STANSBURY PARK — Every spring the first-graders in Karma Dale's class patiently watch and wait for their butterflies to break out of their cocoons — or chrysalis — as it's the proper term their teacher has taught them.
On Thursday, the children set their butterflies free in a releasing party in the yard of Rose Springs Elementary School in Tooele School District.
Dale, 57, has four children of her own but takes great pride in laying the groundwork for the knowledge her students need. She happily sends them off at the end of the school year, their minds soaring as on the wings of their butterflies.
"She's like the best teacher ever," said first-grader Taylor Bryan, 6.
Dale is one of 10 recipients in the 2010 Huntsman Awards for Excellence in Education. Each winner receives a crystal trophy and $10,000. Dale says she plans to pay doctor bills and buy a better car — maybe one that actually has air conditioning and heat.
The teacher believes that besides learning the three R's the students need a foundation of strong self-esteem and positive life skills such as cooperation, kindness and anything else that would result in good karma. The teacher said her mom purposefully named her "Karma" with a "K" instead of a "C" in hopes she would be kind.
"With enough love and attention, there is nothing children can't accomplish," Dale said.
Rose Springs principal Leon Jones said, "I've never seen a teacher who impacts students as much as Miss Karma does."
Dale recalls when she was a girl she would line up her dolls and stuffed animals on the stairs and play school. "I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be a teacher," she said.
Her classroom is a whirlwind of bright colors and young voices. "Older students come back and say, 'I love how I feel in this room,' " she said.
The week preceding the butterfly launch includes a number of related activities in Dale's room. Wednesday the students sat cross-legged on colored squares of the carpet as they read out loud "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" with Dale. The kids acted out the different life cycles, crunching up into a ball as an egg, munching as a caterpillar, curling up in their chrysalis and finally releasing with wings.
Thursday the kids ate butterfly shaped peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to celebrate the launch.
Taylor is sad to let the butterflies go. She wanted to name one "Flutter." Bryant Bolinder, 7, said he wanted to name one after Utah Jazz player Carlos Boozer.
Dale tells the students, "We wouldn't want to be in a cage our whole lives, would we?"
The teacher strives to make learning fun and uses hands-on tools, as well as rewards, to encourage her first-graders to succeed. The kids work long and hard for the privilege of picking a "hard mellow" — a hardened tiny marshmallow — out of the jar on her desk.
She uses many learning activities, including a game called "A, E, I, O, U sit down."
The class mascot, a teddy bear named Corduroy, sits on a bench at the front of the room, observing their progress. Sometimes he will whisper into Dale's ear, and she will tell the class Corduroy just said he doesn't think they can spell all the words. The children laugh and shout, "We can, too, Corduroy!"
Each weekend one student gets the privilege of taking Corduroy home. The student takes photos and writes in a journal describing all the bear's weekend adventures, and Dale puts it in a big scrapbook. "He's been to Arizona, Disneyland — all over," she said.
Former students recall Dale's "Winnie the Wicked Witch" routine. In full costume, she says in a cackling voice, "I bet you kids can't get these words today." The witch then melts as the students belt out the vocabulary words.
Dale was a cheerleader in high school and sometimes whips out a megaphone and teaches letters via cheers. "Give me a T!" She also plays a drill sergeant and a pirate in different lessons about words, numbers and maps.
Parent Natalie Knudsen wrote in the Huntsman nomination materials, "Aside from the way she makes her students feel, no child slips through the cracks academically."
Dale suffered a stroke last month but quickly recovered and returned to the classroom. "As I was lying there I pictured each little child in my mind and all the things I love about each one," she said. "That strength and force brought me back. Teaching is my life."
She has instructed kindergarten and first grade for 26 years.
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