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Canyons School District is home to two 2017 National Merit Scholars.

Eric Jackson of Corner Canyon and Brian Johnson of Jordan are among 2,500 high school seniors chosen nationally for the prestigious academic honor.

To be considered for a National Merit Scholarship, students had to complete a detailed application with an essay and provide information about extracurricular activities, awards and leadership positions. They were judged by a panel of college admissions officers and high school counselors who looked at students’ academic records, including grades and rigor of the courses they completed.   

But first, students had to score high enough on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Of the 1.6 million American teens who took the test in their junior year, only the top 1 percent, or 16,000, made the cut. That list was then whittled further to 7,500 finalists.

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation also awards college-sponsored, merit-based scholarships to deserving students nationwide. These awards provide between $500 and $2,000 annually for up to four years of undergraduate study at the institution financing the scholarship. Among the winners of the first round of college-sponsored awards are three CSD students:

  • Jordan High's Peter Maughan who will be attending the University of Utah
  • Hillcrest High's Alexandra Carlile who will be attending Brigham Young University
  • Brighton High's Emily Hyde who will be attending Brigham Young University
Bon boulot, gong xi and felicitaciones to students throughout Canyons District who are making waves with their language skills. 

On Friday, May 5, 2017, Draper Park Middle students Ariel Harp and McKay Larsen took first place at the Chinese Bridge Language Contest at the University of Maryland. Harp and Larson represented Utah for the first time in the competition, where they competed in the Cultural Performance category. 

Harp also won first place in the Level 4 Speech Contest at the Chinese Language Fair at BYU in April. She was joined by 11 other Draper Park Middle students who received superior and excellent awards at the fair, as well as students from Corner Canyon and Hillcrest high schools and Midvale Middle, who also placed first at the BYU Language Fair.

The students are all part of Canyons Dual-Language Immersion program, which features programs in Mandarin Chinese-English, French-English, and Spanish-English. Parents and their Dual-Language Immersion students in all grade levels are invited to attend a secondary=school information night on Thursday, May 11 at 6 p.m. in the Professional Development Center at Canyons Administration Building-East, 9361 S. 300 East.

The purpose of the event is to discuss how students transition from elementary to middle school, and middle school to high school, in the DLI program. Course pathways and descriptions, bridge courses, university collaboration and program locations will also be discussed.

More than 300 DLI students from Alta, Corner Canyon, Brighton, Hillcrest and Jordan high schools recently tested their skills at the BYU Language Fair in Provo on April 20, 2017. Students from Midvale, Mount Jordan and Draper Park Middle also participated in the half-day event that tests language ability in Chinese, French, Spanish, German and Russian.

A group of students at Hillcrest took first place in the Language Bowl at the Spanish Foreign Language Fair at BYU. The students were tested on grammar, geography, history, culture, current events, and vocabulary. The students were asked questions in Spanish and teams of five had 10 minutes to answer the questions and receive points according to their answers. At Corner Canyon, students received superior marks in Show and Tell, Speech and Conversation.

Midvale Middle participated in BYU’s Chinese Language Fair and took first place in the Character Bee portion of the competition. In the Character Bee, students match words, written in Chinese, with their correct definitions. The first team to match 12 words in a row correctly wins. 
When architects of the new Midvale Middle suggested cloistering the library in a quiet corner of the building, the school’s Media Specialist said, “Sorry, but that just won’t do.”

The library, she explained, should be at the center of the school. It should be an open, inviting space for students to hang out with friends, study, check email, or play an educational videogame. It should be a place to collaboratively explore, create, and even make noise — a place where students find common ground in common interests.

The architects agreed, and the communal design ethic they embraced is evident throughout the entire building. The red brick structure, with its art deco embellishes, reflects Midvale’s ethnically diverse and industrial, working class roots, says VCBO Architecture Associate Brian Peterson. “It evokes strength, strength of unity and strength of purpose.”

The building, which opens next fall, was certainly cause for celebration for teachers who got their first look inside on Friday. Upon seeing his spacious and fully-equipped classrooScreen_Shot_2017-05-08_at_12.46.12_PM_copy.jpgm, seventh-grade science teacher John Henrichsen gave Peterson a bear hug. Currently, his students don’t have easy access to a clean-up station. In the new building, it will be within arm’s reach, saving Henrichsen precious instructional time.

If the new building will be more efficient, it will also be more welcoming. Amenities such as, the state-of-the-art auditorium and TV broadcast room, will expose students to a variety of educational experiences at a time when that’s what their fast-developing brains crave. Modern heating, cooling and wiring will make for a more comfortable learning environment adaptable to the latest technologies. Floor-to-ceiling windows will let in natural light, and a student lounge equipped with programmable neon lighting is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

This building will be a resource for the entire community, Peterson said. Its tiered design helps it blend into the surrounding neighborhood, and its fields and multi-use space and catering kitchen will become a gathering place for neighborhood events.

With this fall’s opening of Midvale Middle and Altara Elementary, and next year’s completion of the remodel of Indian Hills Middle, Canyons School District will have fulfilled promises made to voters as part of a $250 million bond approved in 2010. In all, the District will have completed 13 major improvements without raising taxes and while maintaining a ‘AAA’ bond rating.

In the seven years since the bond was passed, Canyons has built a new Corner Canyon High, rebuilt Midvale Elementary, renovated Albion Middle, added seismic improvements to Sandy Elementary, a new Draper Park Middle, rebuilt Butler Middle, a new Butler Elementary, additions to Brighton and Hillcrest high schools, and rebuilt Mount Jordan Middle.

Additionally, the District added air conditioning to every school that did not previously have cooling air; security vestibules at all elementary schools; a soccer field, tennis courts and athletic fields near Brighton high; upgraded Alta High and made other improvements to Canyons facilities.

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  • Joani Richardson is the kind of teacher who can breathe new life into words, pull magic from a page, and spark wonder in the eyes of eager-to-learn children. “I love to teach children to love to read,” says Richardson. “I have failed if I have not taught a child to love to read.”

    For her dedication to inspiring her first-grade students at Altara Elementary to learn and grow, Richardson, who is beloved by scores of students, parents and fellow educators, has received one of the most prestigious awards given to public-school educators in Utah. 

    On Friday, April 28, 2017, in front of cheering Altara Kittyhawks of all ages, Richardson was announced as a winner of a Huntsman Award for Excellence in Education. She’s one of 11 Utahns selected for the honor, which comes with a crystal obelisk and a $10,000 cash prize. The winners — six general education teachers, three administrators, one special-education teacher and a volunteer — are hand-picked by a panel of prominent citizens and educators after a public-nomination process. Awards will be given at a May banquet in Salt Lake.
     
    2017 Huntsman Award Winner Joani Richardson

    “Every year, our family has the opportunity of going all over the state of Utah,” said Karen Huntsman, the philanthropist and wife of billionaire businessman Jon M. Huntsman Sr., who delivered to the news to Richardson personally at an assembly. “You know what they we are looking for?  Outstanding teachers.” 

    At the Friday morning assembly, which was attended by Richardson’s family (some had dialed in via FaceTime on iPhones), Principal Nicole Svee-Magann, Superintendent Dr. Jim Briscoe and School Performance Director Alice Peck, Huntsman pulled Richardson close and said, “She doesn’t teach for the money,” Huntsman said.  “She teaches for the love of teaching.” 

    Svee-Magann is effusive in her praise of Richardson, who has taught for some four decades. The principal calls her a top-notch teacher who doesn’t let anything — not even breast cancer — slow her down. Even while undergoing chemotherapy treatment, she said, Richardson ran last Saturday’s Salt Lake Half-Marathon. 

    “Sometimes when we have hard things happen, we have to keep going. We have to keep going forward and making a difference. This good woman is the best example of this that I know,” Huntsman added. “When hard things happen, do you think she forgets her students?  Do you think she forgets her lesson plans?  She does everything because she loves and cares about what she’s doing.  When you think about all the children she’s taught … she has impacted their lives for years and years and years.”

    Richardson’s selection extends Canyons District’s streak of being home to a Huntsman award-winner. Last year’s winner from CSD, Brighton High’s Aaron Hadfield, was at Friday’s assembly to surprise Richardson with the news. But he was there in a different capacity — as a volunteer in the WatchDOG program for fathers. Also, his wife, Jody, is the School Community Council chair at Altara and was the driving force behind Richardson’s nomination.

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  • Family is important to Vinnie Vala’au, though for most of his youth, the stable home life he yearned for, and wanted to provide his two younger siblings, remained just out of reach. “Growing up, I faced a lot of trials,” says the Alta High senior.

    But sometimes home is where you find it, and Vinnie found it in Sandy, Utah, miles from his Samoan homeland, and in the caring, supportive teachers and counselors at Alta High. “Their expectations were high for me, and I’m so grateful for that,” he says.

    Vinnie first enrolled at Alta two years ago as a sophomore. He and his siblings had just moved from America Samoa to live with an aunt and uncle. “That’s a huge culture shock, a huge change in his life, and he just jumped in with two feet,” says school counselor Kelsie Court.

    The transition wasn’t easy. There were plenty of ups and downs, Vinnie says. But with perseverance, he exceled in his Honors courses and landed a position on the football team. “He impressed me with his quiet leadership and work ethic,” says Alta business teacher Kim Batey. “Nowadays students are so focused on grades, and it’s not about the learning. But Vinnie wants to learn…and that is so gratifying as a teacher.”



    Earlier this year, Vinnie encountered a few setbacks that threatened to derail him from his academic goals. Sidelined by a football injury and experiencing some trouble at home, Vinnie recalls, “things got a little bit rough.”

    He retreated into himself and stopped attending some of his classes. Worried staff and faculty reached out, offering up their classrooms after hours so that Vinnie could access computers to complete his homework. They shared their lunches and, when Vinnie was open to it, words of advice. But mostly, they were just there to lend a listening ear.

    “Vinnie doesn’t ask for anything, or want to put anyone out. But he’s the first to extend a helping hand,” says Court, who credits Vinnie, and his never-say-die attitude, for turning things around. “Pretty much everything about him inspires me; his entire outlook on life, everything he has been through. I’ve seen a lot of students go through even a fraction of what he’s gone through and they’ve just folded.”

    Vinnie says he’s “grateful for the chaos” in his life, because, “it’s made me who I am today.” He finds daily motivation in his family and his surrogate Alta High “mothers” whom he wants to make proud. His advice to other students: “Don’t be afraid to go outside your boundaries. Be uncomfortable.” And don’t be ashamed to ask for help if you need it. “It’s fun to have friends,” he says.

    This summer, Vinnie will proudly join his peers on the commencement stage to receive his diploma. Next stop: Southern Utah University where he’ll explore a career in counseling.

    Through his determination and hard work, he has demonstrated that he has what it takes to succeed at college, and beyond, says Canyons Education Foundation Officer Laura Barlow. For these reasons, and more, Vinnie is the recipient of the Foundation’s $2,500 Rising Star Scholarship, one of six scholarships awarded this year to deserving students.

    The Foundation announced the following scholarship winners at its Spring fundraising Gala, held at Corner Canyon High on Thursday, April 27. Money raised at the event will support student scholarships and grants to fund teachers’ ideas for enhancing classroom instruction.

    Rising Star Scholarship • $2.500
    Vinnie Vala’au, Alta High

    Bright Star Scholarships • $1,000
    Jennifer Pomeroy, Alta High
    Cassandra Hatcher, Brighton High
    Hailee Thorn, Corner Canyon
    Danielle Coccimiglio, Hillcrest
    Ismael Zarate-Guillen, Jordan

    Canyons Foundation Gala Photos

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    Canyons Foundation Gala Photo Booth

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