Beloved Willow Canyon educator retires after teaching entire 40-year career at the same school
Jul 01, 2020 01:58PM
By Julie Slama
While Willow Canyon teacher Alice Erickson enjoyed every sign students created for her retirement, she recounted stories from her 40 years at the school through the mask she wore in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
Each year, for 40 years, Willow Canyon teacher Alice Erickson asked her students’ parents to write a letter that she would hold on to until the students graduated from high school.
“It’s like a time capsule of that time and moment that the students would reach once they were done with high school,” her colleague of 35 years, Suzanne Mart said.
Recently, a student was graduating and at that special occasion, was especially missing her mother, who had died in a car crash.
“Then, Alice gave the girl the letter. It was a letter that the girl’s mother had written when the girl was a student in Alice’s class. It was a special moment for Alice and the girl, and that bond has continued. Her student now is getting her Ph.D. and has kept in touch with Alice as she’s doing it,” Mart said.
Relationships with her students is something Erickson has treasured and it was evident by the numerous yard signs students made for her upon her retirement of 40 years teaching at the same school. Her first five years she taught third grade and then switched to first grade for the past 35 years.
“She is an exemplary teacher,” Principal Marilyn Williams said. “When I go into her classroom I just want to watch and learn from her as she instructs her students. She was Willow Canyon’s Teacher of the Year in 2017-18 school year. She also won the KSL Teacher Feature Award that same year. The community loves her and so do her students.”
In fact, it was parent Allison Nigbur who organized the yard signs, which were brought inside because of high winds.
“My oldest son was behind in reading and she caught it and helped him get on track,” Nigbur said. “I attribute it to her. She gave him strategies to do at home and didn’t let it lag.”
Nigbur was thankful that all her children were Erickson’s students.
“She’s just amazing and caring and goes out of the way to make all her students feel loved and special,” she said.
Former Willow Principal Kirk Denison said a career in the same school is rare.
“That’s incredible to be in the same building all the years of a teaching career; it’s just amazing,” he said. “Alice was teaching the six years I was there, and she was very calm, organized, strong and supportive of her students. She was willing to do whatever was needed for the school and for her students. There were programs every grade did and I remember one about friendship, which the students had fun doing with songs, speaking parts and acting.”
Mart said that program was one of their favorites.
“It was cute and we included the extended core and it was just a hit with everyone,” she said. “They became friends and danced and played together.”
When Denison was the school’s principal in 1992-97, there were about 1,200 students in the year-round school that housed 10 portables. The building, which once had open classrooms, has been remodeled a couple of times and now has a secure entrance, and offers a traditional schedule to about 400 students.
Erickson said now they’re teaching the second generation of students.
“I enjoy working with kids and I can see some of the traits of their parents,” she said. “Students come visit from high school to say hi, invite me to their weddings or send me graduation announcements.”
Her experience has been beneficial to hundreds of students, Williams said.
“She brought a wealth of experience to her classroom instruction, but has always been open to changes and tweaks,” she said.
Even amidst the “soft closure” of school in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Erickson ensured her students still had contact with her during the last 40 days of this school year.
“I love the students’ spontaneity, their love of learning, the joy on their faces when the light comes on in the ‘aha!’ moments of learning,” Erickson said. “It was such a joy to see their faces every day on Zoom.”
Even though Erickson is retiring, she does plan to return to Mart’s classroom to help.
“She’s the ‘est,” Mart said. “She’s the kindest, nicest, honest, most truest friend. Through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, she’s been there. She’s the best. And she cares so deeply about the students and just loves them.”