February 15, 2011
James L. Dennis Elementary School teacher Randy Utt recently was named the 2010 Oklahoma Council for the Social Studies Elementary Teacher of the Year. A 1984 OBU alumna, Utt received her award at the Social Studies and Fine Arts Conference on Jan. 8 at Southmoore High School.
Utt was selected for the award based upon several criteria, including use of innovative, effective strategies and techniques; fostering a spirit of inquiry and teaching students to acquire, organize and use information; and helping students develop democratic beliefs and values and skills needed for civic participation.
“She spends many hours creating relevant, hands-on lessons for her elementary students,” said Brenda Chapman, Putnam City’s social studies curriculum specialist. “She believes that it is her responsibility to create engaged citizens. She works with students to learn about their history and their individual rights, as well as, teaching them to problem solve.”
Utt, a graduate of Putnam City West High School, has been teaching for 27 years, the last 12 of which have been in Putnam City. She spent her first 10 years at James L. Dennis teaching fourth grade, and now teaches gifted and talented students in grades two through five.
She is known for the many learning opportunities she creates for students at James L. Dennis. She annually organizes the Colonial Fair at her school for all fifth-grade students, carefully selects activities that will help the students learn what life was like in the colonies. Last year she organized activities where the students learned the Virginia Reel, had hoop and stick races in the cafeteria, visited a protest tea party and participated in a debate. Utt also partners with the Oklahoma History Center, and this year is working to bring the Chuck Wagon to the students so they can experience a cattle drive.
The award is the latest in a string of awards for Utt. In 2009 she was named teacher of the year for the entire Putnam City school district. In 2008, Utt and one of her colleagues were named two of the state’s “Top 20 Sparks” by Oklahoma A+ Schools and Creativity Oklahoma for their innovative unit on the Dust Bowl. In 2006 she completed work and earned National Board Certification, and in 2002 she won the Barbara Spriesterbach Excellence in Education Award Winner for collaborating with the school’s media specialist on an Oklahoma history project.
Utt is a person of wide-ranging interests and travels, continually seeking learning experiences in order to be a better teacher. Last summer she went to Costa Rica to study the unique biodiversity of the rain forest, then spent another week at the Mount Vernon Teacher’s Institute immersing herself in studies of George Washington. In years past she’s traveled to the Galapogos islands to study geology, flora and fauna; to Alaska to study geologic formations, glaciers and wildlife; to Washington’s Pacific Coast to learn more about whales, birds and marine life; to Colorado’s Western Slope to students geology, fossils and biology; and to Hawaii to study volcanic formation and marine biology. From each trip she brought back artifacts, video, books and photos to enhance student learning.
“For Randy, teaching is a habit of the heart,” said Vivi Grigsby, Utt’s former principal at James L. Dennis. “Her classroom is stimulating, inviting and motivating. It’s full of displays and collections of materials which immediately capture students’ interests. Each year I was her principal, I was in awe of the meaningful projects her students took on and the depth of knowledge they gained under her guidance. As she engaged her students with enthusiasm, kindness and strength of character, her students learned confidence and experience success. She truly is a master teacher.”
Utt’s current principal, Ashley Hoggatt, shares Grigsby’s respect for Utt.
“Ms. Utt is an exceptional educator. Her instruction is creative and engaging. Her students wait with excitement till their next lesson. She is a leader and an example to all educators,” Hoggatt said.
Utt’s husband, Dr. Dale Utt, is associate professor of biology at OBU.
(Photo provided by Putnam City Schools)