LAYTON -- Jane Eskelsen said she was surprised when she found out she had been nominated for the Utah Foreign Language Teacher of the Year award -- but she was shocked when she won.
She is the first elementary school teacher to receive the award.
Her principal, Rebecca Hunt, said it's a well-deserved honor. The Sand Springs Elementary second-grade teacher is something of a pioneer in her field.
She started teaching Spanish in a dual-immersion program when it was relatively unheard of in Utah, much less the Davis School District. This is her fifth year teaching Spanish immersion and Eskelsen said the road has been difficult but very rewarding.
Sand Springs was one of the first schools to pilot the immersion program, and the state was watching to see how it worked.
The school is now in its seventh year of dual immersion, but when Eskelsen came on board things were still shaky. She helped write the curriculum and programs that improved the process.
"It was a lot harder than I thought," because there were virtually no materials, and everything was new territory, Eskelsen said.
She started translating math for the entire district, because that was one of the most difficult elements of the program.
"Everything we had to use, we had to create on our own," she said.
Eskelsen is not a native Spanish speaker, but grew up in a bilingual family.
"If I wanted to speak to my grandma, I had to speak Spanish," she said. She was born in Ogden but grew up in Texas.
The family also lived in Mexico, but her parents firmly believed that if you lived in the United States, you spoke English. Once she made her way back to Utah and started teaching, she realized she wanted to brush up on her Spanish. She did so, and says it has been rewarding to be able to work in the immersion program.
Hunt said the way Eskelsen works with her students is amazing and that the work she has done for the district and the state has also been very impressive.
Hunt said she loves the passion Eskelsen brings into the classroom and thinks that transfers to her students.
"She not only brings it herself, but it influences the whole school," Hunt said.
She said Eskelsen was a real find for the school when she was hired and is a mentor for the teachers.
While adapting to the program has been hard work, Eskelsen said she loves watching the children speak the language and seeing it click with them.
One of her best experiences was when a student recently got excited about something at recess and ran into the classroom, seeking permission to tell her what happened in English -- normally, only Spanish is permitted in her classroom. Eskelsen said it would be OK to use English, and as the student began telling the story, Spanish just started coming out.
"(The student) kept starting over and finally just said they would tell me in Spanish. I loved it," Eskelsen said, adding that the student exclaimed, "I just can't say English anymore!"
Those are the moments when she knows it's sinking in.
Eskelsen said she has never expected to win awards but is happy to be recognized for her hard work and glad to see the foreign language immersion programs take hold in Utah with such success.
She said while she is the first elementary school teacher to receive the honor, she's pretty sure she won't be the last.