Randy Utt, James L. Dennis Elementary School, Putnam City Schools, Oklahoma City
2016 Medal for Excellence in Elementary Teaching
Randy Utt,winner of the Oklahoma Medal for Excellence in Elementary Education, is a 32-year veteran educator who has spent the last nine years as the PEAK Gifted Education specialist at James L. Dennis Elementary School in the Putnam City Schools district of Oklahoma City. She works with gifted and talented students in first through fifth-grade, providing innovative learning adventures that span a variety of subject areas.
“I believe she is an extraordinary teacher because she is a life-long learner herself, continually seeking out new avenues to grow and enhance the learning of students,” said Principal Renita White. “She engages all students as she hooks them with hands-on activities, enriched vocabulary, technology and other materials causing them to deeply learn.”
For a lesson on biographies, Utt’s students interview their grandparents and create iMovie biography videos to premiere at a formal tea honoring grandparents. Her students have also written to Dust Bowl survivors, receiving hand-written accounts – and even personal visits – describing Black Sunday and the hardships of life during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression. Through elaborate colonial American history events, Utt’s students have met historical characters such as Paul Revere, danced a minuet, played colonial games and created their own colonial trade shop. For the Junior Science Olympiad, Utt’s students engineer balsa wood bridges, build model planes, create a levitating car and test chemical reactions of “mystery powders.” Utt also hosts a before-school “Girls are SMART” science club, providing hands-on science and engineering activities and opportunities to learn about famous women scientists. Through her efforts to involve students in OU’s Future Health Sciences Partnership, Utt has inspired many of her former students to pursue careers in medicine.
Christopher Sterling, who has had two children in Utt’s classes, said, “From day one, I saw the same look in my daughter’s eyes with Mrs. Utt that I saw in my son’s: eyes wide open with fascination and wonder of ‘Wow’ and ‘What next?’” The recipient of many district and state teaching honors, Utt is praised for the positive relationships she builds with students and colleagues alike. “For Randy, teaching is a habit of the heart,” White said. “She sets the bar each day for us with her enthusiasm, kindness and strength of character.”