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John Jay Harris – Eaglecrest Elementary

My story is simple. I’ve never seen a teacher that is so dedicated and willing to use their personal time for the benefit of students. More than once Harris has personally delivered an object my son has left at school to our house, knowing he’d struggle without it. He’s kept us in the loop of what’s happening in his classroom with pictures and regular personal email updates. Our son loves going to school finally and it is because of his buddy ‘Harris.’ Not only is he a friend, but he’s doing incredible things to help our son develop his skills. He knows all his favorite books and knows just how to help him be successful. We are so grateful for what he’s done for our child.

Here are several other stories of Mr. Harris going above and beyond from parents and aides that have worked with him:

I have worked with John Jay for 6 years now. This guy IS amazing and I am happy you want to do this. I see behind the scenes all the extra time, money, and love he puts in EXTRA for these kids and it is…amazing. He is kind of still a kid himself so I think he does understand these guys, (and gals,) a bit better than the rest of us. Here are just some things that I have seen.

Just this year we had a student that was stranded with car problems with his mom and grandmother in St George. This student ended up missing about 2 weeks of school. Mr. Harris kept in contact with the family and offered, more than once, to go down and get the student so that he would be in school. Mr. Harris was so sad that this student missed Halloween. He absolutely would have gone down and brought that family back on his own time and dime just so that student would not have missed our Halloween activities.

Mr. Harris spends HOURS on his laptop trying to find anything that just one particular student would enjoy to help bring that student out and to get them excited about the class and the world around them. Usually those hours are spent between the hours of 12:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m.
Mr. Harris is the ONLY teachers I have ever seen come out to recess and spend his time with the kids. And not just his students. All the little kids on the playground flock to him and will stay with him as he wanders around the playground talking to all the kids. He brings rocks, that he polishes himself, and keeps them in his pocket and gives them to the kids as a special gift from him. Many a time he has had us as his helpers to throw sparkly gems or polished rocks on the playground for the kids to find. When a child finds a special gem they will run up and show us with a grin from ear to ear, so excited about their new found treasure. (We are always instructed to be as secretive as possible about the flinging of the gems!)
Mr. Harris LOVES music and teaches with it every day. He is a musician and loves to share his drums and musical abilities with his class. The kids will see Harris play his drums, a trumpet, an accordion, a konk shell and so many other fun and magical instruments, I can’t even begin to list. He draws the kids out of their worlds with music. He makes the music fun and exciting and the kids LOVE it! When a teacher has a birthday he will take his accordion and sing to them in their class. (Usually a song about begin really old!) The class if filled with music and the students love it.

Mr. Harris LOVES kids and especially special needs kids. He teaches the special need mutual and loves it, then comes the next day to school and tells us how much he loved the night before all while hugging the kids he spends the whole year with.

Mr. Harris is not only a special needs teacher by day, but the Clear Creek principal in the summer. He told me once that he teacher so he can go to Clear Creek all summer. He also is in charge of the Choir at our school. Sometimes more than 100 students sign up! Mr. Harris is not an easy man to work for, but I have been so blessed to have the opportunity to watch and learn from the master of unconditional love. I call him the Autism Whisperer. He can’t fix an autistic child, but it isn’t because he hasn’t tried EVERYTHING in his power to do so. I guarantee if you have a child in his class they will want to be there every day and everyday they will feel special, happy, and loved!

Just a side note, thanks for letting us have Charlie in our class. We have loved having him and his sweet disposition to brighten our day. You know for a classroom with no windows I think our class has the most sunshine of any class that does. He has been a blessing to our class.

–Suzanne Jones, Aide and sidekick

We learned so much from Mr. Harris, I don’t know where to begin. Our son, Luke, had Mr. Harris for three years in a small group autism class and during that time we were trying many different things to get him to speak, both dietary and additional speech therapy. Luke began to go into terrible meltdowns. He would bite, pull hair, run to the bathroom and scream. Mr. Harris told us that all behavior is communication and he regularly contacted us through e-mail and phone calls about Luke’s behavior until we finally figured out that it was the vegetable capsules (our doctor had recommended) that were causing Luke to be severely constipated. Luke loved the capsules and would eat several a day, but you were supposed to drink an entire 8 oz. of water with each one and he wasn’t getting enough water. Luke had been in terrible pain, and after we took him off the vegetable capsules, he became his normal loving self again. Mr. Harris patiently helped us work through many months of trying to find out what was wrong.

Another thing we learned from Mr. Harris that I think about all the time with raising Luke, is that one of the main goals is to help these children be able to function in the regular world as much as possible, so even though noises, lights, anything sensory, other people, etc. bother them, they still need to be exposed to these things regularly so that we are able to take them places. Mr. Harris had a student that would have a fit any time someone said, “Shhhh” and he was sheltered from that and consequently when he got into high school, other kids would use, “shhhhhh” to tease him. Very sad. So Mr. Harris would have a class singing program for the parents every month, take the kids on field trips, have big parties for birthdays and holidays, and when the kids had meltdowns, he would help them work through it. I really appreciate that advice because at the time, it would have been much easier to leave Luke alone in his room where he seemed to prefer to be, but over time as we have insisted on taking Luke shopping with us, taking him to Cub Scouts, taking him to church, etc… he actually does quite well now and is able to tolerate the noises, etc… better. I’m so grateful we worked on it while he was young because it would be so much more difficult now that he is bigger in size.

Mr. Harris truly does go above and beyond. He welcomes parents in the classroom to observe or to help out in class or on the playground after they sign in at the front desk and wear a “volunteer” badge. He gets parents involved with helping to plan the parties and with helping on field trips. I love knowing what my son’s day is like and knowing the teacher’s assistants, other students, and children on the playground. He also takes an interest in each child and makes an effort to get to know them and their families. Every year he has an “Ultimate Field Trip” where the class and teachers visit each child’s home and the student is able to show the things they are interested in which are often very different than what a typical child is interested in. My son loved having his class come and getting to show his favorite things and I think it is wise of Mr. Harris to get to know each child individually and I think he learns a lot on these visits that allow him to target more effective ways to help each child.

He also cares about each one and makes an effort to keep in touch even after they leave his class, through the yearly Christmas party. It is huge and everyone is invited who has ever been in Mr. Harris’ class. It is a big reunion and the kids bring a wrapped dollar store toy and a plate of cookies and they play games and take pictures with Santa and everyone gets a gift to take home. It is nice to have activities for our kids especially since they often don’t have many planned events going on for them.

Mr. Harris has many talents and I know the district has asked him to train other teachers. With his experience, he could easily move into administrative positions and make several times what he makes now in the classroom, but he chooses to stay and his influence is huge at that stage where the children are still so pliable and teachable. We appreciate what he has taught us and feel he would be very deserving of the Teacher of the Year Award.

Thank you,

–LaNae Stout

Mr. Harris has educated two of my sons and he has loving, carefully, and with great humor and fun drawn them out of their shells and put their feet on an amazing path.
He takes these kids that could easily be targets for bullies and he makes them the cool kids of the school. Mr. Harris is so much fun and treats ALL of the children in the school so wonderfully that everyone loves him. He polishes rocks and then hides them, or small plastic jewels or other tiny treasures on the playground to brighten the days of all of the students. He’s the epitome of the COOL teacher and then he spends that social capital by letting all of the students of the school know that HIS special students are amazing and rockstars and everyone is lucky to get to know them. He creates such a culture of acceptance it’s amazing. We’d be in the grocery store and would hear kids saying, “Hey! That’s Michael! He’s in Mr. Harris’ class! Hi Michael!” How cool is that?

He even has extended his caring to ALL of my children, autistic or neuro-typical that attend the school. I am amazed at how much love he has for his students and for ALL of the children of Eaglecrest.

As a photographer, I’ve had the opportunity to spend full days in the classroom, creating images for Harris to share with the parents and his fun, easy-going personality keeps learning fun, but there is great order and structure to the class as well. All of the students are always so happy and comfortable and welcoming and I put that down to Harris and his amazing aides. He makes everything FUN! He engages these kids on so many levels and brings out the best in each. They learn and grow and have fun in a way that I wish ever child could experience.
I also love, as a mother and a photographer, the way that Harris is committed to capturing these kids with his camera for the parents. It’s hard, as a parent to slip into these classrooms, and then back out, because it can really disrupt them, but Harris sends along such great pictures that capture these kids as they TRULY are. He brings out their best selves.

I could go on and on and on, but I have never doubted that Harris does what he LOVES best. He puts his whole heart into every single day he teaches at the school. The kids who pass through his doors are lucky lucky kids, indeed.

–Rachel Rehart

My name is DeAnn Anderton and I’ve worked as an aide with Harris for one year — one amazing year! I am going back to school to become a special ed teacher, so when a job came open with Mr. Harris I was excited to work with him and learn his magic. Unfortunately, he can’t TEACH what he does for it really is magic. And yet, it isn’t magic at all. It’s love. Plain, simply, pure, honest, unconditional love and the kids feel that. Kids are hard to fool and autistic kids are impossible to fool. They love him because he loves them. “His” kids, and every kid in the school, seek him to feel that acceptance and love. He probably has six to eight non-students come visit him every day. His “parent face” is his real face. He doesn’t get nicer when parents are around, he’s always nice. If a child is having a hard day he’ll look at the aides and say, “How can we help? What is wrong here?” He does not believe they misbehave, he believes they get uncomfortable for some reason, and we need to find that reason. He’ll often say, “I was thinking of _______ in the night and I think he’d really like . . . ” He prays for these little people and carries the philosophy that we are all blessed beyond measure for the privilege of associating with them. He refers to several things as, “the good-time, happy, fun (whatever) of joy” in his off-beat humorous way, but he has created a good-time, happy, fun classroom of joy — it’s not quite as sappy as it sounds =D. I’m sorry I can’t give specific stories, and I know you were really seeking parental input, but I wanted to add my support for this amazing teacher. And tell you that part of why he’s amazing is because he works with the most amazing children. He’s just open-hearted enough to let their pure souls influence his. Thanks for sharing your precious son with us. He is darling! And thanks for thinking of this, a teacher like Harris deserves to be recognized.

–DeAnn

I can’t say enough good about Mr. Harris. We recently moved and my son was transferred to his class. It’s always very nerve wracking when you have a special needs child and have to make a big change like that. Up to this point, we had to fight, beg, wrestle and bribe our 7 year old to get him to go to school. It was disheartening and very hard on all of us. We said many prayers to find a better situation for our son. Then he started in Mr. Harris’ class. After ONE day in his class, he was eager and willing to go to school. Our son talks at more of a 3 year old level than his 7 years but there was no mistaking how happy he was as he talked about “Harris” with huge smiles on his face. Incredible! This teacher goes above and beyond! He not only makes his classroom loving, accepting and fun but he pushes the kids to work harder and learn and to prepare them for the real world. He sends us regular, personal email updates with fun pictures of our son participating in school activities. He works with the kids all month long learning fun, new songs and then invites all the parents to come in at the end of the month to watch the kids perform. It’s so cute and my son is so excited and proud to have us come see him perform in what he calls “the big dance show.” There aren’t a lot of opportunities for kids like this to participate in things like this and I really feel it makes them feel special and builds their confidence. I could go on and on about this amazing teacher but I will just close by saying that he is an answer to our prayers. He’s amazing and spends much of his personal time and money to make his class the best that it can be! We love Mr. Harris!

–Steffani