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WGU Washington Celebrates Victor Falls Elementary Teacher with Award

Ryan Payne Receives the WGU Elevate Award - and KING-TV is There to Spotlight the Presentation

May 8, 2023

For his outstanding work supporting the success of young learners and contributing to a culture of inclusivity and belonging, WGU Washington presented Victor Falls Elementary music teacher Ryan Payne with the WGU Elevate Award. The online, nonprofit university presents the WGU Elevate Award to individuals whose work reflects the mission of the university and creates pathways to opportunity for others.

Staff members from WGU Washington surprised Payne with the award during a band rehearsal at Victor Falls. And documenting it all, including the heartfelt reactions of Payne and his students, was the host and producer of KING-TV’s web-based series Local Lens, Kelly Hanson.

To see KING-TV Local Lens’ video of Payne receiving the WGU Elevate Award, click here.

“Mr. Payne is carrying on a long tradition of outstanding teachers and paraeducators at Victor Falls Elementary and within the Sumner-Bonney Lake School District,” said Constance Dodds, Senior Strategic Partnerships Manager for WGU Washington. “It was such an honor to recognize Mr. Payne in this way, and it was so much fun having Local Lens to capture it all.”

Payne joined the faculty at Victor Falls last September. Since then, he has launched the innovative Modern Band program at Victor Falls. Modern Band is a music education program that introduces young learners to the fundamentals of musical performance. Under Mr. Payne’s leadership, students are collaborating with their peers and experiencing the many, positive benefits of music education.

"It's incredibly inspiring and heartening to know that Modern Band has fostered a community of inclusion and belonging at Victor Falls,” said Payne. “Making music is our purpose, but knowing, valuing, supporting, and empowering students have been crucial to success. It requires a commitment to understanding and addressing each student's unique needs and challenges and a willingness to work collaboratively to create a positive and supportive community."

Led by Victor Falls principal Adam Uhler, Hanson, Dodds, and other WGU Washington staff surprised Payne and his students during a recent Modern Band rehearsal. After a brief introduction from Uhler, Dodds presented the WGU Elevate Award to Payne. He held back tears as Hanson interviewed the students and they volunteered their wholehearted feelings about their music teacher. Then, the band put its hard-earned talents on display for the camera.

“I, of course, love surprises, so we went ahead and ambushed Mr. Payne during his music class to give him the award,” said Hanson. “The kids were almost as surprised as he was! We listened to the kids perform some incredible music, and we heard from them about what makes their teacher so special and deserving of this award. Obviously, Mr. Payne was extremely touched.” 

"Music has a unique way of breaking down barriers and building connections,” said Uhler. “When music teachers, like Mr. Payne, see their purpose is more than teaching music--it is to use music to build connection and community – magic happens. He builds off the unique gifts of each child so that they feel deeply known, valued, and supported. Ryan's work with the students in Modern Band has literally changed the trajectory of many students' lives and how many in our community see what's possible."

About WGU Washington

WGU Washington is an online, competency-based university designed to expand access to higher education for Washington residents. In 2011, the Washington State Legislature created WGU Washington in partnership with nationally recognized Western Governors University. Learn more at

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