Lasslo’s Journey to the Apples

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Pictured: Steve Lasslo stands in front of some of the creations and fun things he does with kids in his classroom at Castle Heights Elementary.

Carbon School District Press Release

Steve Lasslo had little idea that he would ever end up in Utah teaching for 44 years when he was a college student in Minnesota in the 1970s. But a 3X5 card on a bulletin board in the school cafeteria proclaiming that schools in Utah needed teachers changed that and sent him to the life he now lives in the Beehive State.

During last month’s Carbon School District Board meeting, AJB Broadcasting announced that he had won the Apples for Teachers Teacher of the Year Award for 2017. Ava Braby, who was in his class last year, was the one who nominated him. She was there at the board meeting to see the award presented to him on August 9.

Lasslo has a long story behind his journey into teaching, which led to being an instructor in Carbon School District. He was born and raised in Granite City, Illinois, just across the river from St. Louis, Missouri. Once he graduated from high school, he went to college in Collegeville, Minnesota at St. Johns University, a Catholic liberal arts college where he said, “he loved every minute of it.”

“There were actually two schools there, St. Johns and St. Benedicts,” he said sitting in his classroom the day before school started this year. “St. Johns was the boys’ school and St. Benedicts was the girls’ school. The Department of Education was actually located at St. Benedicts four miles away so I had to take classes on both campuses, many of them at the girls’ school. My wife was actually attending school there to, but I never knew her then. Interestingly most of her classes were at the St. Johns campus, where they taught theology and humanities. But we never met while there.”

The note on the bulletin board prompted a call to the man’s name listed on the card and later that evening during a personal conversation with him, he found that the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City was hiring teachers for the area it covered.

“So, in 1974, I was recruited to teach in Price at Notre Dame School,” he said. “I was picked up at the Salt Lake Airport by a nun who bought me lunch and then put me on a very crowded bus to Price.”

At the time, he was what was called a volunteer teacher. He got paid $100 per month for the first year. He lived at the rectory in Price. There he got room and board; they gave him a car and paid for his gas and insurance.

“We had a housekeeper who was a gourmet dessert cook,” he said. “I put on 20 pounds that first year, while most of my teacher friends were starving, not being able to find jobs.”

He worked at Notre Dame for 25 years and he said that 24 of those years were “absolutely brilliant.” The last year was not the best because the Diocese announced it was closing the school.

“I taught in Camelot for 24 years,” he said. “I almost get teary eyed thinking about it, it was that good.”

The end of that school year Lasslo was recruited to a position at the Pinnacle Canyon Charter School for its first year of operation. That first year’s classes were held in motel rooms at the Greenwell Inn.

“There were four of us that came from Notre Dame to teach there,” he said. “We helped to bring 55 students who had attended Notre Dame to the new school, which helped the school to have enough students to open. There was a total of 155 students at the school that first year it operated.”

The room he had to teach his class in that year had a total of 228 square feet in it and he had 20 students to teach in that confined space.

“Eight days before school started it was still a motel,” he said. “The school rented 20 rooms. I, along with the other teachers were carrying out beds and motel furniture to get it ready for classes.”

Altogether, he taught 12 years at Pinnacle, with his last few years back in the familiar confines of the old Notre Dame School, which Pinnacle had purchased. He came to Carbon District, and started teaching at Castle Heights in 2011.

“I came to Carbon District because I wanted to be on the state retirement system,” he said. “At 59 years old I thought it was about time.”

In 1982, he got his Masters Degree in Educational Administration from BYU, but has never been too interested in being in an administrative position. He was once offered a job in Kearns to be the principal of a new Catholic school, but he turned it down. He loves what he does and he has always taught first or second grade, and sometimes a mix. It is where he wants to stay.

“I have been in this long enough that over the years I have taught kids of kids I taught years before,” he said. “In fact in one case I have taught a grand daughter of one of the kids I taught at Notre Dame.”

Why does he stick with the second grade level age kids when his certificate allows him to teach up to the eighth grade? The answer is that he said the seven-year-old mind is a magnificent thing to behold.

“I have done some research on seven year olds specifically, and based on that I have learned that seven year olds learn faster than any other age group,” he said. “Their minds are not, as my brother puts it, not ‘junktified.’ Pretty much, we still have a clean slate. They absorb material and concepts at a very fast rate and everything is new to them. You can dazzle them with simple statements and anything the teacher says is gospel. It’s just so much fun teaching them.”

One of the things Lasslo does that is unique to most schools is home visits. He goes out and visits families of students in their homes before school starts. That, he said, gives him a leg up on the year, because he gets to see where students come from, what their home environment is like.

“You go to their house, spend a half hour or forty minutes, tell them what their student is going to be doing for the year and plant a little seed of enthusiasm in the parents minds about the school,” he says. “It is also a time that you can try to enlist the parents to come to the classroom to help. The home visit began when I was at Pinnacle because teachers there were required to do it. Because of that, I know the children in my class better than many teachers do at the beginning of the year.  I have been to their home and seen their environment. It is an eye opener to do that.”

His grade level teaching partners at Castle Heights this year have been so impressed by the visits, and what they do for the student-teacher relationship, that they have taken up the commitment to do it too.

Many teachers retire after 30 or 35 years in the business. Now in his 44th year, Lasslo is still going strong and is making no plans to change what he does.

“I have taught for a long time and I have no blip on the radar about retiring,” he said. “I turned 65 in May and I plan on teaching for a long time to come.”