteer in Washington County schools for many years. She is an astronomy enthusiast who has graciously shared her knowledge, time and resources with our 6th-grade students.

Our students in Washington County do not have access to wonderful resources like the Clark Planetarium. Our students miss out on the wonder that comes from a field trip to such a special place. Mrs. Rasmussen has become the provider of amazement to our students. She owns an inflatable planetarium and not only does she bring it for our students to experience, she will set up for three days to make sure every student gets an opportunity to sit inside the dome. Mrs. Rasmussen stays all day long and runs the software and tells amazing facts about objects in our solar system.

Mrs. Rasmussen has great patience with the students and is a wealth of knowledge, answering the many questions that come her way. She does it all free of charge. And she doesn't just do it for my class, or my school, but for all of the teachers who request her to come.

It is hard to find the words to thank her enough for providing such a special experience for our students. And the tokens of appreciation we give her never seem enough. It is with much gratitude that I recommend Rebecca Rasmussen for the UEA Honor Roll Award.

Elaine Tzourtzouklis Service to Association Award

Star Orullian

(Nomination comments by Susen Zobel)

Star Orullian began her career, as many of us do, as a classroom teacher. She was asked to join the Murray Education Association on her first day as a new teacher. She knew that joining the Association was the way to influence others and thus became a member of the Murray Education Association on day one of teaching.

As she taught, she found there were many in her building who were afraid to speak up for their rights, or who just didn't know their rights, and she began advocating for them as a colleague and friend. Many in MEA leadership recognized early Star's leadership skills and started planting the seeds that she needed to become more involved in the Association.

It wasn't long before Star was elected as an Association Representative from Riverview Junior High. She then ran for and won a seat on the MEA Executive Board where she served, increasing her knowledge and skill. Eventually, she ran and won the seat of MEA Vice President and then MEA President and served with distinction.

It was during her work in the Murray Education Association that she met Elaine Tzourtzouklis, who saw potential in Star and mentored her during her time on the MEA Executive Board and later as MEA President. In Aug 2003, Star was hired by the Granite Education Association as Executive director and immediately went to work building relationships with members and district personnel.

Over the past 15 years, Star has created a local Association that is a model for others for their organizational effectiveness membership growth, effecting change and collaboration with management. 

GEA is now one of the largest and fastest growing Associations in the West. GEA has shown huge teacher salary gains of over 25 percent and membership gains of over 30 percent. She has negotiated contract language that guarantees a continuing salary schedule with steps and lanes, retirement stipends and bonuses, work condition language as well as sick and personal leave increases. The contract she has negotiated is one of the strengths of Granite District and the pride of GEA. 

Star is not only a great advocate for her members, but she has become the "Advocates' Advocate". There isn't a day that she is helping and answering questions for other UniServ Directors that are still learning or have a problem they have not encountered before. They know that Star has the skill to help them find a solution.

UEA Honor Roll Awards

Representative Marie Poulson

(Remarks by UEA President Heidi Matthews)


UEA Honor Roll Awards

Representative Marie Poulson

(Remarks by UEA President Heidi Matthews)


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