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Sylvia Mathis

After about 30 years of teaching, the Huntsman award is the perfect retirement send off for Sylvia Mathis.

"I've had a lot of wonderful experiences with teaching," she said, "but it's time to turn some new pages, try some new things."

Mathis works as an extended-learning-program teacher at Ensign and Wasatch elementary schools in Salt Lake City. Throughout the day, she runs from classroom to classroom, school to school, working with gifted students in grades four, five, and six. Mathis said she works particularly hard to help students embrace mathematics.

"It's fun to watch them become more confident with what they do," Mathis said.

In her spare time, she coaches elementary-through-high-school students through the rigorous International Future Problem Solving competition. In this competition, students study five emerging world issues and their potential impact on future generations. These are no easy topics — some examples include the redistribution of wealth, child labor and artificial economies.

"It's so hard for them to get started on it, to work throughout the fall," she said, "but by spring it's just amazing what they can do and what they can write and how it affects their communication skills."

When she received the award, it came as a shock. "I truly thought it was a dream, it was just so unreal," Mathis said. "It was just a total and complete shock and surprise."

How do you keep your students on track and learning despite today's challenges such as bullying, gang violence and digital distractions?

"I just think you have to make them understand how important learning is, make it exciting for them and make it interesting."

— Elise Bassett