Inside the green-doored portable at Samuel Morgan Elementary School, the fortunate students in Stephanie Povey’s 4th grade class are immersed in a learning environment created by a master teacher. Mrs. Povey has been teaching for about thirty years, including over two decades at Morgan Elementary. This marks her third year as half of a teaching team responsible for educating the 48 fourth graders who participate in the school’s comparatively new French dual-immersion program. Students spend the English-instruction portion of their day in her classroom, learning language arts, math, history, geography, and some science. My daughter is among them—the second of our children to learn from Mrs. Povey. Though Mrs. Povey has taught for decades, the energy and passion she brings to her teaching is undiminished and remarkable. She ascribes to the philosophy that kids learn by hearing, seeing, and doing. In addition to reading the book Sadaku and the Thousand Paper Cranes, students make paper cranes and hang them from the classroom ceiling. They sing songs that teach them the names of our state’s counties and types of rock. But perhaps the most exciting learning under Mrs. Povey’s tutelage takes place outside the classroom, on a series of approximately fifteen “journeys” during the course of the academic year. After attending training on “place-based learning” at the Teton Science School in Wyoming, Mrs. Povey incorporated the concept into her teaching in 1999. That fledgling “journeys program” was so effective and popular that the entire 4th grade has participated in an ambitious journeys program since 2004. According to fellow-teacher Scott Reeve, “Mrs. Povey has been the backbone of this place-based education from the beginning.” Journeys are ideal for the 4th grade curriculum, since students are studying Utah, with its varied terrain, plant and animal life, cultures, etc. Some of the journeys are close at hand, including four phenological study visits to a natural area within walking distance of the school. The students visit the area in the late summer, fall, winter, and spring, drawing what they see, and noting other observations, including smells and sounds, in their journey journal. They also make predictions for what they will see on the next visit. Other journeys focus on composting, the watershed, a burn plant, and wetlands region. Several journeys are full-day excursions to sites like Big Mountain Pass, where students hike for over three miles along a route taken by the Donner Party, Pony Express riders and Mormon pioneers. The journeys combine lessons in history, geography, science, physical fitness, art, writing, and critical thinking. Moreover, they get parents involved with students. “Journey parents” must commit to attending every journey during the year and engage in all facets of the learning experience along with the students. Despite the considerable time commitment involved, the journey parent slots are coveted and fill quickly. Additional parents are welcome to participate in certain journeys as bus space permits. Mrs. Povey engages students through asking them questions and fostering their own inquisitiveness. She has parents volunteer to help with weekly reading groups in her class. As one mom, Brenda Green, observed, Mrs. Povey “trained reading moms not just to sit and listen to the children, but to ask questions that provoked deep thought…” As a journey parent, Brenda also noted that Mrs. Povey “is always pointing things out and asking questions that create a constant learning environment.” Another parent, Shannon Clegg, who has had four children in Mrs. Povey’s class over the years, shared the following: “Jamie, my oldest daughter, loved to ‘banter’ with her teachers and ask very deep and probing questions. Not every teacher knew how to enjoy this lively discussion with Jamie and value her intense love of asking detailed questions about everything. Stephanie welcomed it, and challenged Jamie to look even deeper.” Mrs. Povey maintains a positive learning environment in her classroom in other ways as well. Those of us who have volunteered in her classroom have noted what one parent, Carrie Robinson, calls a “feeling of community.” Another parent, Cynthia Johnson, observed that Mrs. Povey “expects respect in her classroom. When students make a comment or answer a question, they are treated well, whether they have the right answer or not. Not only does Mrs. Povey teach the children to respect each other, she encourages them to respect themselves, their school, and their community.” I echo Principal Derek Beer’s observation that “Mrs. Povey is also exceptional with her classroom management.” Mr. Beer believes “this strength comes mainly from her ability to form meaningful relationships with the students very quickly each year. Students know that she loves and cares about them and that she will support them 100 percent.” She is demanding, but fair, and also undeniably “cool.” As the students are getting to know the 4th grade teachers at the beginning of the year, Mrs. Povey performs the Haka, a Maori war chant/dance replete with foot stamping and shouting. She’s an excellent basketball player, and plays on a faculty team in a 3-on-3 basketball tournament for the school’s upper grades. Also, she regales students with accounts of her experiences as a participant in survival adventures in which she was left in remote regions with minimal gear to fend for herself for weeks at a time. Enviably fit, Mrs. Povey emphasizes the benefits of physical health to her students. In fact, when two former students, brothers Tyler and Jordan Clegg, were asked about a lasting lesson from Mrs. Povey, they replied, “She taught us the importance of taking care of our bodies and the importance of exercise.” She has a 15-to-Fit program in which students earn class currency by engaging in exercise at home. Students run or walk the Morgan Mile every Friday at school alongside Mrs. Povey and other teachers. During the school day, Mrs. Povey periodically leads the kids in sit-ups, push-ups, jumping jacks, or other exercises as a brief break from their studies.
A few final observations about Mrs. Povey:
“She is absolutely remarkable” (4th grade teacher Scott Reeve).
“Mrs. Povey truly embodies what an elementary teacher should and can be. She is dedicated, innovative and knows how to motivate students to WANT to learn” (parent Shannon Clegg).
“Mrs. Povey is a teacher in the best sense of the word — knowledgeable, enthusiastic, admirable and exemplary. She contributes to a better world by empowering our children (and lucky Journey Moms) with respect, gratitude, and excitement for their world” (parent Annie Oldham).
Mrs. Povey has sustained an exceptional level of excellence in her teaching for decades, influencing the lives of hundreds of students for the better. While Mrs. Povey wouldn’t court recognition for herself, those who have been touched by her efforts feel she richly deserves such recognition and is an ideal candidate for a KSL Teacher Feature Award.