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Holladay • Shortly after joining the faculty of Bonneville Junior High 15 years ago, history teacher Rose Jacklin noticed that the school's landscaping could use some work.

The atriums were "a mess," she said, and an old tree on the grounds had partially fallen over.

Not one to sit back and wait, Jacklin took matters into her own hands.

"I took a chain saw one Friday afternoon, and I cut that tree down and cleaned it out," she said. "Then the principal asked me to be in charge of cleaning up the school."

That assignment led to Jacklin organizing biannual projects in which she enlists Bonneville Junior High students in clearing lawns and planting trees.

She said the projects are meant to encourage citizenship — a complement to the love of country and community she encourages in her history classroom.

And Thursday, Jacklin was visited once again by her school principal. But instead of a new assignment, he brought with him a visitor in the form of philanthropist Karen Huntsman, who informed Jacklin she had been selected to receive a $10,000 check and one of this year's Huntsman Awards for Excellence in Education.

"I thought I'd done something wrong," Jacklin said of the surprise visit. "It's stunning. I don't know what else to say."

Jacklin is one of 11 educators chosen by the Huntsman family for their annual awards, which recognize public school educators, administrators and volunteers for their work and service.

Huntsman has spent the past week visiting schools from St. George to Cache Valley to surprise the winners. Her family has been offering the awards for more than 20 years, and she said each year's crop is as talented as the last.

"Every group stands out. They're all uniquely different," she said. "And they touch the lives of students."

Huntsman said the idea to offer the awards originated with her husband, billionaire Utah philanthropist/industrialist Jon Huntsman Sr., whose father and grandfather were educators in the Fillmore area.

"My husband broke the mold and decided to go into business," she said. "He just woke up one morning and said, 'Let's honor teachers.' "

Huntsman Award winners are recognized at an annual banquet, scheduled this year for May 15 at Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City. They each receive a $10,000 prize, with the only caveat being that they spend it on themselves and not their students.

"They cannot put it back in the school," Huntsman said. "[Jon Huntsman] will not allow that."

Seven of this year's winners have been notified. The remaining four will be announced Friday. This year's honorees include Jacklin, Midway Elementary School teacher Paula Vee Kerr, Willow Valley Middle School Principal Teri Cutler, Millcreek High School Principal Terry Ogborn, Davis High School teacher Kimberlee Call, East High School teacher Leigh VandenAkker and Spanish Fork High School teacher Alyssa Larsen.

VandenAkker, who was named Utah's 2012 Teacher of the Year, said she was "blown away" by her award announcement.

"It was such a surprise," she said. "I'm still getting over it."

VandenAkker teaches an elective social studies course called "Techniques for Tough Times," which she developed. The course focuses on so-called "noncognitive skills," including teamwork, critical thinking and communication. She presented a TED Talk on empowered students at Brigham Young University in 2012 and was a featured speaker at the South by Southwest education conference held in Texas in March.

"These are necessary skills," she said of her coursework. "They are power skills."

VandenAkker and Jacklin, the two award winners from Salt Lake County, have more than five decades of combined experience in Utah classrooms.

Jacklin said she's never looked at teaching as a job, but instead considers her profession to be a call to service.

When asked about her prize money, she said she might look into taking a cruise, but hadn't made up her mind yet.

"You don't expect $10,000," she said. "I don't know what to do with it."