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West Valley City Journal

Inspirational teachers honored by students for their efforts, love and abilities

Jul 20, 2018 12:43PM ● By Travis Barton

The West Valley Youth City Council take a photo with the three teachers awarded as Inspirational Teachers. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

As part of its inaugural Inspirational Teacher program, the West Valley Youth City Council honored three more high school teachers during the July 10 city council meeting. 

Katherine Gaskins of Granger, Hayley Rice of Hunter and Tanner Grossman from American Preparatory Academy were selected from each high school in WVC. 

“Our futures depend on them,” said Jelena Dragicevic, YCC mayor. “They're the ones that teach us, that build us up so we need to acknowledge them in some way and form, which is why we as a group decided to do the Inspirational Teacher Awards.” 

Members of the youth city council personally surveyed students from their respective high schools, evaluated the responses and input from students, and then made its selection.

“We felt that teachers don't get enough recognition for the work they do,” said Zack Christensen, YCC vice mayor. “I mean you saw how happy Ms. Gaskins was when she received the reward and she's been teaching for how long now?” 

Each teacher received a trophy, made and donated by OC Tanner, that was presented by the West Valley City Council.

The YCC plans to recognize three teachers each semester, this being the second time. In March they honored Aaron Cousins of Granger, Michael Barney of Hunter and Jeffrey Sorensen of American Preparatory Academy

“It’s just great seeing them so happy,” said Dragicevic, a soon-to-be Granger senior. “They're not paid enough in modern day society and sometimes the job they do goes so unknown and unacknowledged.” 

Added Christensen, also a soon-to-be Granger senior, “They’re unsung heroes.” 

Katherine Gaskins 

For 21 years, Gaskins has walked the hallways of Granger High. She’s coached boys volleyball, boys basketball and cheerleading; taught world history, US history, introductory psychology, sport psychology and maybe most importantly, AP psychology. 

“I love what I do, I love the students, I love what I teach, and they feel that,” she said. It’s why she’s often referred to as “mama” Gaskins by her students. 

She’s had one of the highest passing AP test rates in the state averaging anywhere from 85-100 percent each year for the past 17 years, when she began teaching AP. Gaskins spends months preparing her students for the test. 

“I may be teaching college classes but I'm teaching high school students college classes so I have to teach them how to write technical writing essays, how to study effectively for this level to pass this test,” she said. 

She is often found at Granger late at night preparing assignments or helping students with after school reviews. “I do it out of the love and kindness of my heart because I want so desperately for these kids to be able to pass the test.” 

With her mnemonics, visual aids, labs or experiments, Gaskins teaches in a variety of ways telling her students to expect the unexpected. “I'm wild and crazy and fun and you never know what I'm going to do. I'm very hands on.” 

It may be easy to see why she was venerated as Granger’s Inspirational Teacher. 

“It’s very humbling,” she said through tears. “It's a huge honor to just have someone notice, you know what you do and how hard you work…it’s just so unexpected.”

Hayley Rice

Rice only worked at Hunter for two years, but left a lasting impression having taught English and AVID (advancement via individual determination). She also helped coach the drill team. 

One student surveyed said, “She isn’t any normal teacher, but one who sees something special in every one of her students.” 

This past year, her AVID class made up of juniors and seniors did various projects to improve Hunter. Rice said they got a mascot costume to bolster school spirit, got a mosaic up at the school, and spent countless hours volunteering to make the school cleaner. 

“It was an amazing class, a really special group of kids,” she said. 

It was at the AVID banquet where she learned of the YCC award. 

“I was absolutely blown away,” she said. “Because I was really honored that such a cool group of kids thought that I had been inspiring in their lives as well.” 

Rice, a Minnesota native who studied in Wisconsin, will be moving back to the Midwest with her husband, who got a job in Wisconsin. She will miss Hunter, but has no intention of leaving the profession. 

“To see (students) figure out what they are passionate about, what they want to do with their lives and then, as they go on out into the world, hopefully giving them those skills to accomplish whatever they want to do,” she said of her lasting memory of Hunter High. “…that those kids work hard and have dreams and being a part of helping them achieve that is really special.”     

Tanner Grossman 

A math teacher at American Preparatory Academy where he explains trigonometry, pre-calculus and AP calculus to teenagers on a daily basis, Grossman was overwhelmed with appreciation for the YCC honor. 

“I couldn’t believe it, it means the world,” he said of his reaction to the honor. “It just makes it all worthwhile. Sometimes your test scores aren’t what you want it to be and stuff, but if you can even help one person, it’s perfect. I was thrilled.”

Students surveyed from APA were effusive in their praise for Grossman. One student wrote he “wished he could grow up to be like Mr. Grossman someday.” While another wrote that “if (Mr. Grossman) were my age we’d be the best of friends, but right now he’s crazy-smart and an amazing, enjoyable person.” 

Grossman said the connection with students goes beyond the textbook. 

“Most important thing for me is obviously to teach them, but to love them as well,” he said. “You can't teach someone if you don't care about them.” 

He jokes with them, asks about their lives and finds students listen and care more in class. “Math isn't always the most fun so you got to do what you can,” he joked. 

Grossman was just as fulsome in commending the YCC. “These kids, they'll do jobs and sports and homework and yet they'll still come and do this council stuff. They're just amazing kids and they care about others.”