Park City High School special education teacher Laura Huggins wrote that her paraprofessional, Colleen Mutcher, is often referred to as "the autism whisperer" for her ability to successfully interact with the nonverbal teens with autism at the school. She said Mutcher has a voice that "engages them and yields great social interactions from them."

At last week's school board meeting, Mary Ann Gilmore, president of the Park City Classified Education Association, was proud to announce that Mutcher had received the Outstanding Secondary Care Educator Award for the state of Utah.

"She has been with the district for 20 years, starting in the office at McPolin," Gilmore said. "She then transferred to Parley's for five years in special education and then transferred to Treasure Mountain for 13 years."

Mutcher is now in her second year at the high school working with special education teacher Laura Huggins. Huggins has worked for the district in special education for seven years and wrote a letter praising Mutcher for her accomplishment.

"She never gives up and teaches, nurtures and supports the students into success situations," Huggins wrote. "She has intuitive instincts that have enabled her to know limitations, especially with our teens that escalate quickly."

Huggins said her work with the special education students is not the only reason she deserved the award. She said her ability to work with the general education teachers at the school is a skill Mutcher shares with her daily.

"Mainstreaming" special education students, which means placing those students in general education classes, can be difficult, but Huggins said Mutcher has assisted the most difficult students in their adjustment to general education classes while supporting, modifying and making any accommodations necessary.

Huggins also mentioned Mutcher's ability to discipline students with a balance of firmness and love.

"A general respect from all teens and staff at our school for her is proof that she's effective," Huggins wrote. "She's an awesome woman to work with every day, and her sense of humor gets us through the roughest days in special education."

Gilmore said Huggins thought Mutcher was highly deserving of the award for being one of the best special education paraprofessionals in the state.

"I think anyone that knows Colleen or has worked with her before would say the same thing," Gilmore said.