r Two Nebo School District educators were honored in May with Huntsman Awards for Excellence in Education. They are J. Merrill Hallam, a science, math and biology teacher at Spanish Fork Junior High School, and Monica Giffing, an agriculture and biology teacher at Springville High School.
The Huntsman Awards for Excellence in Education is celebrating its 25th year recognizing the importance of school education. On May 12, Jennifer Huntsman Parkin welcomed the newest inductees as well as the winners from each of the previous 24 years.
Jon and Karen Huntsman welcomed and thanked the winners, their families and their nominators in the audience for their impact on others. They shared personal stories of why education is important and explained, “The children of today will become adult citizens and leaders of tomorrow.”
“The growth and future of our country highly depends upon the quality of our educators.rMost of us can point to that one educator who truly affected our lives, both in and out of the classroom. We remember the one teacher who really pushed us to achieve, or the instructor who refused to let us take the easy way out. And while we may not remember much else about that school year, we definitely remember that teacher,” stated Jon and Karen. “We have received and read many nomination forms for fabulous teachers, administrators and volunteers. We are fortunate in our state to have exceptional teachers who make school an exciting and interesting place. Our winners this year possess a passion for the subjects they teach and genuine care for the students with whom they work. They inspire their students to play with ideas, think deeply about the subject matter, take on more challenging work, and even pursue careers in a particular field of study.”
The National FFA Organization’s motto is: Learning to do, doing to learn, earning to live and living to serve. That motto exemplifies J. Merrill Hallam.
As a lifelong learner himself, he clearly recognizes that being an example is the best way to teach. In his many years of experience, he has never lost the drive and motivation of a young teacher and continues to engage students through innovative technology and hands-on activities in his biology classroom. In addition to teaching science, he worked as a school counselor and math teacher.
rHallam has been teaching since 1982. Anyone entering his classroom knows it will be a different kind of learning experience. From antique farm tools hanging on the wall to an old barn wood fence separating the desks from the learning center, his classroom is engaging. The seats in his computer lab are made of old milk cans and tractor seats. His innovative classroom design sets his students up to be critical and conscientious thinkers. Currently, he teaches biology and his students score above the district and state averages on the state SAGE test.
Hallam is an advocate for Career and Technology Education; he knows the sense of satisfaction and self-worth that comes from this type of learning and wants students in Nebo School District to feel this gratification in their education. He assists the district in many ways. He has worked with the Board of Education, district and school administrators and teachers to procure funding to build new greenhouses and an auto body facility as well as renovate and build new animal-raising facilities. Hallam contributed both his time and talents to reinvent these facilities while saving the district thousands of dollars.
Monica Giffing is a progressive, enthusiastic and selfless educator. Able to recognize and celebrate potential greatness in all students, she tenaciously creates ways for them to find success in classroom experiences and in real-life opportunities.
Starting as a part-time agriculture teacher at Maple Mountain High School and Springville High School, Giffing built the program to full-time teaching positions within her first two years as a teacher. Under her direction, the program now includes three full-time agriculture teachers. Currently, she serves as the science chair.
In her classroom, Giffing transformed the traditional delivery of curriculum from “teach, preach, test and forget” to interactive student-driven lessons and experiments that ensure students learn by discovery. She identifies “I Can” learning outcomes and provides engaging activities that promote critical thinking. This has revolutionized long-term comprehension and increased end-of-level test scores by 40 percent for students.
Giffing shares her passion for agriculture in the community. Under her direction, students sell their produce grown in student gardens at farmers markets. All proceeds from the market are retained to help students offset school and project expenses. Leftover produce is donated to the local food pantry.
Supporting an inclusive education model, Giffing began teaching students with severe disabilities at the Oakridge School about the art of agriculture. This program has grown from the Oakridge students participating in her greenhouse growing classes to 12 students raising show pigs for competition.