Students in Aaron Hadfield’s “American problems” class don’t just learn about the country’s governing bodies, politics and history. They experience it firsthand in simulations that challenge them to apply their knowledge of such concepts as freedom, democracy and justice.
And in the process — whether they’ve spent two weeks under totalitarian rule or jockeying for their party’s nomination at a mock presidential primary — Hadfield’s students walk away with a profound appreciation for these principles and a desire to learn more.
For his creativity and ability to light a fire in the most dispassionate of learners, the Brighton High teacher was one of 11 teaching professionals in Utah chosen to receive Huntsman Awards for Excellence in Education this year. Utah philanthropist and billionaire Jon M. Huntsman and his wife Karen Huntsman sponsor the awards “to give thanks to the best teachers, administrators, and volunteers in Utah for continually seeking ways to improve the quality of education in [public schools].”
The winners for 2016 are being notified in the coming weeks, and in May, they’ll be honored at a banquet and receive $10,000 checks. “We’ve known about your teacher for some time. And it makes me really emotional and want to shed a tear when I’ve been able to come into his class to meet him and to realize the impact he has had on students for so many years,” Karen Huntsman told some of Hadfield’s students in a surprise announcement at Brighton High on Wednesday.
Hadfield’s gift, she said, is to open young peoples’ minds to the wonders of the world in all its complexity. “No one person has all the right answers,” she told students. “I hope that when you leave this class, and leave this school, that you will remember this teacher; that you will be the type of person that he wants you to be. He wants you to be able to go forth in this world and make a difference with civility [and] to understand and value differences.”
Hadfield thanked family members in attendance and Canyons District administrators, specifically Brighton Principal Charisse Hilton, for supporting his unconventional instructional methods. “I’m so grateful to her," he said, "for allowing us to do what we do, and go outside the lines sometimes, in ways to make education better.” And he thanked his students, encouraging them to take what they’ve learned in his classroom and build upon it: “I’m absolutely convinced that my future is tied to you. There is no way I will be free, there is no way that my children will benefit from the blessings of this country, without you.”