Hunter drama teacher Kjersti Parkes is Granite School District’s Teacher of the YearMay 08, 2023 03:38PM ● By Peri Kinder
Kjersti Parkes was named the 2023 Granite School District Teacher of the Year during a surprise announcement at Hunter High School. She has taught drama and theater at HHS since 2010. (Photo courtesy of Kjersti Parkes)
Kjersti Parkes was beginning to suspect something was up. During an assembly at Hunter High School on April 13, she noticed the Granite District superintendent and several district leaders in the crowd. She leaned to her friend and whispered, “This might be for me.”
She was right. Granite Superintendent Rich Nye made a surprise announcement during the assembly, naming Parkes the 2023 Granite School District Teacher of the Year.
“This award is so well deserved,” Nye said. “Ms. Parkes has a love for teaching and anyone that has been in her classes or around her can feel and sense that love. We’re honored that as a graduate of Granite, Ms. Parkes continues to share her expertise, kindness and compassion as a teacher in our district.”
Parkes has taught drama and theater at HHS since 2010 and has been an educator in the district for 17 years. She was named an Excel Award winner for Granite earlier in the year and it had put her in the running for Teacher of the Year.
“It was kind of a blur,” she said. “I did not expect it and it was a little overwhelming. My family came on stage and my students were all there…it was overwhelming but also really cool at the same time, and not expected.”
She learned her students had been in on the surprise and had kept the secret from her for a week. Looking back, she could see that her students were acting a bit suspicious, but she didn’t think much about it.
“There were so many clues I missed. There were people making sure I was in a certain place [during the assembly],” she said. “When I look back there was a ton of suspicious behavior but I just thought my students were being weird. They’re teenagers.”
As a graduate of HHS, in the class of 1997, Parkes loves teaching drama at the school where she experienced her first on-stage performance. When she took the job, she replaced her theater teacher, who was retiring. She considers it an honor to carry on the tradition of excellence the school has established.
Parkes also carries on a legacy of award-winning educators. Her mom, Kristine Davis, was a previous Excel Award winner and a teacher at Hunter Junior High School.
Teaching theater and drama gives Parkes the opportunity to help students find their voice, learn to connect with others and develop empathy. She believes the communication skills they learn in her classes help make them better equipped to deal with the world in a healthy way.
“In theater, you have to communicate with each other and a lot of students, bless their hearts, I think it’s the generation they’re growing up in, they have lost the art of communication because they live their lives on their devices,” she said. “When kids finish their work, it’s dead silence because they’re all on their phones. With drama, you can’t disengage. You have to be engaged.”
She said working as a theater group teaches students to come together to create something they’re proud of. Learning to step into a character’s shoes allows them to learn about themselves in ways they can’t experience anywhere else.
“The art of performance helps kids develop confidence in themselves which a lot of kids need to do,” she said. “I try to create an environment where it’s safe to take risks and it’s safe to explore. I really think theater teaches you how to be human.”
Parkes lives in West Jordan with her two dogs, 14-year-old Eponine and 2-year-old Molly. λ