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WJMS orchestra instructor awarded Teacher of the Year

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By Corinne Westeman

Laura Garrison was conducting her orchestra students Friday morning, as usual, when the classroom door opened and her parents and children walked into the room.

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They were followed by a few of Garrison’s friends, West Jefferson Middle School parents and school staff members — many of whom were carrying flowers or balloons.

Garrison stopped conducting, befuddled at what was going on. Her 30-plus students were also confused, asking, “What’s happening?” and “Ms. Garrison, what did you do?”

Jennifer Burtis of Jeffco PTA announced that Garrison had won the organization’s Crystal Apple Award, which recognizes Jeffco’s Teacher of the Year. Burtis asked the students if they thought Garrison deserved the award, and there was a resounding affirmative response.

She will officially receive the award next week at Jeffco PTA’s Spring Fling.

Garrison, who was once a West Jeff student herself, has taught orchestra at the school for 18 years. Local parents wrote letters of nomination that described her as a passionate musician and dedicated educator who ensures each student receives the attention he or she deserves.

Both parents of students and Garrison’s own mom and dad said that she tries to instill in her students not only a knowledge and passion for music, but also compassion, hope and encouragement.

“She loves the kids,” Garrison’s dad Albert Hilliard said. “ … She teaches them how to be a good person. She talks to the ones who are having trouble outside of school, and make sure they’re OK.”

Burtis and Kyle Stielow, who both have children in Garrison’s class, remarked how Garrison tries to make eye contact with each of her students at least once a day.

She teaches about 300 of the school’s 500 students.

“She’s had a passion for music since she was in the fourth grade,” said Ruth Hilliard, Garrison’s mom. “And, it’s great to see that passion carry over into teaching.”

Albert noted that Garrison was following in her mother’s footsteps. Ruth won teacher of the year when she taught in Denver.

“It’s such an honor for Laura. She deserves it,” he said. “… I’m very proud of her.”

Dan Cohan, one of Jeffco Schools’ achievement directors, told the students that Garrison earned the reputation of being one of the best music educators in the state.

“I get to teach 300 of the most special students every day. Thank you, guys. I wouldn’t be a teacher without my amazing students,” Garrison said.

Garrison thanked her family and friends for their support, saying the award wouldn’t have been possible without them.

As the supporters filed out, leaving the bouquets and balloons in the classroom, Garrison — for the moment — couldn’t rest on her laurels. She quieted her students down and went right back to conducting them through their orchestral piece.