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Governor presents prestigious award to Judy Thornock of Aspen

By Amanda Manchester, Herald reporter

EVANSTON – A local educator received a prestigious award last week — one of only two in the state and 100 in the nation — from the U.S. Department of Education, bringing Governor Mark Gordon and Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder to Evanston came.

On May 8, Judy Thornock, a special services support and behavior coach at Aspen Elementary, received the 2023 Recognizing inspiring School Employees (RISE) award. According to the U.S. Department of Education website, the award is given to “recognize and promote the commitment and excellence demonstrated by school employees who provide exemplary service to students in kindergarten through high school and to promote innovation and excellence inspire.”

“It found me,” Thornock told the Herald of her eight-year teaching career. She explained that Steve Peterson, principal of Aspen Elementary, had nominated her for the award without her knowing. Peterson’s nomination letter described her as “a powerful force in the workplace who uses her positive attitude and tireless energy to encourage others to work hard and succeed.”

Gov. Gordon presented the award to Thornock. Joining the governor and Degenfelder were Uinta County School District No. 1 Superintendent Ryan Thomas, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Joseph Ingalls, UCSD No. 1 Board Chairman Dan Wheeler, Mayor Kent Williams and his wife Celia attended to support Thornock.

“It’s good to be in Tiger Nation!” said Governor Gordon, as he greeted the crowd after a rendition of “Mr. Golden Sun” was performed by kindergarteners and first graders.

“Teachers are invaluable and make such a difference in our lives,” Gordon continued. “They set an excellent example for our immediate community and the entire state. They are someone that everyone in their school counts on,” he said, citing the passion, dedication and special enthusiasm that teachers possess.

Gordon then invited Thornock to the stage to accept her award.

“I want to thank everyone for being there,” she said. “This is for everyone. I’m grateful that my family is here. We are a team,” adding that the award is for community efforts.

Degenfelder highlighted Thornock’s “Caught Ya” incentive program, which rewards both students and teachers when they do something good.

“We must continue to celebrate and honor their dedication, because it is through their passion and dedication that our schools truly thrive,” Degenfelder added in a May 9 news release recognizing both state recipients.

Peterson said he wanted to recognize Thornock for three things in particular. The first, he noted, was that Thornock was the school’s “welcome wagon,” enduring the cold, wind and snow to greet students off the bus each morning with a hug. “She lets all of our students know that Aspen loves them and we are so happy to have you here today.”

Second, Peterson called Thornock the “Caught Ya Queen,” adding that she likes to recognize and keep track of everyone’s positive actions.

“After all, Ms. Judy is the heart of Aspen Elementary. She loves all students and staff. She is someone to talk to or get a hug from. She is amazing, and we are so blessed to have you,” concluded Peterson.

Peterson then presented Gordon, Degenfelder and Thomas with fake WWE wrestling championship belts, a weekly award that recognizes staff members for doing great things.

Nominations for the 2024 RISE Prize will open in the fall.