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Murray’s Aoyagi touches hearts

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MURRAY — Pamela Aoyagi likes to dress up like book title character Clifford the Big Red Dog.

She's not afraid to sport a Cat In the Hat stovepipe, either. Or deck herself like DW, the sister of popular children's book character Arthur the aardvark.

She figures such stunts help her Longview Elementary first-graders want to love learning to read.

"She's one of those teachers that as you look back later on in life, and there's one teacher that stands out, it would be her," said parent Stephanie Speirs. "They don't come any better."

Murray School District apparently feels the same way, considering officials there chose Aoyagi for Teacher of the Year honors.

"Mrs. Aoyagi is the teacher that each parent hopes will come into the life of his (or) her child, a professional who knows her craft, loves her students, teaches them skills, prepares them for the future, models for them a zest for life, and leaves them with a love of learning," principal Janice Evans said in her letter recommending Aoyagi for the honor. "Pam Aoyagi leaves footprints in the hearts of students."

Aoyagi is a Birmingham, England, native who moved with her family to Utah as a child. She missed a lot of school due to childhood illnesses and remembers feeling far behind her peers and left out when she was well enough to return. The experience sparked a desire to become a teacher.

"I knew that when I grew up, I wanted to make sure no child ever felt that way," she said.

Aoyagi, who attended the University of Utah and graduated from Brigham Young University, keeps her classroom moving. Often, parents come in to read to children or help out around the classroom. She keeps reading, math and science "boxes" filled with stories, activities and other props that students can take for extra enrichment.

Sometimes, she even attends student soccer games and dance recitals on weekends and in the evenings. She just can't bear to pass up an invitation from one of her "kids."

"I have a genuine affection for children," Aoyagi said. "They are creative, they are original, they are delightful, they have an insight into things. I think as you grow older, you start saying things you want other people to hear. But first-graders say it the way it is.

"There are no illusions in first grade."

E-MAIL: jtcook@desnews.com