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Teacher Jill Smith wins prestigious Sorenson Legacy Award

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“There’s a great energy with junior high kids. They’re just starting to figure out who they are. I try to encourage them specifically – they’re so moldable at this age,” said Jill Smith. “I love to see them blossom vocally.”

Lehi Junior High music teacher Jill Smith won the 2022 Sorenson Legacy Award for Secondary Music Instruction for the state of Utah. The Sorenson Legacy Awards for Excellence in Arts Education recognizes excellence in arts education in Utah’s public schools. According to the Utah State Board of Education website, “Beverley Taylor Sorenson worked tirelessly to promote the arts as an avenue for students to develop the voice, sustain engagement in school, and evoke reflection and response. Through the Sorenson Legacy Foundation and the Utah State Board of Education, the Sorenson Legacy Awards for Excellence in Arts Education will recognize the essential nature of education in the arts for Utah’s students, distinguish those educators who embrace the arts with excellence in their practice, and ensure that Beverley’s legacy will continue on.”

The process to nominate Smith was intense, but fellow LJHS teacher Kerri Hacking gathered letters of recommendation and compiled a video of Smith’s choirs performing to nominate her friend and colleague. Smith won $2,500 in cash for herself, plus $2,500 for her program. “That’s good because I need to refurbish my bells,” said Smith, speaking of her handbell choir.

“Jill Smith inspires everyone around her. She is innovative, creative, passionate and talented,” said Stacy Bateman, a member of the Alpine School District Board. Bateman knows firsthand how Jill Smith inspires her students through music as she has taught Bateman’s own children. “She empowers her students to advocate for themselves and communicate with others, and she prepares them for the next phase of life. It is a wonderful thing to see her recognized for all she does.  

“There is so much life to be learned through music,” Smith explained. “We touch on other cultures and try to balance those cultures, languages and history.” 

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Smith includes a gospel or spiritual song in each program as well as a piece in another language. This school year her choirs did a Malaysian number. “I really had to stretch myself with that one, there wasn’t a lot of direction in the music, so I had to research it on my own. If I’m too comfortable, I know I’m not learning.”

Jill Smith attended Lehi Junior High herself years ago. “It’s surreal to be teaching where I found my passion for music,” she said. “I had a great teacher who told me I had a natural knack for music and that’s really how I got into it.” She ended up going to American Fork High School and playing percussion and flute in their distinguished marching band. She had a vocal scholarship to Utah Valley University and then to the University of Utah. Smith has been teaching music for 16 years, the last nine in the Alpine School District.

“We’re in Lehi because I really wanted to raise my family here. My husband grew up here and we love it,” Smith continued.

“I try to give the kids as many opportunities as I can to perform. In junior high, they’re not expected to do a lot outside of school hours, so I take any opportunity to have them perform,” said Smith. “I hope I’m making this a good experience for them. I love that I get to be at the beginning of their experience with music.”

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