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Local teacher best in state

Dale Thompson, Of the Record staff

Park City boasts many connections to the arts, and now they have one more.

Agnes Johanson, a fourth-grade teacher at McPolin Elementary School, was recently named the 2006 Arts-In-Education Outstanding Educator of the Year. The award was presented to her on Feb. 1 at a dinner hosted by the Artistic Resource for Teachers and Students. She earned the honor by integrating art into the classroom.

Johanson was nominated for the award by fifth-grader Katie Luse, who was a student of hers last year.

"I feel she should be acknowledged for her gift of seeing the gifts and the creative spark in all of us as she inspires students to soar higher than they ever would," Luse wrote in her nomination letter.

After 30 years as a teacher, Johanson said it feels good to have won the award but it came as a big surprise.

"I was flabbergasted, I didn’t even know I was nominated," she said.

She earned her Master’s Degree in Elementary Education from the University of Utah. Since then she has taught at schools throughout the state at different grade levels, and has come to the conclusion that teaching fourth-graders is her favorite.

"They’re like little rosebuds, they’re just starting to bloom," she said.

It’s a time when children are starting to apply what they’ve learned during their first years of elementary school, and for Johanson no topic is more important than art.

Johanson tries to integrate art into every subject. Her students recently learned about Georgia O’Keefe and did a painting to mimic her style. Then, they composed a poem with two words on each line to accompany a picture done by O’Keefe. The poetry, Johanson explained, was a language exercise that helped students learn to write summaries.

"She does an outstanding job integrating art into all areas," said Principal Lori O’Connor.

Bush’s No Child Left Behind initiative emphasizes fluency and Johanson addresses this through singing. Her students have learned a number of songs including "Weber River" by the local Prairie Crooners and also, "My Treasure Mountain Home," written by Bernice W. Hendrickson who was a sixth-grade teacher in Park City during the 1950’s and 60’s.

Because the lyrics address local history, the singing also becomes a social studies lesson.

"Music is often one of the rewards she offers in her classroom and the students respond to that," O’Connor said.

Students in Johanson’s class often begin the day with 15 minutes of movement. She trained for six weeks in Canada to learn about Education Through Music, a program developed by Mary Helen Richards. The program integrates song and dance, and has a profound effect on her students.

"The whole day is different when they do it," Johanson said.

If it isn’t singing, Johanson has the students exploring another medium because she says different students excel in different areas.

"There are students who think they don’t excel at art, but they appreciate the mathematical qualities," she said.

In a recent assignment students had to use construction paper to create a picture of their house, they were learning about foreground, background and mid-ground. She said some students felt inspired to make their cutouts mathematically to scale.

The project also allowed students to get a breath of fresh air when they went outside and painted the fall hills as a background for their art project.

Every wall in Johanson’s classroom is covered with students’ art work. It’s the result of the children’s hard work and she says the result of these projects is more tangible than a test score.

O’Connor says Johanson has had an impact on all of the teachers at McPolin Elementary School because she lives by example.

"Aggie has been the heart of art for our building. She is a reminder for all of us to be connected to the visual arts," O’Connor said.


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