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The City Journals

Two Canyons teachers nominated for national award

Feb 21, 2019 01:21PM ● By Julie Slama

Oakdale Elementary teacher and LifeChanger of the Year nominee Allison Fortie helps a student on the computer. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Recently, two Canyons School District teachers were nominated for the national LifeChanger of the Year award. 

National Life Group’s LifeChanger of the Year is an annual program recognizing K-12 educators and school employees who are making a significant difference in the lives of students by exemplifying excellence, positive influence and leadership. Students, parents, colleagues and administrators nominate these LifeChangers. 

When nominated, each LifeChanger receives a congratulatory frame and an opportunity to be a LifeChanger of the Year winner, which annually, in the spring, awards one winner $10,000 to be shared with the winning school and four grand prize finalists of $5,000 to be shared with the winning schools.

Utah had 12 nominees — 11 teachers, including Midvale Middle’s Debbie Delliskave and Oakdale Elementary’s Allison Fortie, and one principal — for the 2019 award.

Debbie Delliskave, Midvale Middle School seventh-grade math teacher

Delliskave, who has been teaching 27 years, was nominated by an anonymous Midvale Middle School student, where Delliskave has taught the past seven years.

“When I first got the email, I opened it and read there was posting on social media and I figured it was just a gimmick, so I junked it,” she said. “Then, I got another, and again, I put in junk email. When I got a frame in the mail, I went back and looked at the emails in junk. Then, I got a third email so I went to talk to Mindy (Robison, school principal).”

When Robison wasn’t in her office, Delliskave and a secretary searched the internet to realize Delliskave’s nomination was real.

“I was never so surprised. I’ve received a lot of nice pats on the back, but the name of this — LifeChanger — and the fact it came from a student — means I made a difference,” she said.

Midvale Middle School teacher and LifeChanger of the Year nominee Debbie Delliskave helps a student understand a math problem. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

In the nomination, the student, who was enrolled in an advanced math course, wrote: “Not only does she push me, among other students, to higher expectations of themselves, but she has an engaging style of teaching. Overall, I learned not only math, but life skills that continue to help me throughout my school experience.”

Delliskave said by the time she realized the award was for real, Canyons Superintendent Jim Briscoe had emailed her a congratulatory note.

With the award, the public can post messages in support of the nominees. Colleague and Midvale Middle IB MYP Coordinator Shelly Allen supported the student’s nomination in her post: “Deb Delliskave is an amazing educator. As her colleague, I have learned so much from her example. She has high expectations for all students. She works tirelessly to help all students reach those high expectations. Deb’s students know she cares about them. She helps students develop a love for learning and higher confidence in themselves.”

Delliskave, who has been a Canyons School District finalist for Teacher of the Year and honored by Jordan District as one of the top teachers of the year, also is known as students’ go-to source for math help as she regularly volunteers to help students after school. 

Last year, she was recognized in the Effective Teachers in High Poverty Schools Incentive Program, which was created by the Utah Legislature in 2017 to reward teachers who achieve a median student growth percentile of 70 or higher in their high-poverty classrooms. Her students achieved 80 percent.

“The current eighth-grade students know that they had the biggest growth in the entire state,” she said. “They can connect math to real life. It’s all about patterns so if they can spot patterns, it doesn’t matter if they don’t have everything memorized. When they realized their mistakes, then their real learning began. I’m so proud of them.”

Fellow teacher Bethanne Lenhart said Delliskave changed the way students think about math.

“She focuses on growth mindset, a philosophy which embraces and even celebrates mistakes, in order to progress learning,” she said. “From her support and focus on explicitly teaching kids it is OK to fail and how to reflect and learn from it, students learn to be proud of their efforts and persevere even though it is hard. By the time they leave the class, even the most insecure math students leave with more confidence and belief in themselves.”

Delliskave also uses technology to help her students advance in math, even posting lessons done in class to help those who are absent.

She said the reward was the nomination alone and if she wins, would earmark her funds to help finish the loft area in the new middle school, something that wasn’t completed when the building opened fall 2017.

Allison Fortie, Oakdale Elementary third-grade teacher

Like Delliskave, Fortie received a congratulatory note from the superintendent after she, too, thought the original email was junk mail. 

Fortie, who has taught seven years, all at Oakdale, was nominated by an anonymous colleague, who appreciated her attitude toward helping both school children and her colleagues learn.

“Mrs. Fortie regularly seeks out what is best for students to truly change the trajectory of a struggling learner, and she does it all in 180 days or less,” the nominator wrote. “Mrs. Fortie is an informal leader within our school both at a team and school-wide level. Teachers of all abilities regularly seek her out for advice, expertise, and problem solving.”

Principal Lori Jones said Fortie is creative, thoughtful and always willing to come up with new ways to help students, including teaching them technology.

“Last year, her entire class wrote individual letters to please let them have her as their teacher again,” Jones said. “They said she listens, helps them with math, challenges them in writing and introduces new subjects such as coding and Little Bits (modular electronics, which snap together with small magnets for prototyping and learning).”

She received the Little Bits with a grant from the STEM Action Center to help teach students the properties of force, motion and gravity.

This year isn’t any different as Fortie, frustrated with the limitations of an app she downloaded on her phone wasn’t helping the class enough in learning how to balance their classroom cash, worked with her father, who works in the computer industry, to create an app for her class.

“It helps kids understand how to be responsible with money, record it, transfer it, add and subtract and appreciate its value,” she said, adding that she will attend a technology conference in March to share with others about it. “It’s efficient and it’s a card with a barcode similar to what we use, so they understand the real-world application of it.”

Fortie also uses QR codes for several projects, including a scavenger hunt at parent-teacher conferences, which engages both students and parents in the discussion. Parents also can sign up for remind app or look at the third-grade weebly to learn about what is going on in the classroom.

“I incorporate technology because that’s where their lives are headed, with jobs and school,” she said. “They will interact with teachers online, and coding will become part of most every job. It’s important that students have the computer mindset.”

Shara Paskett has volunteered in her classroom and supports the nomination.

“(I) have seen firsthand the care and concern she shows each individual child,” she wrote in her post. “She also plays a supportive role to her co-workers in helping them with things that they are struggling with, whether it be a tech gadget or providing a listening ear. She is very creative and spends countless hours working to improve her classroom in order to provide an exciting and functioning learning environment for the children she teaches.”

Last year, Draper Elementary’s second-grade teacher Madison Ellingson and administrative assistant Marian Broderick were both nominated by colleague and teacher Katie Madsen. Madsen, herself, was previously nominated. 

Also in 2018, Bell View Elementary Principal Chanci Loran nominated fourth-grade teacher Madaline Chilcutt, and at Altara Elementary, Principal Nicolee Svee-Magann nominated administrative assistant Wendi Christensen.