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Former DJ spins success, fun in classroom, community

Aug 30, 2017 04:40PM ● Published by Jana Klopsch

Fifth-grade teacher Dawn Opie is actively involved in her community and school. She serves on seven different committees between Foothills Elementary and the Jordan Education Association (where she has been a JEA Representative for 12 years). (Lifetouch/Jordan School District)

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By Jet Burnham |j.burnham@mycityjournals.com

Former radio DJ Dawn Opie, is a teacher who doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to caring about her students, her school, her colleagues and her community.

She said the skills she used as a DJ apply to teaching as well: She talks a lot, easily elaborates on topics and strives to entertain her audience.

“It does come into play a lot of the time,” she said. Like a skilled DJ, Opie sets the tone in her classroom for her students to love to learn and take ownership of their education. She knows her time slot is just one year. Her set list includes communication, support and expectations. 

“I believe all kids can learn if they are given a goal,” Opie said. She encourages all her students to earn the optional Young Americans Award, which requires them to do extra projects throughout the year.

Opie has been teaching fifth grade for the past 15 years at Foothills Elementary. Her colleagues nominated her for Teacher of the Year.

 “She is a phenomenal teacher and goes above and beyond for her kids because she views them as her actual children,” said fifth-grade teacher Sarah Johnson. “She loves them wholeheartedly and does whatever she can to support them.” 

During her own discordant childhood, Opie looked to her school teachers as a source of stability in an unstable world. 

“I want to be that for kids—I want to be that one person they know they can rely on,” she said. Even with difficult students, she has learned that if they feel trusted and loved by their teacher, kids will want to learn.

 “I build that relationship and trust and then everything else is easy,” she said. Opie connects with each student, whether through joking around or by being their advocate. She said she is “super real” and “super goofy” with her students.

 Opie keeps the curriculum fresh by sampling ideas from picture books and incorporating artistic elements. 

“You have to ‘wow’ them,” said Opie, she balances fun and learning as she remixes assignments into a mash-up of subjects. For example, her students create a comic strip to explore onomatopoeia. They generate a Facebook page for a person who lived in Revolutionary Times to understand their role in history. They write a letter to Santa to demonstrate persuasive essays. They draw a quilt that compares and contrasts social study concepts.

Opie considers everything she does as just part of the job of being a teacher.

 “I don’t want to be recognized for just doing what I’m supposed to do,” she said.

However, Opie does more than her teaching gig.

Lynece Rowntree, a fellow fifth-grade teacher said, “She is a true firecracker. She is always ‘on’ and never slows down.”

Opie keeps busy through service. She loves to see other people happy. Each year, she organizes an assembly for students to cut their hair and donate it to Locks of Love.

“Dawn is one of the most selfless people I know,” said Johnson. “She always is the first one to jump up and volunteer to help.”

Opie is active on school committees and is a representative and committee member for the Jordan Education Associate. 

“I don’t want to see anything fail,” said Opie. “And if I’m busy, then someone else is not.”

Opie is also very active in the Herriman community where she works and lives. She volunteers in her church and her children’s sports teams—as team mom and league time-keeper.

As the team lead for fifth grade, she encourages each teacher to share their individual skills to create a strong team for the students. She and teacher Amee Kovacs’ team teach part of their curriculum, joking that they “share a brain.”

 “Her drive for the success of our school and the children is like no other,” said Katie Thomas, another fifth-grade teacher. “She goes above and beyond for everyone, often working countless hours after contract time.” 

Opie’s colleagues look to her as a teacher, leader, mentor and friend.

 “She is someone we can all turn to for help, a listening ear, and on all days, a laugh,” said Thomas. “I consider myself lucky to work with her and couldn’t imagine Foothills Elementary without her presence.” 

Opie was awarded the Jordan Education Foundation’s Outstanding Educator Award this spring. She insists that any of the teachers on her team deserved the award. 

“I couldn’t be a teacher of the year without them,” she said.

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