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Principal Judy A. Nixon of Canyon Heights High laughs with students Michelle Rhodes, left, Jennifer Mann and Jake Tippets.

Eleven educators and school volunteers, considered priceless for their dedication to children, are about to receive $10,000 each for their efforts.

Six teachers, three administrators and two volunteers have been selected to receive Huntsman Awards for Excellence in Education, which include a $10,000 check and crystal trophy. The awards, to be bestowed at a Friday ceremony, were announced this week by the family of humanitarian and billionaire industrialist Jon and Karen Huntsman.

"We deem it a privilege to be able to honor this year's recipients of the Huntsman Awards for Excellence in Education," Jon Huntsman said. "Each and every teacher, administrator and volunteer is deserving of our respect and appreciation for their outstanding efforts and commitment."

Peggy W. Woods, third-grade teacher, Lomond View Elementary, Weber District

Peggy Woods is described as a tough teacher with a soft heart.

The 28-year educator and third-grade teacher has high expectations for herself and her students. She regularly seeks to improve her teaching, be it through university classes or educational conferences. She creates lessons specific to each child's abilities and regularly tests them to ensure they are improving. For those who need it, she offers tutoring outside school hours — sometimes, without pay.

"Peggy loves, unconditionally, every child she teaches and strives to see that each child experiences and knows the feeling of success," principal Brad Larsen wrote in nominating Woods for the award. "She never misses a chance to tell a student how great they are."

Woods rewards student accomplishments with coupons for hamburgers or ice cream cones. She sends parents notes about their child's progress and includes her home phone number with an invitation to call anytime. She tells the children she doesn't know what she would do without them, that they are her life.

"She has dedicated her life to these lucky children," parents Glade and Tonya Jones wrote. "I wish more teachers were like her."

Arthur D. Lujan, assistant principal, Backman Elementary, Salt Lake District

Friends never have to worry about what to get Art Lujan for Christmas: Just send a check to Sub for Santa and adopt a family in need.

The Backman Elementary assistant principal uses much of his free time helping others, be it a faculty member who needs to talk, a parent with questions about school, or a student needing clothing or tutoring while battling cancer. Bilingual in Spanish, Lujan also often helps translate for non-English-speaking families applying for loans, Medicaid services or working with businesses.

"He is our personal Old Glory, our heart and soul, our spirit, our confidante, our everything," Principal Fern Wilkerson wrote in an award nomination.

Lujan, who once was caught up with gangs, turned around his life and became a Navy SEAL, Vietnam veteran and two-time Purple Heart recipient. Now in education, he continues to serve proudly.

"Today all students, impoverished or not, need real heroes, genuine role models; Art is that and more," Wilkerson wrote. "He personally invented the words: work ethic. He represents the spirit of America and all that is good in education."

Vickie Harper, fifth-grade teacher, Century Elementary, Box Elder District

Century Elementary's Vickie Harper focuses on preparing fifth-graders to enter middle school the following year, be it through tutoring before school or hands-on science enrichments after.

But what she really does is prepare students for life.

"She challenges them to push a little harder and to stretch their minds," parent Paulette Lyons said of the 29-year educator in an award nomination letter.

Harper's high expectations apply to all students. She never gives up on them and has turned around children who come to her class from juvenile detention.

Special education students, who principal Christopher Brown says account for one-fourth of her class, present opportunities for children to learn about abilities within disabilities. Students learned about Braille last year when they had a blind classmate; this year, they are learning sign language under a deaf peer's tutelage.

"Thank you for being so kind to all of us," student Morgan Nelson wrote in a letter to Harper, "and thank you for helping all of us to know that we are special just the way we are."

Lynn L. Archibald, principal, Willow Valley Middle School, Cache District

Teacher, mentor, friend, leader — that's Lynn Archibald.

The principal of Willow Valley Middle School and educator of 34 years is praised as an instructional leader who encourages teachers and students alike.

Archibald regularly visits with students, even at home when they're sick or injured. He lets them choose birthday presents from his "treasure box" and disciplines them with dignity.

He has even whisked a teacher who went into labor to the hospital.

"He genuinely cares about everyone at school," teacher Tami Britt wrote in a nomination letter. "Those under his supervision really strive to do their best, not because they feel pushed or threatened, but because they really want to live up to the high expectations he has for them."

Archibald also has built a warm and respectful rapport with parents, calling them equal partners in their children's education.

"He is so deserving of recognition for the lasting positive effect he has had, not only (on) me and my children but hundreds of other parents and students as well," parent Barbara Shidler wrote.

Chad L. King, band director and student government adviser, Millcreek Junior High, Davis District

Chad King starts his school day at 6:30 a.m. with two before-school jazz bands. He ends it with an after-school student government class, evening concerts and band competitions.

The kids know the Millcreek Junior High band director and student government adviser works hard for them. And they're happy to reciprocate.

"Always, his goal is to raise the awareness of students as to their potential to achieve excellence and to make a contribution to the world," Kim and Lowry Redd wrote in nominating King for the award. "Students rise to his expectations, and the results are enlightened minds and enlarged souls."

King teaches student officers leadership skills by requiring they meet new students each week and create activities to unify peers.

The member of Utah National Guard, "Kings of Swing" and Salt Lake Symphonic Winds bands also turns shy students into confident performers.

"He sees students individually in a sea of students and somehow gives them a chance to shine," science teacher Doug Wood wrote. "He has saved some kids."

Larry K. Ward, seventh-grade science teacher, Rocky Mountain Middle, Wasatch District

Larry Ward's influence is found in students at Rocky Mountain Middle School — and the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, where a former student is a teacher and an AIDS and mad cow disease researcher.

"Without Mr. Ward, I would have missed out on one of the most important influences in my life . . . a fascination with and love of nature," wrote associate professor of preventive medicine and biometrics Samantha MaWhinney. "This amazing gift has given me incredible joy, influenced my career and research interests and my decision to live in the West."

Ward's students experience science. They observe cold-blooded fish breathe differently in different water temperatures. They learn about a bobcat's diet by assembling bones found in the predator's cave. They search for rocks and minerals studied in class.

His summer science class, which includes a mountain campout to teach about nature, is so popular students have to be turned away.

"Larry is constantly trying to learn new and exciting ways to present material to children," wrote fellow science teacher Kimberly S. Conlin. "He is truly a giant among teachers."

Judy A. Nixon, principal, Canyon Heights High School, Davis District

Judy Nixon has a knack for knowing what students need, and for fostering programs or donations to make sure they get it.

Nixon leads Canyon Heights High School, which serves young parents and, new under Nixon's leadership, emotionally fragile students who were failing in regular school settings.

She has proven the two groups contribute to each other's academic success, colleagues say. The pairing also has encouraged more young fathers to enroll and girls who place babies for adoption to stay, since not all classmates have children.

Nixon, who created a district family counseling program in the 1980s, has contributed to several other Davis District programs, including directing a program that brings dropouts — 400 last year — back to school. She seeks Sub-for-Santa money for students and their babies who need it. She keeps a student assistance closet filled with food, blankets, diapers, clothing and school supplies.

"She is an amazing woman who knows everyone deserves a second chance," graduating teen parent senior Hannah Spears wrote.

Brian Richard Bentley, director of choirs and music instructor, Hillcrest High, Jordan District

Brian Bentley teaches high school music on a professional level, say those whose lives he has helped shape.

With a doctorate degree in musical arts, Bentley leads seven choirs and the Symphonic Orchestra and teaches AP music theory and a music course for the International Baccalaureate program. Along the way, he has influenced several students to pursue music careers.

"As a singing teacher, actress and choral conductor today, I still find myself quoting the principles he taught me word for word to my colleagues," Keri Anderson Hughes wrote.

Bentley teaches students to study composers and the meaning of their music, and how to perform their work with passion, parents and students say. He also aims to set an example for students, once even telling judges he accidentally included in competition a student who should have been disqualified for low grades.

"It did cost them the award they had hoped for and probably would have received," wrote parent Vicki J. Ashton in her award nomination letter. "But a great lesson was learned by all that honesty and integrity is truly the greater prize."

Mary Louise Bean, English teacher, Viewmont High, Davis District

English teacher Mary Louise "Lou" Bean shapes students into readers, writers and creators.

Bean once encouraged a student who loved sketching cars to write Ford Motor Co. about becoming a designer. That student since had his $550,000 concept motorcycle appear in the Nieman-Marcus Christmas book, Viewmont High colleague Debbie Jones wrote in a nomination letter.

Bean, who regularly attends writing workshops, has writing circles in class to help students discover their talents. One student even won a national PTA Reflection contest for her essay about her deceased father.

Bean picks out novels for individual students, hooking struggling readers on books. One now reads 700-page books for pleasure; another went on to become a physician.

"The sparkling enthusiasm of Lou Bean boosted the self-esteem of my children," wrote parent Debra E. Randall. "She let them know she believed in them and that they could succeed."

Diane Fullerton, volunteer, Lincoln Elementary, Salt Lake District

Diane Fullerton's child attends school in her Holladay neighborhood.

But Fullerton volunteers at a low-income school in inner-city Salt Lake City, where she didn't know anybody before she called two years ago and asked how she could help a school in need.

Fullerton focused her energy on the school's student motivation program, "Lincoln Loot," where students can "buy" rewards — often, toiletries and other necessities — with good behavior. When she arrived, the loot store was in disarray. Today, it is neat, brightly decorated and packed with treats, books, toys and school and other supplies donated by church groups, businesses and anonymous strangers.

Leaders say she has deeply affected the school community, which rallied around her when she was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago. She still comes to school and has become a mentor for a woman who volunteered there as part of a drug treatment program.

"Working with Diane at the store has given me a great foundation in my sober support system," McKinsey Mackin wrote. "It has helped my self-esteem to know that I have something to offer others and can help."

Connie Stratton, volunteer, Three Falls Elementary School, Washington School District

Teachers at Three Falls Elementary put in long days.

So does Connie Stratton. Only she does it for free.

Since her oldest of six children began kindergarten in 1987, Stratton has volunteered in schools, school community members say.

She is a reading tutor and gifter, often slipping clothing or hygiene items in the backpacks of students in need.

She's a Halloween Carnival and Valentine Tea assistant. A lice-checker. A vision screener.

She organized and oversaw the Secret Santa Gift Shop. She helped create the Children's Native Plant Garden.

She helped raise $30,000 and secure a matching grant for playground equipment, which Stratton installed herself with the help of a backhoe she operated.

"The inspector made the comment that he had not seen a better job of installation anywhere," principal Kathleen B. Petersen wrote in nominating Stratton for the award. "We educators and children of Three Falls Elementary depend on her for help almost every day. She never disappoints us."