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Young learners in for a treat

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Learning about Greece?

Close your books.

If you're in Susan Van Frank's class at Cottonwood Elementary, you'll create statues and wear costumes to learn about the culture.

In fact, Van Frank's hands-on, creative, costume-wearing approach to teaching first grade applies to nearly any subject: Johnny Appleseed, the pilgrims, even magic tricks and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.

"The kids live their education," principal Verneita Hunt said of Van Frank's students. "They become it. And therefore, it becomes inherent in them. It becomes their life, and they grow to have a real love of education and learning. And that's real important."

Van Frank is Granite School District's second teacher, and the first on the elementary level, to achieve prestigious certification with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Anne Quigley, an art teacher at Hunter High School, was the first.

In doing so, Van Frank becomes one of 14 Utah teachers with the prestigious title of master teacher.

"Of all the certifications and degrees I've gotten, this is probably the most valuable thing I've done for myself in terms of professional development," Van Frank said. "It helped me see the things I was doing that are appropriate and gave me the confidence in my abilities to do what is right. I think I'm a much better teacher for having completed the process."

Van Frank spent a year on the portfolio, videotaping and research for certification. After about 200 hours of work and several testing sessions, Van Frank was too nervous to check with the board's Web site to see if she'd passed. She finally found out through a friend's congratulations last November.

Van Frank, who received undergraduate and master's degrees from the University of Utah, has taught 25 years in the Granite School District. She has a gifted and talented endorsement and has considered pursuing a doctorate degree.

"I learned a long time ago teachers can't quit learning because they have their certification," Van Frank said. "There's a quote I love: 'Those who dare to teach must never stop learning.' You have to be a lifelong learner. If you're going to be in education anymore, you just can't quit."

E-MAIL: jtcook@desnews.com