This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
East High School teacher Leigh VandenAkker was surprised Monday with the announcement that she is the first of 11 Utah teachers who will be named this week as 2015 Huntsman Education Award winners.
Along with the remaining 10 award winners, VandenAkker, known by her students as Mrs. V, will receive a $10,000 prize and will be honored at a May 15 dinner at Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City.
VandenAkker said she was "shocked to death" to learn she had won the award and credited her East High School colleagues with creating a supportive and collaborative environment.
"This is a great team and that's why I look at this award as an East High award," she said. "It's an amazing group of educators."
Karen Huntsman will make surprise visits to the other winning teachers throughout the week. The full list of winners will be released Friday.
VandenAkker was previously honored as Utah's Teacher of the Year for 2012, heralded for her Techniques for Tough Times class.
The elective class, open to students in grades 9-12, emphasizes communication skills, problem solving, goal setting, self-discipline, group dynamics and study skills, based on a curriculum co-written by VandenAkker and Gayle Threet, a counselor in the Jordan district. VandenAkker's been teaching the class since 1994, first at Taylorsville High and now at East.
In 2013, VandenAkker was a Pearson Foundation Global Learning Fellow, one of 36 award-winning public-school educators who spent a week in Brazil learning from Brazilian teachers and administrators.