Kindergarten teacher Betsy Thurgood helped to create the West Point Centennial Nature Park for students.
Darrell Bailey, with his passion for history and learning, teaches Viewmont High students to think.Both caught the eye of an anonymous donor who, through the Davis School District Foundation, surprised each with a $2,500 cash award for excellence in education.
"I was so surprised that I'm afraid I wasn't a good award recipient," said Thurgood, who received the award while teaching reading to her West Point Elementary kindergartners. "I said, `Boys and girls, this is a paycheck. But there's something different about this one: It's more than the one I get to take home every month.' "
Thurgood, an 18-year teaching veteran, will spend the money on a family Disneyland trip. But Bailey, a current issues teacher honored at a faculty meeting in May, was not immediately sure how he'd spend the greenbacks.
"I don't see myself as any different than you," the teacher of 34 years told colleagues. "I've reached the conclusion after all these years that collectively, we make a difference in (student) lives."
Bailey also has been rewarded by Weber State and Brigham Young universities for his way with students, despite having 50 per class, more than twice the state average of 23.8 students per teacher.
"If there's a teacher epitomizing what a teacher should be, it's Mr. Bailey," said former student Alex Jensen, a starting forward for University of Utah basketball. "He cared about what he taught and he cared about the students."
Thurgood influenced students by coordinating a Centennial Schools project to create a 4.5-acre nature park. She lobbied the West Point City Council to donate the land. Several community donors have pitched in, with one contractor donating $10,000 worth of excavation services.
The outdoor learning center, dedicated last fall, includes three ponds, rocks, trails, a duck nesting site and wetlands area. Thurgood continues to write grants for the program to pick up where Centennial Schools funding leaves off.
"Not every child feels they do well with paper and pencils, but every child has a natural curiosity," Thurgood said. "Our hope is we'll be able to change a generation of students and have them educate families and parents on how to care of the the environment and appreciate and study plants and animals and know their value."