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South Valley Riverton Journal

Jordan Education Foundation awards two Riverton teachers as Outstanding Educator of the Year

May 08, 2023 12:28PM ● By Morgan Olsen

Arnica Christensen of Riverton Elementary is surprised with the news that she has been named an Outstanding Educator of the Year by the Jordan Education Foundation. (Doug Flagler/Jordan School District)

Each year, the Jordan Education Foundation selects several teachers they feel have shown qualities of what it means to be an exceptional educator. This year, there were 15 teachers selected from the district, and two of those were Riverton-based teachers Arnica Christensen of Riverton Elementary, and Joanna Larson of Kauri Sue Hamilton School.

“Every year the foundation asks every principal to open up nominations for an Outstanding Educator of the Year for their school,” Executive Director of the Jordan Education Foundation, Mike Haynes, said. “One recipient is selected from each school to be the school’s Outstanding Educator of the Year and that recipient gets $500 and a crystal award. We then have a committee that reads through every single nomination and scores them against a rubric. Those teachers with the highest scores are selected to be the district-level award recipients. This year we had 15 district-level winners, and they each got a check for $1,000 and a nice crystal award.”

Once recipients have been selected, members of the board go around to the schools and surprise the educators with the news. 

“Once those winners are decided we work with the Superintendent and our board notifies the principal of the dates we’ll be coming to their school,” Haynes said. “The principal creates a secret party by reaching out to coworkers, families and students, and we all barge into their classroom with balloons, cheers and clapping. Every teacher this year was surprised. It was a great experience.”

One Riverton recipient, Arnica Christensen, teaches special education at Riverton Elementary. 

“She is solution-oriented and works with parents and her team to find solutions so kids can be successful,” Christensen’s principal Joel Pullan said. “She thinks outside the box of what most teachers would think. In doing that she’s able to meet the needs of all stakeholders—the parents, the team, and most importantly, the kids.”

Christensen has been teaching at Riverton Elementary for six years, and Pullan said she has done many things through the years that warrant her receiving this award.

“Laura Smith came to me over a year ago and said ‘we need to recognize Arnica for the great things that she’s doing,’” Pullan said. “That process was a year in the making. We included data relative in the classroom, and we included anecdotal information from colleagues on her team and input from parents who have had their kids work with her over the years. It literally was a year-long process of gathering information to accurately and effectively portray what a phenomenal teacher she is. It was a collaborative effort led by Laura Smith.”

Laura Smith is a colleague of Christensen’s and enjoys working with her in the special education department. 

“I like that Arnica doesn’t take no for an answer in the best way possible,” Smith said. “She’s an advocate on our team for what needs to be done for students, teachers and assistants. She is everyone’s advocate in the special ed department. She thinks about everyone else and is extremely selfless when a problem arises.”

Christensen is passionate about teaching and her passion shows in the love she has for her students. 

“Arnica is 100 percent committed to children and their success,” Pullan said. “That’s why she won the award.”

Christensen is committed to doing all she can to help her students succeed. 

“My favorite part of teaching is definitely the kids,” Christensen said. “I love being around my students and I love watching them progress. In my class, the progression can be very slow. We’ll spend an entire year working on writing their first name and be thrilled if they can end up writing one letter. It’s so rewarding to see their progress, even if it’s just a little bit at times.”

Christensen is honored to receive this award and was surprised to hear that she was a chosen recipient.

“I honestly was shocked to get this award. It’s never really been on my radar, and it’s obviously not why I do what I do, but it is nice to be acknowledged. It’s flattering and definitely surprising. There are so many amazing teachers I’m surrounded with every day, so I feel honored to be chosen.”

The second Riverton recipient, Joanna Larson, is a teacher at Kauri Sue Hamilton School in Riverton and is well-loved by her colleagues, students and students’ parents alike. 

“Joanna has an inner drive to learn more and teach better,” Principal Courtney Titus said. “She has a love for each and every student.”

Larson faces challenges each day in her position and is adaptable to accommodate those challenges. She is passionate and motivated to help the students in each of their unique situations. 

“Joanna knows all about flexibility,” Titus said. “She can come into the school with the best plan, but knows she has to meet the students where they are each day they come off the bus. She accepts and works around whatever interruptions occur throughout the day. At Kauri Sue there are days that can feel chaotic, but adapting to that and changing schedules or activities when needed has to happen. Joanna does this well. Classrooms can be unpredictable. Joanna spends her days creating schedules around the individual student’s needs, not on what is easiest for her.”

Larson’s ability to face challenges with patience and grace is something that sets her apart.

“Every day is different and every day Joanna is presented with new challenges,” Titus said. “She is always down for a change of plans and is a very patient person. Working with students who have diverse physical, emotional, academic, behavioral and mental challenges requires her to have patience for each child’s abilities. Joanna has a calm and encouraging nature which helps diffuse the frequent frustrations that come with mastering ordinary simple tasks.”

Larson’s passion for teaching keeps her going when things may feel chaotic or overwhelming. 

“I was very surprised to receive this award,” Larson said. “It shows that people see the hard work that we put in in the classroom and that we do make a difference even though sometimes the days are hard. It’s awesome to have support.” λ