A sea of teachers and their families honored with special evening at the aquarium
Before Michele Weeks joined the Draper City Council in January 2016, she knew that recognizing Utah’s teachers was a priority in her mind. So, just two months into her council position, she took it upon herself to solicit donations for and coordinate the first annual Teacher Appreciation Night at the Aquarium.
“When I ran for state senate, I started to realize that we have some of the best teachers in the United States here. When you look at our class sizes and the amount of money these teachers receive, it showed me that our teachers are very dedicated to our community. I believe they are the heart of our community because they are the ones raising our kids and making sure that Utah has a bright future. With my kids in school, I noticed the difference in an exceptional teacher. When my child has an exceptional teacher, my child thrives. But it didn’t feel like they were getting the recognition that they deserved. When you reach out and thank a person for doing a great job it inspires them more,” Weeks said.
She found that companies and sponsors jumped on board, seeing the need for this kind of recognition and the need to keep excellent teachers in our school system.
As a result, teachers and their families totaling 900 people gathered last May for an evening of dinner, door prizes, recognition, and exclusive access to the aquarium. “I didn’t want it just to be the teacher and their significant other, I wanted it to be so the teachers could bring their families to enjoy a night of dinner and the evening at the aquarium,” Weeks said. Last year’s door prizes included such things as televisions, cameras and potted plants, and this year Weeks hopes to add prizes like resort passes.
The teachers who were invited had been chosen Teacher of the Year for their school from each of the schools in the six area districts; Canyons, Alpine, Murray, Jordan, Salt Lake City and Granite. All schools select a Teacher of the Year in March or April. Then the PTA or School Community Council narrows the nominations to a handful that go on to the school’s foundation to choose the final winner. Each district ultimately selects one teacher. Finally, the governor selects one from the entire state as Utah’s Teacher of the Year.
Weeks realized that only one teacher from each district is ultimately selected Teacher of the Year, so there were many great teachers whose recognition she felt needed to go further than just within their particular school. “I felt we ought to recognize more teachers that were selected Teacher of the Year and make sure they know the community really supports their contributions to our society,” Weeks said.
“Little kids were so proud of their mom or dad for being recognized as Teacher of the Year. You could see how proud these families were,” Weeks said of last year’s gathering. Following the event, she put together a book of pictures and quotes from the evening that she gave to the sponsors. Quotes from the book include:
“Thank you so much for giving my family the opportunity to celebrate at the aquarium. We had an amazing time and I felt very special and very honored.” Heather Sullivan, Canyons School District
“Thank you for a great night. It is so nice to be appreciated and to see the aquarium. It is great to see these wonderful sponsors support teachers and ultimately support children and education! Everyone was so kind. Such a great night.” Rachel Bingham, Canyons School District.
This year’s event will be even bigger with some 1,200 anticipated guests. Weeks plans to include charter and private schools this time. “As a council member, I can’t reduce their class size or increase their pay, but I can make sure to give them recognition so they know the community values their time in our school system,” she said.