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Sandy Journal

Alta dance teacher captures Canyons District’s teacher of year title at pinnacle of 30-year career

Jul 26, 2021 02:52PM ● By Julie Slama

Alta High dance teacher Traci Raymond, seen here helping one of her students, recently was named Canyons School District’s teacher of the year. (Photo courtesy of Traci Raymond/Alta High School)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

When Traci Raymond was in high school, she went through a very traumatic experience—so traumatic, she doesn’t want to talk about it. But what she does want to share with others is that her parents stood by her, insisting she go to school and graduate.

Raymond not only went to school, but she got involved and became a cheerleader—both in her high school days and now. 

She didn’t realize the lesson her parents’ instilled in her until she went to college, where she faced other difficult circumstances. Instead of bailing, she decided, “I need to graduate and make a difference for those kids who go through hard situations and think of quitting, I want to be their advocate, to tell them not to quit. They can do hard things and rise above.”

That inspiration has guided Raymond into 30 years of teaching and coaching dance and helping high school students believe in themselves and achieve their goals. That attitude was part of Raymond’s nomination for Canyons School District’s teacher of the year award.

“Traci Raymond is the epitome of just a phenomenal educator, leader, and mentor of her students,” said Alta High Principal Brian McGill, who performed with the A-town dance company for a school assembly in 2018. “She is a great example of the kind of teacher who should be in the classroom, as well as a mentor for students outside of the classroom.”

Raymond’s colleague, ballroom teacher Diana Hunt, said her friend “has a true genuine love for teaching. I know what she can do, and I know what she offers to students. She genuinely cares about them, and she’ll hold them to a higher standard. She encourages them to grow and become a better person, besides a better dancer. She encourages them to do hard things, to buck up and they realize later on, how much they’re grown. So many girls have graduated, and they’ll come back and thank her for understanding, for making them accountable and they’re grateful for making them stronger people.”

Raymond, who has taught at Alta High for 27 years and was the school’s nomination for the district award, learned shortly before the announcement that she was a district finalist.

“I actually was shocked because typically dance teachers don’t teach the core subjects, so I was actually shocked at it and had no idea that I would be in the top three,” said the one-time recipient of the prestigious Sorenson Legacy Awards for Excellence in Arts Education.

At Alta High’s new performing arts center on May 4, the Canyons Board of Education presented all 48 school and program teachers of the year with crystal awards. 

Then, Raymond was announced the District’s teacher of the year; the other two finalists were Albion Middle math teacher Dan Croshaw, the CSD Middle School Teacher of the Year, and Maria Teresa Gallo, a Silver Mesa Elementary dual-language immersion teacher. She received $1,000 from the Jordan Credit Union for being announced as district’s top teacher. The other two finalists each both received $500.

“It’s definitely a surprise. I started sobbing because that was a true shock to me,” Raymond said.

Raymond began at Alta as a single mom, teaching drill team for her first six years.

“The community, all the drill team parents, would take care of my daughter and watch her when she was about five years old. We had night practices and weekend competitions and they just took me in and loved me like I was part of the community. I think that just started my love for this high school,” she said.

But it was that little girl who got her mother’s attention by asking “Mommy, when are you going to spend as much time with me as you do your dancers?” that got Raymond to shift from drill team to dance company, a non-competition team.

That little girl, Jerica, who now is 30 and has two young daughters, was by her mother’s side at the awards night.

“We’ve been through a lot together,” Raymond said. “If I could say something to my younger self, I would say, allow people to help you. Delegation is probably one of the teacher’s best friends. You do the best job you can, but to the point, if it starts stressing you out too much and it’s affecting you, then you’re doing too much.”

To boost positivity with students and herself, Raymond annually includes a theme as a life lesson with her curriculum.

“I started out my school year with a theme whether it was resiliency, or you can do hard things or stand up for yourself. I always did an introduction to my class, whether it’s health, aerobics, yoga, dance, dance company. I talk about what my theme for the year is and to have courage, have integrity and just try to teach my students how to be better adults and to trust themselves to get through hard things without shutting down,” she said.

This past year’s theme was “you can do hard things” and last year’s was “still I rise,” which came as inspiration during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last March’s soft closure of schools in response to the pandemic hit Alta High’s dance company hard.

“On Friday the 13th, we were doing a mock dress rehearsal and I thought, ‘I should probably invite some parents.’ Then, I actually had a parent that was coming say, ‘Hey, do you want me to record it. I can bring my camera.’ It ended up that was our concert video,” she said. “For the first two weeks, I kind of let the girls, just breathe. I would check in with them and make sure they were all OK because they were devastated. During our first Zoom meeting about two weeks after that, when we all saw everybody’s faces, everybody started crying. We’d been with each other 24-7 and then, all of a sudden, we’re cut off and told to stay home. I tried to give them hope, but I remember the day when I finally had to say, ‘I’m sorry dancers, we’re not going to do our concert.’”

When they returned this year, Raymond acknowledged the difficult ending with her dancers, but she said, “We keep going forward and we remember how we got through that hard time so when we have further hard times, we can rely on that strength that we used for that,” playing right off of her themes for last year and this year.

This year, in the school year’s final weeks, she oversaw the dance company show and awards night, which she said was especially rewarding after not holding one last year. 

The show serves as a fundraiser for the program, typically raising $10,000 during the three performance nights, she said, which has helped when she has taken her company through the years to New York City, Disneyworld and Disneyland.

The school-year themes also played into her own learning as she reached out to others to help her understand how to put her classes on Canvas online teaching platform.

“This was my 30th year and I struggled. I thought, how can I make it through this year?’” she said, then reached out to the girls basketball coach, who helped her learn it. “The biggest things that I truly had to learn was that I had to change my mindset. When I got really flustered, I had to say, ‘no, you can do this and just take it one day at a time.’”

Another aspect of her teaching she is proud of is cross-curriculum teaching with Advanced Placement art teacher, Katie Campbell. Campbell’s art students would come into Raymond’s Dance Academy class, which is considered an understudy dance class for dance company, and they bring their top artwork for small groups of dancers to interpret. 

“We start talking about what are some expressive vocabulary words that go along with that picture, and they would come up with what they thought the artist was thinking and seeing in this painting or statue. Then, my dancers would start creating movement and they choreograph about two minutes,” she said. “When we’re ready, the art class will come in and they’re going to say how true they think the movement was to the descriptive words and the theme. After my dancers have said what they thought the theme was, the artist actually gets up and talks about that piece of art.”

Raymond also is known to talk to her students individually, offering additional help or time to listen to any concerns. Or if it’s difficulty with a certain move, she has paired beginners or struggling students with those who have more experience.

“I’m always trying to find different ways to connect with them and also have them connect with one of my dance company girls because I’m 54 years old and I am not going to do a leap,” she said. “I know these kids are going through so much that I want to help them be successful, but at the same time, I’m not a cuddler. I want them to learn that they have to work and communicate with me to make up a task. I’m more than willing, if you come communicate with me.”

Raymond has shared some of her teaching strategies and ideas with Daylin Williams, who recently was hired to teach and advise the dance company and dance academy.

Now, at the pinnacle of her career and after seeing the success of her former students who have graduated and become Rockettes or performed in Broadway, Raymond wants to quietly retire and watch her granddaughters’ dance. However, that will have to wait until she has completed her last assignment—completing an application, writing essays and explaining her teaching philosophy—as a contender for the state teacher of the year.

“I love my students; I’m going to just miss their happiness,” she said. “I’m going to miss teaching with some of my best friends and the camaraderie here. I just love all of them. We laugh and sometimes, we cry. I’m a very social person and that’s probably going to be the hardest thing. Maybe having this award is good because it will keep me doing something, this application, so I don’t realize that I’m in retirement right off the bat. But first, I’m going to sleep in and not get up to a 5:15 alarm clock.”