If Utah’s public schools are the frequent recipient of charitable giving — from booster club donations to the daily contributions of volunteers —they’re also a source of altruism. Canyons District students give back to their communities year-round, and the holidays are no different.
More than 25 Canyons District schools are sponsoring holiday donation drives this year. Despite the robust economy, intergenerational poverty continues to be a problem in Utah. To support for families in need, Canyons District schools are hosting food drives, clothing exchanges, and stuffed animal giveaways. Among the groups to benefit from their generosity are the Utah Food Bank, Sub for Santa, local animal shelters and Utah’s Ouelessebougou Alliance, to name a few.
Following a proud, four-year tradition, Canyons’ administration will be raising money and collecting winter clothing for residents of The Road Home in Midvale, a homeless shelter within the District’s boundaries. The donation drive will culminate with a luncheon featuring a performance by Jordan Valley students and a silent auction.
As part of Canyons’ partnership with the Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce, the District also is gathering gently-used purses and jewelry for People Helping People, an organization that helps low-income women, primarily single mothers, find jobs with living wages.
How can you help?
Drop off donations of winter coats, warm sleepwear and clothing (including new socks and underwear), blankets, toys, and gifts at Canyons District’s administration building (9361 S. 300 East in Sandy).
School Holiday Fundraisers
Elementary Schools Altara, Spring charity drive March 5-9 Bella Vista, Food drive through Nov. 11 Brookwood, January fundraiser benefitting the Ouelessebougou Alliance Crescent, Food drive benefitting the Utah Food Bank Nov. 6-17 East Sandy, “Month of Service,” food, clothing and stuffed animal drive, Nov. 13-17. Edgemeont, Food drive benefitting the Utah Food Bank through December. Granite, Food drive benefitting Utah Food Bank Nov. 13 – Dec. 6 Lone Peak, Collecting money to help pay off student lunch balances, Nov 6-17. Oakdale, Food drive benefitting the Utah Food Bank through Thanksgiving.
Park Lane, Project Teddy Bear with the Bank of American Fork, Nov. 27 – Dec. 11. Ridgecrest, Food drive benefitting Ridgecrest and East Midvale Elementary, Nov. 6-17. Silver Mesa, Food drive, Nov. 13-17. Sprucewood, Food drive benefitting the Utah Food Bank, Nov. 6-20 Sunrise, Food drive benefitting the Utah Food Bank, week of Dec. 4. Willow Canyon, Service project benefitting Midvale Elementary, food drive. Willow Springs, Donation drive for residents of The Road Home and Ronald McDonald House.
Middle Schools Albion, Cereal drive, Dec. 11-16. Butler, Clothing drive benefitting Midvale Middle store, Dec. 11-15. Draper Park, Cereal drive benefitting CSD’s Title 1 schools. Eastmont, Food drive benefitting the Utah Food bank. Indian Hills, January fundraiser benefitting the Make a Wish Foundation. Mount Jordan, Sub for Santa drive. Union, Fundraiser benefitting local animal shelter.
High Schools Corner Canyon, Drive benefitting the Tyler Robinson Foundation, Nov. 18-Dec.19 Jordan, Clothing and donation drive benefitting Boys and Girls Club of Sandy, Dec. 4-17.
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
Emma Critchlow is proof that it’s never too late to start again.
Once she put her mind to it, nothing could stop this Brighton High senior from crossing the commencement stage with her peers — not homelessness, financial constraints, nor even the daunting task of making up a year’s worth of school credits lost due to chronic truancy.
Critchlow is now poised to study dental hygiene at Weber State University with an eye toward enrolling in dental school and specializing in orthodontics. And she’ll have a little help paying for it with a $2,500 scholarship from the Canyons Education Foundation.
The Bengal is just one of the 2,540 students from CSD’s high schools — Alta, Brighton, Corner Canyon, Hillcrest, Jordan, Entrada, Diamond Ridge and the South Park Academy at the Utah State Prison — who are receiving diplomas this year. Commencement rites are being held this month at various locations.
In addition, 62 percent of graduating seniors this year earned Honors or Advanced diplomas by challenging themselves with more rigorous coursework.
Canyons’ Advanced and Honors Diploma program is a way to encourage students to go above and beyond the state requirements for graduation. Canyons is Utah's first school district to award students differentiated diplomas to indicate college- and career-readiness.
Critchlow is among those who earned a CSD Honors Diploma. For her smarts, grit and can-do attitude, Critchlow was awarded the Foundation’s $2,500 Rising Star scholarship at a recent annual fundraising gala.
The Foundation also gave several $1,000 scholarships to student who overcame significant obstacles to achieve academically. Those students are Alta High’s Elias John Estacion, Brighton’s Jennifer Hill, Corner Canyon’s Alexis Redden, Hillcrest’s Ronaldo Herrera, and Jordan’s Abigail Jensen.
The Foundation scholarships are made possible with the generous support of Canyons District’s corporate and community partners. They are reserved for students who have been homeless, who are the first high school graduates in their families, or who have had to learn a new language at the same time they learned their multiplication tables. In short, they are for students who have shown they’ve got what it takes to shine, to succeed at college and to reach their career goals, no matter how far off they may seem.
It’s rehearsal and the first time that Seattle composer Giselle Wyers has heard her musical piece “Surge Illuminare” performed.
“It’s beautiful!” she tells visibly relieved members of Corner Canyon High School’s choir. “I really like what you’ve brought to it.”
The choir has been working for months to interpret and perfect this song in anticipation of its world premiere at the high school on Monday, March 21. They’re a little stiff; it’s not every day that they get to work with a composer and conductor the caliber of Wyers, an associate endowed professor of choral music at the University of Washington (UW).
But Wyers assures them that they’ve “got this” before coaxing a little more emotion from the group. “This next run, look for something in yourself. Think of something that troubles you and then think about how you overcome it.”
Performing on stage is a balancing act. Wyers wants the choir to be confident and poised; to sing with emotion without being overcome by it. A similar tension, or dissonance, plays out in the music she was commissioned to write for Corner Canyon, says the school’s choir director Melissa Thorne. “It’s a Latin text that talks about bringing forth light to overcome darkness.”
Thorne has long wanted to give her students the opportunity of performing music specifically written for them. Contracting with a professional composer can be expensive. But Dr. Wyers, a good friend of Thorne’s, discounted her services. Thorne then applied for and won a $1,500 Canyons Education Foundation Innovation Grant — one of 25 grants awarded this year to teachers with ideas for enriching classroom instruction.
Most Innovation Grants pay for high-tech classroom materials or teaching tools, but the program is really about expanding students’ horizons. Thorne says working with someone like Wyers, who conducts UW’s choir and whose choral works are published and performed internationally, is a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity for many of her students.
A leading national figure in the application of the Laban movement theory for conductors, Wyers runs Thorne’s choir through a few drills at rehearsal, exposing them to new ways of thinking about their craft. More than just a resume booster, the experience reinforces the value of choral music and “opens students’ minds to what’s possible,” Thorne says.
After rehearsal, students ask Wyers about her creative process. She says often the music just comes to her; it’s while transcribing it that she refines the piece and thinks more critically about how it fits within certain traditions. “People think choir music is Ivory Tower. But when I was your age, I was writing music on the piano and getting inspiration from popular music of the day,” she confides.
What motivated her to write “Surge Illuminare?” It was an abstract idea and nothing in particular. “I was thinking about the forces of life, the forces that draw into dark feelings and dark ways of being, and the forces that draw into hope, courage and taking a chance of doing something outside of the zone because you know it will make you a better person,” she says. “Life can throw up unexpected obstacles and the darkness can seem overwhelming. But we have to always look for the light.”
Wyers concludes rehearsal by sharing lessons learned from the darkest point in her life, when, at the age of 26, she unexpectedly lost her mother to a brain tumor. “I was so upset, but I still had to go to class every day and teach. I would cry all the way to class in the car…teach my one-hour class and go back to my office [and] cry some more,” she says. “But the teaching was what actually got me through it because I wasn’t thinking about myself. Some of the greatest ways to find lightness in life is by giving to others.”
“Surge Illuminare” will debut at Corner Canyon High School Monday, March 21 at 7 p.m. Admission is free. The choir will perform the piece at a regional festival on April 27 and again at the high school during the Canyons Education Foundation Gala April 28 at 6:30 p.m.
The Canyons Education Foundation has received thousands of dollars of donations from Larry H. Miller Charities and Key Bank to help provide enriching opportunities for students and teachers in Canyons District.
Students at Jordan Valley will be receiving new exercise equipment and adaptive bicycles, thanks to a $15,000 donation received by the Canyons Education Foundation from Larry H. Miller Charities.
Physical movement plays an integral role in helping students with special needs progress by stimulating the brain as well as the body, says Jordan Valley Principal Mark Donnelly. The school specializes in helping students who have a variety of severe disabilities including autism, cerebral palsy, seizure disorders and communication impairments, but the cost of purchasing and maintaining the appropriate equipment is high, Donnelly says.
“In order to help our students, we need to help them with what they need physically in order to best educate them in the classroom,” Donnelly says. “This type of equipment is hard to find funding for, and this is great that we will be able to get some of the equipment we need to help our students. It’s just a great, great, wonderful thing.”
The Canyons Education Foundation also received a $5,000 donation from Key Bank to help provide grants to teachers to enhance classroom opportunities in science, technology, engineering, the arts and math.
“Community support is essential to helping Canyons’ students be successful in their efforts to become college-and career-ready,” said Brad Snow, president of the Canyons Education Foundation. “We are so grateful to receive these donations — these funds will help our students tremendously.”