The first-ever members to join Alta High’s marching band will be graduating this year — and they’ll be celebrating in a big way.

After four years of high-stepping, twirling and drumming, Canyons District’s only marching band will be taking their talent across the country to represent Utah in the 13th annual National Memorial Day Parade, held annually on Constitution Avenue to honor the men and women who have served valiantly in the U.S. Armed Forces.  The parade starts at 2 p.m. Eastern on Monday. 

This is the first time the award-winning band will perform in a different state, and they will be the only Utah marching band in the event. The parade is one of the country’s largest Memorial Day event.

“I had no idea we would be marching in this parade,” said Alta bandleader Caleb Shabestari, who led the band to 2A division state championships in 2013 and 2014. “I think it’s cool we’ve doubled the size of the band in four years and we’re taking a trip across the country. We couldn’t have done that last year.”

Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan nominated the marching band to represent Utah last March and the group has been preparing ever since. These days, the students attend practice two days a week to put the final touches on their patriotic program. The songs they will perform will highlight an immigrant’s journey to the United States.

“Just for the parade we’ve probably practiced for 40 hours straight,” Shabestari said. For those who won’t be able to see the parade in Washington, D.C. on Monday, May 29, the band will perform the same numbers at parades this summer in Sandy and Draper. 

The parade also will be streamed live on  

In June, the Alta High marching band will begin rehearsals for the summer band program, which includes flashy performances in Fourth of July and city celebration parades. The students range in age from seventh- to 12th grades and hail from all parts of the District. 

In the fall, the group will start working on their fall competition program, which will feature a theme of air, flight and planes, with completely original music. Students from all over Canyons participate in the District band located at Alta.

 “My goal at the end of five years is to have a band with over 100 people,” Shabestari said. “We are well on track to do that.”
A whopping 22 stellar students from Canyons District’s five traditional comprehensive high schools find out tonight if they have been selected as 2017 Sterling Scholars in their respective categories.  Winners in the 55th annual scholarship program sponsored by the Deseret News and KSL-TV Channel 5 will be announced during a ceremony at the LDS Conference Center’s Little Theater, 60 West North Temple.  Students from Alta, Brighton, Corner Canyon, Hillcrest and Jordan high schools are in the finals in all but one of the judged categories.  Last year, Canyons students walked away with several awards.   Anthony Cheng, from Hillcrest High, was announced as the top mathematician — and the overall general scholar. Sadie Chidester and Camden Seeborg, both from Corner Canyon, won in the Skilled and Technical Sciences and World Languages categories, respectively.  Here’s a list of Canyons District’s 2017 finalists:

Business and Marketing
Elizabeth Ericksen, Corner Canyon

Computer Technology
Abigail Olsen, Hillcrest
Ryan Dalby, Brighton
Ellek Linton, Corner Canyon

Caroline Tarbet, Hillcrest
Ashley Jex, Alta
Audrey Memmott, Corner Canyon

Nain Christopherson, Jordan
Alexandra Carlile, Hillcrest

Family and Consumer Sciences Education
Carlee Culberson, Jordan

Ben Hiatt, Corner Canyon

Boyd Christiansen, Jordan
Michelle White, Hillcrest

Skilled & Technical Sciences Education
Mary Evans, Hillcrest
Mykell Johnson, Alta

Social Sciences
Eliza Bennett, Jordan

Speech, Theatre Arts, Forensics
Emma Smith, Alta

Visual Arts
Dexter Holmes, Jordan
Meg Warnock, Corner Canyon

Vocal Performance
Kristen Fairbourn, Alta

World Languages
Cade Kartchner, Hillcrest
Julianne Liu, Brighton
Prepare to soar toward a brilliant future, Hawks.

The Canyons Board of Education on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 embraced a first-of-its-kind partnership with the University of Utah that will give flight to the higher-education aspirations of stellar students attending Alta High School.

A Memo of Understanding between the first new school district to be created in Utah in a century and the Utah’s flagship institution of the state System of Higher Education was approved during the Board of Education’s business meeting at the Canyons Administration Building-East, 9361 S. 300 East.

The alliance is the U.’s second academic, early-college partnership with a secondary school. However, it is the tier-one, PAC 12 research institution’s first official collaboration with a traditional, comprehensive public high school.

The Canyons program — called Step2theU — will grant a select cohort of Alta-enrolled students the opportunity to study with University of Utah professors and instructors at the U.’s Sandy Campus. Alta’s administration aims to open the first competitive application process in the coming months. Those selected would need to be prepared to start in summer 2017.

"The Canyons Board of Education is pleased to provide this innovative program to the students of Alta High,” said Board President Sherril H. Taylor. “We’re honored to forge an early-college partnership with such a prestigious university, and we’re thrilled that our students will be given a chance to get a jump-start on their pursuit of post-secondary education. It also serves as just one more reason that we will continue to focus, even with our youngest students, on the importance of being college- and career-ready.”

Hawks seeking to become Utes through the program will submit applications during the fall of their junior years. If accepted, the students will be introduced to Step2theU during a summer-block program. Coursework would begin between the students’ junior and senior years, and provide an opportunity for students to finish one semester of college. Then, in the summer months after high school graduation and before the start of their freshman years, the students would take enough general-education coursework to complete another semester.

In essence, by the time the Alta students reach their first day of school at the U., they would have two complete semesters under their belts.

“This new partnership with Alta High will allow us to put everything we know about student success into a state-of-the-art, early-college experience,” said Ann Darling, Assistant Vice President of Undergraduate Studies. “We are excited to work with the great administration and staff at Alta High and Canyons School District and to serve their terrific students in their pathway to college.”

By participating, Principal Brian McGill says, Alta students could possibly save up to $10,000 in tuition, fees and other associated college costs.

The first-ever cohort would be made up of 30-35 students. The target audience of students would include current Alta students who have solid grade-point averages, as well as involvement in Advanced Placement and concurrent enrollment classes. However, the students who submit applications will be asked to detail their engagement in school extracurriculars, demonstrate leadership and personal engagement with the community, and declare a preference in continuing their studies at the U.

In addition, McGill said, the program would be heavily marketed to first-generation, minority, and low-income students.

“Canyons District’s mission is to help foster a culture of college- and career-readiness, and this innovative partnership is a way to further fulfill our commitment to our students and the families that are able to participate in this unique academic venture,” said McGill. “We have a vision at Alta High School to be the first comprehensive high school in Utah to create a new hybrid high school framework that embodies the traditional offerings in academics, arts, athletics, and extracurricular activities, combined with a this newly established early college pathway, in partnership with the University of Utah.”
Alta High

Alta High’s class of 2016 may be the smallest the school has ever seen, but they are a force to be reckoned with. In the 2015-2016 school year, the graduates fundraised $175,000, earned $4 million in scholarship awards and received 728 concurrent and AP credits, saving some $655,000 in college tuition. “We have accomplished so much more than we knew and are far more capable than we would think,” senior class president Taylie Barney told the audience of graduates and loved ones Thursday, June 2, at the Jon M. Hunstman Center at the University of Utah. Barney joined 380 of her fellow graduates, Principal Brian McGill, Canyons Superintendent James Briscoe, Canyons Board of Education President Sherril Taylor and representative Chad Iverson, who represents the Alta area, at the ceremony. A theme of inclusivity, success amid trials and the power of perseverance echoed throughout the event, as McGill noted the overwhelming support students gave their school as they attended pep rallies and other gatherings in record numbers this year. “We have the best students and the strongest sense of pride in the state of Utah,” McGill told the graduates. He noted the successes of the school’s football, soccer, golf, volleyball, wrestling, swimming, debate, track and drill teams in regional competitions. Alta’s class of 2016 has a 96 percent graduation rate, with 92 percent already enrolled in post-secondary educational institutions. Those numbers place Alta 40 percent above the national graduation rate and 50 percent above the numbers of students going on to attend college after high school in the rest of the country. Students need to use that strong foundation to go on and face hardship with fortitude, Briscoe told the graduates shortly before they received their diplomas. “You will most value the memories you obtained overcoming challenges and obstacles," Briscoe said. "Do not allow someone else to determine your destiny.”  See our Facebook page for a photo album.

Brighton High

A parcel of wisdom given by a student speaker at Brighton High's Commencement Exercises on Thursday, June 4 at the Maverik Center seemed so fitting, considering the accomplishments of the Class of 2016. Senior Class President Dru Turley reminded his fellow graduates — who claimed numerous state championships, raised more than $80,000 for charity, and earned a whopping $10.9 million in scholarship offers — "that you won't remember how high you started — but how high you finish." In the words of record-breaking football player Simi Fehoko, who was named Mr. Football, the Utah Gatorade Football Player of the Year, and was selected as one of the top players in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, "it's not about being the best. It's about being better than you were yesterday." Principal Charisse Hilton lauded the students for their achievements in the classroom, as well. Not only did the school have one the state's highest participation rates in Advanced Placement classes, the test-taking Bengals scored a 3 or higher 82 percent of the time. More than 90 percent of graduating serniors will pursue some form of post-secondary education, and more than a handful have been accepted to such stellar schools as Stanford, Pepperdine, and the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Another student has earned a U.S. Senatorial Appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy. Assistant Superintendent Kathryn McCarrie encouraged students to continue focusing on the importance of teamwork. One person can accomplish a lot — but people working in tandem toward a common goal can accomplish so much more.  See more photos on our Facebook page.

Corner Canyon High

As Principal Mary Bailey stood for the last time to address the graduating students of Corner Canyon, tears filled her eyes and her voice caught with emotion. “Be like fireworks,” she told the crowd. “Be individual sparks of talent and vitality that dazzle the world.” Thursday’s ceremony at the Jon M. Huntsman Center marked the end of Bailey’s career as she retires as one of Utah’s beloved principals — and the beginning of a new chapter for 476 graduating Chargers. Corner Canyons’ class of 2016 is the first group of seniors to graduate after beginning their high school career at the school when it first opened its doors three years ago. This year the group is expected to earn more than $8 million in scholarship offerings at a rate of 55 percent of the class receiving the awards. The class excelled academically as 103 students are on track to receive Regent scholarships, 12 students graduated with 4.0 grade point averages, two students have already earned associate degrees and two students were chosen as state-wide Sterling Scholars, the most of any school in the state. “Every single one of you is capable of amazing things,” Senior Class President Austin Matsuura told his fellow graduates. “I hope we can create a future we can be proud of.” The Chargers — 96 percent of whom are headed to college — were also hard at work this year outside of the classroom, performing 18,500 hours of service and raising $65,000 for charity. As Bailey listed the school’s accomplishments in music, drama, golf, cheer, drill team, basketball, football, swimming, soccer and a mountain biking team that took first place in a state-wide competition, the audience cheered and gave their principal a standing ovation. Bailey was joined by Canyons Superintendent James Briscoe; Canyons Board of Education Vice President Steve Wrigley and member Chad Iverson, who represent the Corner Canyon area; and Draper City Council member Jeff Stenquist. “Take courage to aim high in your life,” Wrigley told the graduates. “Be careful not to aim too low. Don’t let the opposition in life destroy your dreams.”  See the District's Facebook page for a photo album of the event.

Hillcrest High

Who knew Principal Greg Leavitt could carry a tune?  At Hillcrest High’s graduation rites on Thursday, June 2, the first-year principal of the Huskys led the crowd in a short song that elicited cheers and applause.  The ceremony at the Maverik Center, packed with friends, family, younger students and teachers, was a true celebration of the academic, athletic and artistic accomplishments of the Midvale-area school. While the 476 graduates wrapped up the ceremony by unceremoniously (and gleefully) tossing their white and green caps in the area, they also were urged to take seriously their roles as the next generation of leaders, entrepreneurs, soldiers, and citizens. “The future is truly in our hands. So let’s make the most of it,” said Min Joong Kim, the class president. “Now, let’s go out and paint the world green.” Kim also urged her fellow graduates to express appreciation for the parents and other family members who helped them achieve a high school diploma. After all, she said, they were the ones who ensured they arrived at school ready to learn, helped with homework, and cheered during artistic and athletic events. Students also were encouraged to pursue their dreams. So what if the dream seems to difficult, too unattainable?  Just remember all the challenges that were presented in the classrooms and hallways of Hillcrest High, take courage from the lessons learned as a Husky, and start the work to achieve greatness. The future belongs, said student Mitchell Spencer, to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. Leavitt told the capacity crowd that he enjoys watching the students as they enter the school every day.  “I look at their faces and wonder, ‘What will their lives be like?’”  He said he had no doubt that they’d be able to face the world with tenacity and smarts.  But even in the harshest moments, when it feels that all has failed, Assistant Superintendent  Bob Dowdle reminded the graduates that “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Robert Green, a member of the Board of Education, also told the students to face their fears.  Do something out of the comfort zone, he said. With perseverance and hard work, he said, “my hope is that you’ll achieve more than you ever dreamed of.”  See CSD's Facebook page for photos of the rites.

Jordan High

Tonight, the Beetdiggers are young. They can set the world on fire and burn brighter than the sun. In an unconventional commencement address, Principal Tom Sherwood Jordan High Principal led the entire graduating class in a rousing rendition of “”We Are Young” by the pop group Fun.  Sherwood used an oft-used poetic phrase to describe the 454 students who earned diplomas on Thursday at the Maverik Center in West Valley City: Youth is wasted on the young.   But the youth, he said, have the great opportunity to start living their lives, trying new things, and pursuing their dreams.  While in pursuit of accomplishment, he said, he urged the graduates to never be afraid of making mistakes.  The reality is, he said, we all learn from our mistakes.  “It’s the culmination of all my mistakes that made me into the person I am today — and helped me become the person I am today,” he said. He encouraged the students to follow the words of “Harry Potter” author JK Rowling: “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all — in which case, you fail by default.” Said Sherwood, “You will fail from time to time. ...It’s how we react to those mistakes that will make all the difference.” Superintendent Jim Briscoe also exhorted the graduates to look at the positive of every seemingly negative situation. While it’s been said the America runs on Dunkin’, he said, it may well be that we all run best on determination and perseverance.  In time, you may run into people who tell you that you’re goal is unattainable.  Simply dig deep, rely on the strength of what you’ve learned as a Beetdigger, and pursue your hearts desire with tenacity. “Don’t let someone else determine your destiny. Could you imagine how much better this world would be if people spent time improving themselves rather than criticizing other people?” he said. “Everything you fail, use it as an opportunity” — an opportunity to learn more, achieve more, to make yourself a better person, he said. Board member Steve Wrigley also urged the student to leave the world a better place just by being in it.  The best way to do that, he said, is to live a life of action.  If you never act on your thoughts, he said, you never know what could be possible. Do much, do good, and do well. Congratulations to the Class of 2016.   Click here for a Facebook album of the rites.

Diamond Ridge High

History was made as diplomas were handed to the first graduating class of Diamond Ridge High, Canyons’ new alternative high school. Diamond Ridge was approved by the Board of Education a little over a year ago and, through the hard work of its faculty and staff, has grown into “a caring, safe and challenging place for kids to be successful,” said the school’s administrator Amy Boettger at Wednesday’s commencement ceremony. The Class of 2016 is small — numbering 17 — but fierce in their determination. “A lot of us here were told we wouldn’t graduate or amount to much, but we’re all sitting here together,” said graduating senior Kingston Tilson, one of the first four students to enroll at Diamond Ridge. “I’m glad we never gave up.” In a surprise announcement, Student Advocacy and Access Director Karen Sterling awarded three students with $300 scholarships in the name of her grandfather and mother who also triumphed over adversity. “The satisfaction you feel tonight is the best feeling in the world, and I hope you hold onto it, because it’s a gift you’ve given yourself,” she said. “You paid for it by your hard work.”  See the Facebook page for more photos.

South Park Academy

One step at a time. That’s how Sandra Chotia, an inmate at the Utah State Prison, overcame her feelings of inadequacy — and fear of fractions and times tables — to build up enough credits to earn a diploma. Chotia was among 110 men and women to graduate this year from South Park Academy, an educational institution overseen by Canyons School District and located at the prison in Draper. Speaking at South Park’s commencement ceremony, she said, memories of attending school as a child still fill her with anxiety. “I spent most of my life living down to my expectations for myself. I never thought I’d amount to much, so, why try?” But the encouraging environment at South Park, which caters to students of all ages, and in all stages of their education, helped her see a different path. Chotia started with less than one credit to her name, and in months was able to earn enough to graduate with a GPA of 3.6. She now aspires to earn a college degree. “I have changed the way I think about taking on things that take a long time to finish.” Chotia was honored at the ceremony along with Outstanding Student of the Year Marshall Roberts who works as a literacy coordinator at South Park and tutors his fellow inmates. Additional speakers included, Canyons Board of Education member Amber Shill, Assistant Superintendent Robert Dowdle, and Juvenile and Adult Corrections Education Administrator Todd Bird. It’s focusing on “one goal at a time…and the next, and the next,” that brings about change, Bird said. Tomorrow's challenges will be different, but with one goal down, he told graduates, "you will have more energy to focus on your next." See more on our Facebook page.


More than 100 Entrada students packed the stage of Mount Jordan Middle Tuesday night with smiles and nervous whispers as they adjusted their gowns and tassels in anticipation of the evening ahead. Their long awaited moment had arrived: graduation. The smiles on their faces and the tears in their eyes told the story of how each one fought to earn the piece of paper rolled up in a ribbon at the front of the stage. Some are single parents, some are homeless, and some have waited 30 years to graduate high school. As school leaders, District administrators and students spoke to the standing-room-only audience, the graduates celebrated their stories of triumph and tragedy on their path to graduation. “To be able to walk out of here with a high school diploma is a dream come true,” said student speaker Cory Jolley, who decided to go back to school after she found that the first question she encountered on job interviews was whether she graduated high school. “I’ve waited for this for a long time, and now it’s coming true.” Karen Sterling, Canyons Director of Student Advocacy and Access told the graduates to have a growth mindset, instead of a fixed mindset, so they would never give up when they face challenges in life. “Embrace challenges, value effort, keep growing and reach for higher levels of achievement,” Sterling told the audience. “You’ve proven you can do hard things.” Entrada’s adult high school program offers adults opportunities to earn a high school diploma, GED test preparation, and improve English language skills for non-native speakers. This year, 219 students graduated from the program. Speakers encouraged the students to continue their education and not give up. “You shouldn’t let people tell you what you can and can’t do,” Canyons Board of Education member Clareen Arnold told the audience. “Go be whatever you want to be. Follow your heart and your intuition.” See photos on our Facebook page.

Jordan Valley School

As a smiling procession of students in gold and blue graduation gowns took their seats, all eyes fell to an empty chair at the center of Jordan Valley School’s commencement stage. Draped with flowers and a cap and gown, the chair was held in remembrance of Ian Milliner, one of seven Jordan Valley students this year whose lives were cut painfully short. A moment of silence also was held during the ceremony, which, for the school’s tight-knit community, was as much about closure for the past as looking toward the future. Jordan Valley is a school for students with severe disabilities, many of whom are medically fragile and attend from the time they’re in preschool until they age out at 22. When a student dies, it’s like “losing family,” said head secretary Gay Smullen. For those graduating, leaving the safe confines of the school also brings many emotions. But as Board of Education Vice President Nancy Tingey said on Thursday, quoting the poet Kahlil Gibran, “Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.” Expressing admiration for the “strong hearts and deep courage” of the parents, students, staff and faculty of Jordan Valley, Tingey thanked them for the “goodness they bring” to the Canyons District community. The school's holiday productions and hand-painted holiday cards “bring a spirit to the season that is treasured by all,” she said. And the “daily acts of service and kindness at Jordan Valley radiate from these halls into the lives of all those who associate with this wonderful school.” The Class of 2016 is Jordan Valley’s 40th graduating class. Six students took the stage, accompanied by their parents; Ian would have been the seventh. After receiving certificates of completion, students and families attended a reception where lunch and cake were served along with a sampling of each graduate’s favorite snack: diet Coke for Janessa Davilla, Cinnamon Toast Crunch for Arthur Morris and a big bowl of Sour Patch Kids — Ian’s favorite. See photos on our Facebook page.

Now this is music to our ears.

Eight Canyons District students have been selected to play side-by-side with members of the Utah Symphony at Abravanel Hall on Tuesday, May 17.

The 7 p.m. concert will feature some of the state’s best high school musicians. Cost to attend the event ranges from $6 to $18. The students are:

  • Alta:  Jacob Kilby, acoustic bass; Noah Valentine, violin
  • Hillcrest:  Mitchell Spencer, piano; Michael Zackrison, tuba; Adam Ford, violin
  • Corner Canyon:  Hannah McKay, viola; Kadyn Allen, trumpet
  • Jordan:  Nathan Jensen, French horn

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