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A humble request on behalf of the best teacher I’ve ever known

Karma

I realize that most readers of this blog are located outside of my Tooele County community, but I’d like you to read this post anyway, because it’s about one of the best teachers I’ve ever known.

Ask anybody to name their favorite school teacher and no matter how many years or miles separate them from that classroom– no matter what their current financial status or profession– a name will immediately come to mind.  It’s the one teacher that connected with them, the one who had their back when the chips were down.  The one who taught them stuff they may not recall now, but who instilled a sense of unforgettable wonder and love.

For many kids in Tooele County, that teacher is Miss Karma.  First, I’d like you to read an article I wrote about her for the Tooele Transcript Bulletin a couple years ago:

Planting Seeds: Rose Springs’ Karma Dale to be honored with a Huntsman Award for Excellence

“I am a strawberry, where do I grow—up above or down below?”

First grade teacher Karma Dale shows a picture of the fruit to her students, who sit, all ears, on a large alphabet rug in her Rose Springs Elementary classroom.  A smile fills her face as they exclaim in unison, “Up above!” and rise to their feet.

“I’ve got a perfect class,” the seasoned instructor beams in a tone as warm and sincere today as it’s been for the last 26 years.  “An absolutely perfect class!”

Dale, 57, will be honored as a recipient of the 2010 Huntsman Awards for Excellence in Education at a banquet in Salt Lake City this Friday.

“It was a total surprise,” Dale said of the announcement, which was made by Karen Huntsman during a surprise visit to her classroom last week.

But to her colleagues, the community of Stansbury Park, and hundreds of parents the county wide, Dale was a shoe-in for the prestigious award.  Her nomination—one of hundreds across the state—was initiated by two parents in March and was quickly supplemented by a thick stack of endorsements from parents and co-workers.

“There simply are not adequate superlatives to describe Miss Karma’s teaching or her impact on children,” wrote Rose Springs Principal Leon Jones in her nomination packet.

Dale can’t remember a time when she didn’t want to be a teacher.  She spent her childhood pretend-teaching her dolls in her Grantsville home.  Her inanimate pupils sufficiently instructed, she younger brother to read before his first grade year.

After graduating from Primary in her Latter Day Saint ward at age 12, she was immediately given a teaching role in the organization.  During her high school years, Dale’s uncle Levar Hansen, then Principal of Grantsville Elementary, often asked her to substitute teach.

“That’s when I knew for sure,” she said.

Dale earned an associate degree in early childhood development from Weber State University and opened a preschool in the Hansens’ basement.  Over the next 13 years, Karma’s Kiddie Korner occupied various Grantsville locations, and “Miss Karma” became a household name.

After finishing a 4-year degree at Utah State University, Dale added her distinctive brand of instruction to Tooele’s East Elementary, where she taught kindergarten for 20 years.  She spent another year teaching first grade at Northlake Elementary before moving to Rose Springs in 2005.  After 26 years in the public school system, she still cherishes her job.

“I love to teach—it’s my everything,” she said.  “It’s my life.”

Outside the classroom, Dale’s life hasn’t been easy.  At age 25, she suffered a crippling stroke and underwent the grueling process of relearning how to walk, talk, and write.

She’s raised four children of her own—mostly as a single mother, which has meant taking extra jobs to make ends meet.  She drives a ’94 Ford with one working door, which gets her to work every day “on a prayer.”

She says her teaching career is worth the sacrifice because it has allowed her to spend time with her kids.

“My hours matched their hours,” she said.  “I had to mow some extra lawns, but I wanted to be home when they were home.”

The same dedication is apparent in Dale’s classroom, where she says she strives toward simple goal: to spark a lifelong desire to learn.  Simple too is her approach: Love.

Those first few weeks  [at school] I don’t care how  much I teach them—I  want them to know how much I value them and how much I love them.  They need to feel secure.  I don’t think, until they have those feelings, that they can start to learn,” she explained.

Dale believes students do best as active participants in the learning process.  Learning, she says, is driven by curiosity and investigation.  A well-known “Karma-ism” sums it up: “Kids learn better on their feet than in their seat.”

“I want to make school a happy, fun place to be,” she said.  “Somewhere along the way we lose that magic.  We forget that learning can be fun.”

Dale is well-known for her creative methods, which include hands-on and active experiences like hobo picnics, hatching chickens, and observing a caterpillar’s metamorphosis to butterfly.  Students are challenged to read advanced sight words by “Winnie the Wicked Witch,” who “melts” to the floor with each successful reading.

Adding another dimension to the instruction is the class mascot, Corduroy, a bowtie-clad teddy bear, who plays several roles in the learning experience.  He cheers students when they achieve; he’s there for a hug when their hurt.  Often he’s a reverse psychologist, playing foil to Dale’s optimism.

“Corduroy just whispered to me that he doesn’t think the students can write those hard words,” she’ll announce.

“Yes we can, Corduroy!” comes the emphatic response.

To promote adventure and journaling, Corduroy is assigned to a single student each weekend.  Students chronicle their adventures with him for a large class scrapbook.  He’s a well-traveled bear, boasting trips all over the country.

“He’s the luckiest bear alive,” Dale smiled.

Dale says she makes sure to emphasize things that are of utmost importance to first grade age students—like losing teeth.  Kids fortunate enough to lose their teeth under Dale’s tutelage become members of her tooth club.  Their feats are graphed on a classroom wall.

“I have kids from other classes come and say ‘I’ve heard you pull teeth.’  That’s a really important thing in first grade!” she said.

Dale’s Huntsman award is made all the more gratifying by its timeliness, as she recovers from what was likely another stroke suffered last month.   She says she doesn’t remember much about what happened, but says doctors told her later that they had given her a ten percent chance of surviving the first night.

News of Dale’s hospitalization spread quickly through the Stansbury Park.  Rose Springs was flooded with well wishes and requests for news.  A Facebook page created by family to provide updates on her status garnered over 300 followers.

To the delight of the community, Dale made a rapid recovery.  Friends and family credit her indomitable spirit.  Dale, in many ways, credits her students.

“I just pictured the kids in mind—their faces, their strengths, their cute little personalities, and I just needed to get back to those little faces.  I needed them far more than they needed me,” she recalled.

Just over a week after being released from the hospital, Dale returned to school to visit her students, where Huntsman waited to announce her award.

“I told her she should work half days for a while,” said Jones.  “But she informed me she’d be doing full days.”

Miss Karma was back in front of the chalkboard full time the following Monday.  At Friday’s presentation she’ll be given a crystal trophy and a check for $10,000.  Dale says she plans to put the money toward medical expenses and a better used car.

Dale’s students will finish the school year by finalizing school memory books that they’ve compiled all year.  But their relationship with her won’t end with first grade.

“After I’ve taught the kids they’re locked in my heart forever,” she said.

Dale says she regularly attends recitals and graduations.  Former students stop by to check in with her often.  Several have grown up and entered the teaching field.  Dale says she has no plans to retire, but when she does retire, she’ll probably return to the preschool, since she can’t imagine not teaching children.

Her focus is firmly on the present where, in her brightly decorated classroom, students are thrilling to a flannel board story about corn and flowers.

“Do you think it’s kind of a miracle that this tiny of a seed can grow this big a flower?” She asks them.

“Yes,” come the wide-eyed responses, as if with an inkling that planting good seeds is Miss Karma’s specialty.

Last year was Miss Karma’s last at Rose Springs, but she will continue touching lives as an LDS missionary.  I would humbly ask you to consider donating to a GiveForward account to help cover the costs.  We hope to present the funds  to her at her retirement party on September 22nd. So please join me in paying it forward to Miss Karma for all that she has done for our children and community!

GiveForward – Miss Karma’s Mission

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Rose Springs’ Greg Robinson inspires students with life experience and music

This article originally appeared in the December 19, 2013 edition of the Tooele Transcript Bulletin.

It’s a frigid December morning in Stansbury Park.  Students bundled in their warmest winter gear trickle into Rose Springs Elementary to finish off the school week.  The school’s snowy lawns and icy walkways leave no doubt that winter has fully arrived.  But as far as the students in Mr. Robinson’s 6th grade class are concerned, it might as well be July.

They sit quietly at their desks—some writing, some pondering—most tapping their feet to the beat of Katy Perry’s recent single, “Roar,” which pumps from the classroom speakers at a volume that would make a schoolmarm blush.

Their classroom is awash in surf-themed décor.  An eclectic mix of educational art, University of Utah football and band posters adorn the walls.  The writing and pondering and tapping continue until Katy Perry fades to The Ramones.  Then, as if on cue, all thirty students begin belting the words to “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker,” substituting “Sheena” with “Savannah,” the name of a beaming classmate.

The spectacle is a prelude to the class’s morning meeting, an energetic roster of participatory instruction that the students have dubbed “Head Strong.”  Overseeing it all from the corner of the room is their teacher, Greg Robinson, who students, parents and administration alike refer to as simply Mr. Rob.

Dressed casually in blue jeans and a Harley Davidson beanie, Robinson, 43, has said nary a word to the class since the bell rang. Instead, he lets the music do the talking: The Ramones’ “Sheena” is a signal for students to clear their desks.  They line up for lunch to “Pudding Time” by Primus.  The Coasters’ “Yackety Yak” cues their afternoon cleanup.

“Everything is music-based in here,” Robinson explained.  “They learn the transition to the music so they don’t have to hear from me all day.  The less they have to listen to me about tiny, procedural things, the more they might listen when I say something important.”

A Harley Davidson fanatic from the small town of Ferron in Emery County, Robinson spent 13 years as a Journeyman electrician with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers before taking up teaching.  He’s soft-spoken, yet direct and humble in the extreme.  His tone with students is casual, yet positive and purposeful, exuding a certain blue collar accessibility.  He’s quick to turn the subject from himself and listen intently to the speaker.

Robinson’s approach to classroom instruction is anything but conventional.  He attributes this in part to spending thirteen years in a construction field before entering the classroom.

“I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today had I went straight from college to classroom,” he said.  “Having worked for so many people, some that I really loved and some that I had a hard time with, I approached with the thought that I want this to be someplace the kids want to be.”

Hints of Robinson’s second career—the one that would become his true passion—came in his youth by way of a high school counselor.

“He said you really ought to do something with the youth because you seem well suited to that,” Robinson recalled.  “And I thought, really?  I didn’t know what he was thinking because I wasn’t even a good student.  I barely graduated—no lie!  I didn’t get it, but then as I got into my career I thought maybe I do have something to offer.”

His opportunity came in 2002 when his wife, Tara, started a private preschool, which allowed him to enroll at Utah State University and earn an Elementary Education degree.  He graduated in 2006 and took his first job as a 3rd great teacher at Rose Springs in 2007.  He taught 3rd grade for two years before moving to 6th.  The switch meant that many students who were in his 3rd grade class came back around for his 6th grade class.

“There’s nothing more obnoxious than someone who loves their job, but I do,” Robinson said.  “I can’t think of a day where I woke up and didn’t want to come here.  I always want to come here.”

Does he ever regret trading a lucrative career for the classroom?  One word: “Never.”

“Both my brothers are still electricians with IBEW, and I’m very proud of them.  One electrician co-worker asked me how I can stand being in one place,” Robinson said.  “I tell them it changes every 30 seconds when you have 30 6th graders; the adventure is there.  I don’t need anything more than what these kids provide. When you see them want to be a part of the community and you had any small part in that, that’s where you get the reward.”

That sense of community, or as Robinson calls it, “the power of the group,” is a recurring theme in Robinson’s philosophy on teaching.  In fact he considers it crucial to academic learning.  He conducts most instruction with the entire group with emphasis on what he calls the “school family.”  He said the technique, though simple, is highly successful.

“You can take somebody with high intelligence and they share that.  Instead of putting up their little cubical and blocking out everybody around them, they share that knowledge with each other.  That builds everybody up, no matter where their level is,” He said.

Key to this strategy are the student’s desire to be in the classroom and readiness for a hard day’s work.  Notably absent from Robinson’s syllabus is homework.  He has his reasons.

“If they go home with frustrating homework every night, I don’t feel like they come in here ready for the day,” he explained.  “How can you expect them to want to come to school the next day when they’ve been hammering through homework all night?  Not only that but breaking down family ties—because homework’s is always a battle, always a fight.”

He said some individual homework is warranted on rare occasions to help bring up a reading level, but he avoids group homework assignments.  The policy thrills students universally and throws some parents for a loop.

I’ve had some parents say, ‘Where’s the homework?  We need homework!’” Robinson laughed.  “And I‘ve had others come in and say things like ‘Thank you!  I’ve been teaching my daughter to sew.’  Life isn’t all about school.  There are other skills to learn too.”

Robinson said his primary goal each day is to foster an uplifting environment for the students—hence the colors and surf décor.  He pointed to a baby blue surf board standing beneath a straw umbrella near the window.

“I’m not a surfer,” he stipulated.  “I’d sink that board. But I want it to feel like summer on a really dreary winter day.  In my very first class, one of the kids in the winter said ‘It’s snowing outside but it still feels bright and happy in here.’  I thought perfect.  That‘s exactly what I wanted.  I put thought into every single thing to somehow positively affect the kids, so they want to be there.”

Music is a constant in Robinson’s classroom.  He searches for songs that lend to a positive atmosphere and incorporates them into a master playlist.  Artists like Matisyahu and 311 are prominent.

“If you think about a car ride without music, it’s just not the same at all,” he explained.  “It builds a spirit in the room.  I feel like they’re happier to turn in their papers.  They’re happier to clean off their desk.  It creates a soundtrack for their year.”

Robinson’s methods are well received by Rose Springs administration.  Leon Jones, Robinson’s principal during his first five years at the school, called Robinson a “champion of the students.”

“He has grown to be one of the most effective teachers in building confidence and high achievement,” Jones said.  “He is a remarkable teacher.”

Current Rose Springs Principal Belinda Butler praised Robinson as a role model.

“He traded financial gain for the impact he could have on the children,” Butler said.  “He helps them understand that they can succeed and conquer.  His students adore him.”

Robinson spends his summers doing electrician work to make ends meet.  When weather permits—and it does more often than you might think—he rides his prized 2008 Harley Davidson Road King to school.  The bike’s name is Rooster (Robinson said he didn’t come up with name; it was inspired).

“We’re bros,” Robinson said.  Rooster’s part of the family.”

Robinson has no love for the limelight and almost bristles at recognition.  He said he is inspired by fellow teachers, administrators and his wife.  His focus is squarely on the success of the class with the long term goal is to developing kindness and compassion in his students.  To that end, the class does several service projects each year, including an annual outing to sing Christmas carols at the Cottage Glen assisted living center in Tooele in lieu of a class Christmas party.  They also donate presents to the Children’s Justice Center each year.  Robinson frequently tells his students that the legacy they leave behind is how they treat each other.

“People often ask how I can stand to be around kids these days,” he said.  “They say, ‘Kids are so disrespectful.’ And I’ll say, ‘I don’t think you spend enough time with them, because this is the best generation I’ve ever known.’  I’m a better person because of them.”

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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So long, Saltair Substation

First went the old train.  Then went the old substation.

Yesterday, crews demolished the cinder block substation at the old Saltair site.  All intact remnants of Old Saltair are now gone.  I’m doing my research now and will have the story within the next few days.  Stay tuned.

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Speaking at Tooele County Historical Society on Dec. 14

If you’re interested and will be in the neighborhood, I’ll be speaking at the Tooele County Historical Society meeting on the evening of Tuesday, Dec. 14.  I’ll be talking about my history-driven adventures in the west desert.  The meeting takes place at 7pm at the Pioneer Museum at 47 E. Vine St in Tooele, UT.

There is no cost to attend this meeting, but $5 will buy you a year-long membership to the Historical Society.  They’ll also have some good books for sale at the meeting.  If have anything in mind you’d like me to give particular emphasis to during my presentation, contact me via email or Twitter.

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Oil blackens Utah waters, too

As oil continues to leak into the Gulf of Mexico to the tune of 40,000 barrels per day, Utahns have watched the devastation from a considerable distance.  So it came as quite a surprise to Salt Lakers yesterday when Red Butte Creek began flowing black with crude.

This time it’s Chevron in the hot seat.  The oil was traced to a leaking pipeline that feeds one of several refineries in North Salt Lake.  Crews successfully capped it late yesterday afternoon, but the damage had been done.  An estimated 50-60 gallons of medium crude leaked from the pipeline per minute, and it’s unknown when the leak began.

Though the Red Butte leak doesn’t come close to comparing to the Gulf blowout, it is tragic on many levels.  Noxious fumes and tainted water aside, the spillage drenched many birds and damaged the century-old trees along the creek.  Fish were undoubtedly affected as the slick enveloped the pond at Liberty Park.  The creek feeds the Jordan River and eventually the Great Salt Lake– a lake with no outlet– and the heart of the non-coastal West’s migratory ecosystem.

Chevron crews are working feverishly to clean up the crude, but it will take time to assess the damage.  Click over to the Salt Lake Tribune for a good run-down of the situation.

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

A sneak peak at Jack Johnson’s TO THE SEA

MTV has posted a new re:Play video featuring Jack Jonson.  In it Jack discusses his musical roots, his upcoming album To The Sea, and that Hawaiian sound.  If you listen close, you might hear a few chords from his new single, “You and Your Heart,” which hits iTunes on April 6.

I LOVE the new sound.  The new mid-life crisis hairdo, not so much.

Click over to MTV to watch part 2.

*Sorry MTV, your embed code doesn’t work for WordPress, so I had to go with the YouTube rip.  My apologies.

More Jack Jonson blogging here.

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Funny Tees: Facebook

fb-nameFacebook:  Where everybody knows your name

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2009 in Uncategorized

 
 
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