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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.


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


Remembering: John M. Rodak and Emerita (Emy) De La Pena

For a few years now I’ve been meaning to participate in Project 2,996, an annual effort to memorialize all of the victims of 9/11 in the blogosphere.  It’s a simple deal– I volunteered and was randomly assigned two victims to remember.

Like most everybody in the United States, I remember where I was 8 years ago this morning.  I was on my way to work in Salt Lake City.  Unlike most mornings, I opted to listen to music in the car instead of news/talk radio.  I didn’t know what was going on until I got to my desk and did my morning Drudge check.

I tried online streams for CNN, Fox News– any news outlet.  Nothing but busy networks.  Everybody in the world was trying the same thing at the same time.  I stuck to refreshing Drudge.

First tower down.

Because the full scope of these events had yet to unfold, work went on as usual.  We started a meeting, which was somber.  One guy had a sister that worked in the Pentagon.  He hadn’t been able to reach her since he heard the news.

We talked client software user manuals and data sets.  I didn’t pay attention much, which noticeably irked my supervisor.

Second tower down.

The world was changing as we deliberated.  I didn’t know anybody directly affected by the attacks, but my gut and heart were deeply affected then.  Here are a few sentences about two people I didn’t know, but who both fell victim to terrorist attacks on our own soil that morning:

John M. Rodak

Mr. Rodak, 39, worked in 2 World Trade Center.  He was just getting his day started after a 2-hour commute from his home in Mantua, N.J.  He was survived by his wife and two young daughters.

Emerita (Emy) De la Pena

Mrs. De la Pena, 32, was the mother of a 1 year old daughter, Daniella.   She worked on the 90th floor of the same building as a secretary.  She was survived by her daughter.

Mr. Rodak and Mrs. De la Pena, we remember you today.  My God bless you and all those who loved you.

Mr. Rodak, 39,

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Posted by on September 11, 2009 in Uncategorized


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