Corner Canyon Teacher Wins Legacy Theater Award
On May 13, Corner Canyon high school teacher Phaidra Atkinson received the Sorenson Legacy Awards for Excellence in Arts Education, which is one of the state’s top theater awards. She received $2,500 —Phaidra Atkinson
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By Julie Slama
Draper, Utah - Corner Canyon high school teacher Phaidra Atkinson recently was honored with one of the state’s top theater awards.
On May 13, Atkinson received the Sorenson Legacy Award for Excellence in Arts Education, which recognizes excellence in arts education in Utah’s public schools, where she received $2,500 and the school program also was awarded $2,500.
Through the Sorenson Legacy Foundation and the Utah State Office of Education, the Sorenson Legacy Award for Excellence in Arts Education recognizes the essential nature of education in the arts for Utah’s students and distinguishes those educators who embrace the arts with excellence in their practice in the name of Beverly Taylor Sorenson, who worked to promote the arts.
Atkinson’s principal, Mary Bailey, nominated her for the award and provided the committee three letters — one from a parent, one from a colleague and the third from the Canyons School District arts supervisor — each of whom supported her nomination. Bailey also submitted a video highlighting some of the school’s productions.
“I knew she nominated me and it was a lot of work that she didn’t have to do, but that’s the person she is — always thinking of others, giving us a big pat on the back,” Atkinson said. “When Mary learned the news I won, she was so excited, she called me at home and made an announcement to the school. I was just shocked that I won since there were so many other worthy applicants. It warms my heart and made me feel so appreciated.”
In the three years that Corner Canyon has been a school, Atkinson’s students have competed in the Utah Shakespeare Festival and took first place for ensemble acting and overall sweepstakes. Her tech crew also has won first place. And last year, the students also captured the UHSAA state championship.
Atkinson, whose days often start at 6 a.m. and go until 11 p.m., with one production following another, was named Teacher of the Year by the Utah Advisory Council for Theatre, an organization she helped found that fosters and mentors new theater teachers, helps them to negotiate competitions, musicals and royalties and drama selection.
However, in Bailey’s recommendation, she said that Atkinson’s teaching stretches beyond her theater students.
“Her influence is felt school-wide and her actions bring about remarkable change,” she wrote.
Bailey said one Corner Canyon student was involved in a verbal assault of a gay man this past fall and Atkinson was able to respond to the incident that wounded the community.
“She chose ‘The Laramie Project’ for her student one-act play this year and her choice was prophetic,” Bailey said.
“The Laramie Project” is the story of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student, who was kidnapped, beaten and left to die while tied to a fence outside of Laramie, Wyoming, in 1998. His death shook the whole community and brought attention to the lack of hate crime laws.
“She guided her students as they felt their way through taking on the sensitive nature of the play. What happened in the course of the rehearsals is that our students became advocates for the ‘hate is not our value’ slogan and their passion for the concept swept through the school,” Bailey said.
However, Atkinson didn’t stop there. She invited the Laramie hospital administrator Rulon Stacy to speak to students about his experience with the Shepard family and Laramie community.
“Our school is healing and we owe much of that to the wisdom and insightfulness of Phaidra,” Bailey said.
Atkinson, however, is quick to acknowledge her principal in the award.
“In the 17 years I’ve been teaching, this is the first arts principal I’ve had and it feels so special. Mary comes to all our events, recognizes us and realizes the importance that theater brings to not only these students, but to our entire community. She’s just a special person in our lives that we’ll miss,” Atkinson said, noting that Bailey is slated to retire June 30.