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The City Journals

Cottonwood High School’s Yuri Perez awarded teacher of the year

Jun 19, 2017 12:24PM ● By Aspen Perry

Yuri Perez leads a classroom discussion on geometric sequence. (Aspen Perry/City Journals)

By Aspen Perry  |  [email protected]
Cottonwood High School math and life science teacher, Yuri Perez, was awarded teacher of the year by South Salt Lake for his outstanding work as an educator.
“Mr. Perez is kind, tolerant, and a true inspiration in the lives of hundreds of students,” said Terri Roylance, principal of Cottonwood High School.
Born in Chile, Perez’s family moved to Argentina due to political persecution. Perez moved to the United States in 1990, after completing medical school with the intent to learn about American health care practices.
“I wanted to learn about the American health care methodology and see if that could be applied in Argentina,” said Perez.
However, upon his arrival Perez learned his plans to practice medicine in the states were not going to be possible, as his Argentinian diploma would not be recognized here. Additionally, he would not be able to return to Argentina.
“The political instability in my country become so bad that I could not go back there without putting my family or my own future at risk,” Perez said.
Perez was accepted into Brigham Young University and decided to study health promotion and education, a degree that led to his first position at Heritage School, a treatment center for at-risk teenagers.
From there, Perez gained experience with the various student populations in Granite District when he was in charge of the educational programs for tobacco and drug prevention. It was not until he helped fill in for a teacher on leave of absence that Perez realized how much he enjoyed teaching.
“I loved teaching, being there with the students, as well as receiving so much back from them. I had to seek a permanent position… I was blessed enough to be accepted,” Perez said.
It would seem his colleagues feel equally fortunate to have Perez at Cottonwood High School. When Assistant Principal Michael Miller was asked about Perez’s strengths, he responded, “The real question is… Does he have a weakness?”
Miller further said, “Mr. Perez is great in all aspects of education… he is very patient, he helps students in after-school programs, and many nights his classroom light is on well after 6 p.m.”
Miller also explained how Perez’s history is a real asset for understanding his students’ lives both inside and outside of the classroom.
During a Thursday math lesson, Perez broke away briefly from the lesson after a student mixed up their words, to tell of his experience with the English language and how he often confused “awesome” and “awful”, and mistakenly told a friend’s family their dinner was awful.
His students laugh perhaps not realizing Perez’s retelling of the event is not only meant to show he can relate to their own language barriers, but also includes how Perez used facial cues to quickly correct his mistake.
From there the lesson plan picks up where it left off. Despite the class being 10 minutes away from the bell signifying lunch time, students were actively engaged in the lesson.
Though Cottonwood High School has recently become known for its challenges with the changing demographic. In response to many east side residents—within school boundaries—sending their kids to private school or receiving special permit to attend Olympus; Granite District has pulled students from throughout the valley to fill the school. But for the east side kids who remained at Cottonwood there is a real benefit, both in cultural and academic learning.
As Perez explained, despite it being a transition, when given the opportunity to work together, the results are incredible.
“The South Salt Lake students don’t want to merely be the recipients of pity, and the Holladay students many times are too afraid of offending or feeling awkward around another culture… but when they realize those are kids with the same expectations and feelings the rest is just a process of observing and being amazed.”