We asked all candidates to fill out a survey and our group has chosen to endorse, recommend or not recommend based on their answers. Here are Audryn Damron’s responses that shows that she is a great representative for our teachers, students and parents!
How do you define SEL strategies and what do you believe it does in the classroom?
Social Emotional Learning strategies are tools, resources, curricula, etc. that meet the social/emotional/mental needs of our students. These strategies are often taught in schools to address social skills, emotional regulation, naming/understanding feelings, conflict management, etc. As a special education high school teacher, I often see my students dealing with anxiety, depression, lack of appropriate developmental social skills, apathy, emotional mismanagement, reactivity, etc. I am lucky enough to have a full time social worker at my school and last year I reached out to her about leading a group intervention with one of my classes that had at least 5/6 students who could benefit from the above-mentioned strategies. Our students deserve to have the resources they need to handle the challenges that life hands them.
What importance do you attribute to PE and health and how do feel about the cuts made to these subject areas in the past?
PE (and health) is ABSOLUTELY necessary. I routinely ask my students about their classes and if they have any favorites. PE is mentioned at least once every period. Students want an opportunity to be physical, move their bodies, and play! I teach high school and we have longer periods (86 minutes per class). I teach several students with Attention Deficit Disorder. I have worked with counselors to purposely schedule a PE class before an academically challenging class so that the student has a better chance of paying attention and feeling focused and settled during that academically rigorous class. PE and health feel like the least we can do to teach kids how to take care of themselves for the rest of their lives.
What ideas have you formulated that will increase public school funding to keep up with growth, fully compensate teachers for their expertise and commitment to teaching, ensure they have the classroom resources they need to be effective educators, and making teacher retention a priority?
I will admit this is an area I am learning and growing in. I met with a member of USBE in the finance department and asked questions. I want to learn more about funding in education and am grateful for those who have taken time to explain different processes to me. I did learn that there is “above and below the line” funding for education, and a lot of our important educational services (adult education, electives, CTE, etc.) are not “above the line” receiving guaranteed funding. I would love to keep our current funding sources (we don’t want to lose what we already have!), but see how we can add more to the “above the line” guaranteed funding. For example, our CTE teachers are so valuable as they open our students’ eyes to the vocational possibilities that are available in their future. If all teachers felt like their jobs were guaranteed versus every year being told, “Make sure you recruit enough students to your program or you may not make it next year,” we could see a positive increase in teacher mental health and retention. We are also seeing decreases in enrollment in many schools thus resulting in school closures. One of these reasons could include housing costs in some areas impacting our younger/migrant/transient families. Working to improve housing so as to maintain and/or improve enrollment for our schools could also help.
How do you define CRT and do you believe it is currently being taught in Utah public schools?
Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a college-level curriculum not currently taught in Utah public schools. I am friends with many history teachers at the middle school and high school level and they are not teaching or supporting CRT curriculum in their classrooms. They are having important, necessary, “current events” type of conversations with their students that can include race as well as other issues that are prevalent in our country. The history teachers I know present these issues without bias and guide students to make their own conclusions with credible sources. (In fact, they spend a decent amount of time teaching how to find/determine if sources are credible and how to read, listen to, and interpret both sides of an argument! I’ve helped some of my sped students complete these assignments and they are wonderfully designed!)
What vetting process do you support when a parent objects to a book in their child’s school? What actions do you believe school districts should take or not take?
Librarians and teachers are professionals who collaborate to choose literature that is developmentally appropriate and meets the standards that need to be taught. I think that parents can determine if their child doesn’t read a specific book or participate in a book read as a class, but that doesn’t mean the book should be banned from the library or that teacher’s curriculum. English teachers I’ve talked to who have had parents come to them asking for a different book/assignment have provided something else without issue. USBE has a process in place for sensitive materials, and districts should adhere to the policies outlined.
Considering legislation that has been proposed in the last 10 years, how would you vote on voucher/school choice bills?
I would not support voucher bills. Public funding should go to public services…like public education! Our public schools have the opportunity to be community hubs, but we are finding that as ideas like vouchers, school choice, etc. take precedence, school enrollment numbers are closing, and neighborhood schools are shutting down. Every child deserves to have their neighborhood school be the best place for them and we need to support those schools!
What are your views on the Summit program or programs like it being implemented in our schools?
I don’t know what the Summit program is, but could give more input if I got more information.
What ways can we support diversity in our curriculum so that all students see themselves as culturally relevant?
One of my Latina adult friends told me that she didn’t read a book that had characters like her until she was in college. She spent her teenage years hating her culture and being embarrassed of her family. Teenagers have enough on their mental load without dealing with cultural embarrassment, so including books, posters/classroom visual, curriculum/content that include various cultures goes a long way. Also, after talking to a few teachers who are actively working to improve and support diversity in their classrooms, they have shared that there are more resources than ever for teachers to include diverse voices in their curriculum. We are seeing great strides and efforts and many teachers are representing the populations they teach. There’s still work to be done and we are going to continue having these conversations and asking ourselves, “Who is missing from this table” – and then invite those voices who should be there.
What have you personally done to support teachers/public education?
I have been (and currently am!) a special education teacher at public schools for 12 years and have been actively engaged in mentoring new teachers, sharing positive stories on my social media, and sharing the good things that are happening in education. Teaching is one of the best vocations out there and I’m grateful to be in the thick of it! Let’s take care of our teachers so we can continue the good work that is happening.
How will you show your commitment to public education outside of your role as an elected official?
I will continue to participate in important conversations that include classroom teachers!! Classroom teachers are important voices in this work, and I would love to find ways to bring what’s happening at the top level to classroom teachers at the ground level. I am currently co-hosting a podcast (the Utah Teacher Fellows Podcast) that shares teacher stories – these kind of movements are so meaningful to us classroom teachers. I love teaching and want to continue to share the good things happening in education.