Joani Richardson is the kind of teacher who can breathe new life into words, pull magic from a page, and spark wonder in the eyes of eager-to-learn children. “I love to teach children to love to read,” says Richardson. “I have failed if I have not taught a child to love to read.”

For her dedication to inspiring her first-grade students at Altara Elementary to learn and grow, Richardson, who is beloved by scores of students, parents and fellow educators, has received one of the most prestigious awards given to public-school educators in Utah. 

On Friday, April 28, 2017, in front of cheering Altara Kittyhawks of all ages, Richardson was announced as a winner of a Huntsman Award for Excellence in Education. She’s one of 11 Utahns selected for the honor, which comes with a crystal obelisk and a $10,000 cash prize. The winners — six general education teachers, three administrators, one special-education teacher and a volunteer — are hand-picked by a panel of prominent citizens and educators after a public-nomination process. Awards will be given at a May banquet in Salt Lake.
2017 Huntsman Award Winner Joani Richardson

“Every year, our family has the opportunity of going all over the state of Utah,” said Karen Huntsman, the philanthropist and wife of billionaire businessman Jon M. Huntsman Sr., who delivered to the news to Richardson personally at an assembly. “You know what they we are looking for?  Outstanding teachers.” 

At the Friday morning assembly, which was attended by Richardson’s family (some had dialed in via FaceTime on iPhones), Principal Nicole Svee-Magann, Superintendent Dr. Jim Briscoe and School Performance Director Alice Peck, Huntsman pulled Richardson close and said, “She doesn’t teach for the money,” Huntsman said.  “She teaches for the love of teaching.” 

Svee-Magann is effusive in her praise of Richardson, who has taught for some four decades. The principal calls her a top-notch teacher who doesn’t let anything — not even breast cancer — slow her down. Even while undergoing chemotherapy treatment, she said, Richardson ran last Saturday’s Salt Lake Half-Marathon. 

“Sometimes when we have hard things happen, we have to keep going. We have to keep going forward and making a difference. This good woman is the best example of this that I know,” Huntsman added. “When hard things happen, do you think she forgets her students?  Do you think she forgets her lesson plans?  She does everything because she loves and cares about what she’s doing.  When you think about all the children she’s taught … she has impacted their lives for years and years and years.”

Richardson’s selection extends Canyons District’s streak of being home to a Huntsman award-winner. Last year’s winner from CSD, Brighton High’s Aaron Hadfield, was at Friday’s assembly to surprise Richardson with the news. But he was there in a different capacity — as a volunteer in the WatchDOG program for fathers. Also, his wife, Jody, is the School Community Council chair at Altara and was the driving force behind Richardson’s nomination.

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  • We all breathe the same air, and we all share in the responsibility to safeguard it from the harmful pollutants emitted by our homes, businesses and vehicles. “That’s what we mean when we say, ‘It’s my air, your air, our air,’” said Dawn Monson of Breathe Utah at an educational assembly at Altara Elementary.

    The assembly was organized as part of an Idle-Free Awareness Week sponsored by the school to empower Altara students to make healthy choices, whether that means combining car trips to conserve gas, or walking and biking to school instead of driving, or reducing unnecessary idling. idlingsign.jpg

    Canyons is the first school district in Utah to go idle-free at all of its school campuses — an idea that originated with Altara parent Cindy Boyer who was frustrated at seeing exhaust billowing into the air at her children’s school parking lot. Under an initiative approved by the Board of Education, no-idling signs donated by the non-profit Utah Clean Cities were installed at each of CSD’s 43 schools. On Earth Day 2016, campaign launch celebrations were held at several schools where students handed out no-idling pamphlets and window clings encouraging drivers to voluntarily turn “their keys and be idle-free.”

    Now, nine months later, Altara is challenging everyone in the school community to examine their driving habits and consider how, with small changes, they might make a difference. Altara students participated in an art contest and wrote clean air essays. Pinwheels representing their clean air dreams were displayed on the lawn outside the school. And at Thursday’s assembly, students presented “thank you” letters to Board of Education members Amber Shill and Steve Wrigley and Superintendent Dr. Jim Briscoe, expressing their gratitude for the District’s idle-free stance.

    Utah Clean Cities Northern Coordinator Tammie Cooper also recognized CSD for paving the way for other districts to follow. 

    The vast majority of CSD patrons — more than 80 percent — already power down their engines when parked outside schools, according to a Salt Lake County Health Department survey performed at three CSD schools prior to the district becoming a no idle zone. “We’re doing really well,” said Altara Principal Nicole Svee-Magann. Of the 538 vehicles observed dropping off and picking up students at the three schools, just 19 percent (101) idled for longer than two minutes — the time-limit set by the county’s no-idling ordinance. Their mean idling time was three minutes, ranging from a low of 3 minutes to a high of 35 minutes (one vehicle).

    While not a full-blown scientific study, the survey is an approximation of idling outside schools. The obvious presence of observers may have affected the behavior of drivers. In addition, the study was done on a temperate day when drivers wouldn’t necessarily be compelled to leave vehicles running to keep warm or cool. Recent upgrades to CSD’s school parking lots, which were undertaken to improve traffic-flow, may also have positively affected idling rates.

    But if no idling is the goal, these data suggest it’s well within reach, said Magann at Thursday’s assembly, which was covered by FOX13, KSL and the Deseret News.

    Other ‘Healthy School’s Steps at Altara

    • Altara Elementary is one of a handful of so-called “walking schools” within the Canyons District, which means its students aren’t bused, because they all live within 1.5 miles of the school. To help make walking the easy choice, Altara encourages students to use the Utah Department of Transportation’s “Walking School Bus” app where they can log their walking miles to enter a prize drawing.
    • Altara is the first CSD school to adopt the Utah Department of Health’s School Flag Program, which alerts parents to current air quality conditions so they can make informed decisions to safeguard their children’s health.
    Six Canyons elementary schools are raising the bar for health and nutrition, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Altara, Oakdale, Brookwood, Peruvian Park, Draper and Sprucewood elementaries have received the HealthierUS School Challenge bronze-level award from the USDA. The schools received the award for their efforts to improve the quality of foods served, provide students with more nutritious food choices, and enhance their physical activity program. 

    In recognition of their achievement, the schools will receive a HUSSC award plaque, banner to display, and $500.

    To date, 20 of 29 CSD elementary schools have earned at least a bronze-level certification in the HealthierUS School Challenge. The award is “a great accomplishment and shows the school is committed to helping their students have a healthier lifestyle,” Dana Adams, senior specialist with the Utah State Office of Education, wrote in a congratulatory letter.
    CSD is launching the 2015-2016 school year with a focus on academic success — and student safety.

    Security-door vestibules will be installed in 14 elementary schools beginning this fall. The project, scheduled for a December 2016 completion, will channel visitors into each school's main office, where they will need to sign in and receive a visitors badge before they are able to access to the school.

    The project, fast-tracked by the Board of Education last March, provides a welcoming entrance as well as direction for visitors. It allows building administrators to provide additional safety to students, staff, and visitors, and ensures a more energy-efficient entrance for each CSD elementary school. It also reinforces
    CSD's current practices, rooted in state law, to require all visitors to sign in and sign out with the school's front office staff.

    The $1.5 million project ensures the placement of security vestibules in all 29 elementary schools. The project had been budgeted over a three-year interval, and scheduled for a 2017 completion. The Board in March 2015 voted to advance the completion date to December 2016. Security vestibules have been installed at 13 elementary schools to date. Two more elementary schools – Butler and Alta View – will have security vestibules when those buildings are rebuilt with the $250 million in voter-approved bonds and open in fall 2016 and fall 2017, respectively.

    Work will begin in October on the first nine projects, which are: Bella Vista, Canyon View, Quail Hollow, Peruvian Park, East Sandy, Bell View, Edgemont, Willow Canyon and Crescent elementaries. Construction on projects at Ridgecrest, Midvalley, Lone Peak, Sprucewood and Altara elementaries is to begin in spring 2016.