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Wide hallways, lockers that won’t open, multiple class periods and heavier homework loads—starting middle school for the first time can be a little daunting.

But it doesn’t have to be. For eights years, Canyons District’s middle schools have opened their doors to incoming sixth-graders a day early to allow them to orient themselves and ease into their new surroundings before the official start of school. “It’s a great tradition. We’ve found that it really cuts down on the nerves and the tears and helps students get acclimated,” Mount Jordan’s new principal Cindy Hansen told a KTVX reporter who profiled the event.

With elementary school, and all of its colorful comforts a distant memory, it’s important to give first-timers a primer on things, such as, opening stubborn lockers and using their school planners.

At Albion Middle’s half-day orientation, students were greeted by trumpets as they walked a red carpet and received high-five’s from their teachers. At Union Middle, math teacher Stephanie Knighton reminded her class, “You know there’s no recess? There are four minutes between classes — we’ve been giving you five today.”

Students arrived in time to hear the morning bell ring. They sat through shortened versions of all their classes, giving them a chance to walk the hallways and see how much time it takes to get from one class period to the next — or to find the cafeteria, restrooms and gym. Some schools heldintroductory assemblies and handed out snacks to tide over grumbly bellies until lunch. Students met their teachers and made new friends. “They’re just in awe of the newness of it all,” Midvale Middle assistant principal Kerry Schroeppel said as his students filed into the cafeteria to have an Otter pop and learn the rules of the cafeteria. “There’s no reason to be scared, and that’s what we try to instill in them with our enthusiasm. We are excited for this new year and we are excited for them to feel that.”

As Mount Jordan students filed out to catch their busses, an announcement rang out, “Thanks for being with us today. We look forward to seeing you tomorrow.”


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A new school year brings lots of changes and challenges for kids of all ages. But if there’s one year that’s especially critical — and often the most unsettling — for students, it’s the 9th grade.

Ninth grade has become known as the “make or break” year of high school, because how students perform in the first months of their freshman year can determine whether they drop out or graduate. But the stakes don’t have to be that high, believes Hillcrest High Principal Greg Leavitt who test-piloted a summer boot camp this year to ease the transition for entering freshmen and put them on the path to excel their first year and beyond.

About 80 students attended the inaugural program where for 30 days they received four hours of daily instruction in math, science, English and geography. The voluntary program was a commitment for students and teachers who had to forgo their summer breaks. But students who completed the coursework will start high school ahead of their peers, with a quarter of an elective credit under their belts. On Friday at a special ceremony, they received certificates of completion. Those with perfect attendance, or who finished all their work on time, also received cash incentives of up to $400 provided by the United Way of Greater Salt Lake.

“A high school diploma is the ticket to the show of life,” Leavitt told students and their families. “There’s not a parent in here who doesn’t want their child to succeed.” But 9th grade is a period of struggle for many students.  There’s the newness of the school, and teachers, and the fact that for the first time, students have to earn passing grades in some pretty tough classes. As a result, studies show, freshmen have lower grade point averages and more absences, failing grades and behavior referrals than their older peers.bootcamp4.jpg

In a house editorial, the Deseret News called the boot camp a cost-effective, "smart, sensible and innovative" fix for a persistent problem in education. “Improving the quality of public education in Utah has and will forever present unique challenges. Our demographics make it difficult to fund schools on a per-pupil basis as generously as do other states, even though we contribute a proportionately large percentage of public funds to education," reads the opinion piece. "The Canyons School District’s boot camp experiment is a commendable example of a tactical approach to dealing with a specific problem — one that happens to be at the heart of any education system’s principal mission — to make sure students who show up on the first day of school are still there when the bell rings on graduation day.”

Hillcrest worked with middle schools in its feeder system to identify students who would most benefit from the boot camp, and invited them to sign a contract saying they would show up each day. Roughly 88 percent honored the contract and finished the program. “The fact that these kids who face a lot of challenges in their lives came here and completed the rigorous coursework is a testament to their character,” said Leavitt. Some students gave their stipends to their parents to supplement family food budgets.

The boot camp is part of a larger, Board of Education-approved initiative to boost student achievement at Hillcrest by identifying struggling learners before they reach high school and offering them early supports. The investment is tangible proof of the Board’s commitment to Canyons School District’s mission of preparing all students for the rigors of college and careers, said Superintendent Jim Briscoe who advised students at Friday’s celebration to put aside the goal of graduation for now and focus on more immediate tasks. 

“All I want you to do is get to school on time and get through the first eight weeks with no failing grades,” he said. People often set big college and career goals for themselves, and then get overwwhelmed by them because they neglect the intermediary steps, Briscoe explained while urging students to focus on the now. With small successes will come bigger successes, he added. “You came here during the summer while your buddies were skateboarding and at the swimming pool. Do you know what that tells me? It tells me that you have what it takes to succeed.”


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Canyons District is home to the first middle schools ever to receive STEM designations — a reflection of their strong focus in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Nineteen schools in Utah received the designation — and Draper Park, Mount Jordan and Union were the only middle schools. Sponsored by the Utah State Office of Education and the STEM Action Center, the designation program was created by the Utah Legislature to define the ingredients for the quality of STEM instruction needed to prepare students for college and 21st Century careers. “The designation serves as an indicator for members of the public who are looking for STEM school experiences in Utah K-12 education,” says the STEM Action Center’s website.

School leaders and curriculum specialists were thrilled to receive the designations. “This is a great honor for Union Middle School," Union Vice Principal Doug Hallenbeck said,"particularly for our science department, which has worked cohesively to attain this prestigious level of recognition. It is well deserved for the tremendous amount of work they do for the students of Union.”

In other STEM news, 23 of CSD’s middle school students received scholarships to attend science- and technology-oriented summer camps. The scholarships were sponsored by RizePoint, a software company that recently re-located to the Canyons District community. The winners were honored at a reception at the company’s headquarters, 2890 Big Cottonwood Canyon Road, on Wednesday, May 18.



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Parents of fifth-graders enrolled in Canyons District's Dual-Language Immersion Programs have been invited to a meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 20 to learn about the transition from elementary school to middle school.

At the 6 p.m. event at Mount Jordan Middle, 9351 S. Mountaineer Lane (300 East), the Canyons curriculum team that oversees the dual-language immersion programs also will share information about DLI instruction in secondary schools.

In addition, information will be presented about the online intent-to-continue process parents will be asked to complete in order for their children to continue in the programs. 

At the middle school level, Spanish programs are being provided at Mount Jordan, Union and Midvale; French classes are being taught at Draper Park and Butler; and Mandarin Chinese is being offered at Draper Park, Butler and Indian Hills.

Students who seek to participate in a dual-language immersion program at a school other than the one assigned to them by geographic boundaries should submit an open-enrollment application to the school they wish to attend as soon as possible. Per state law, the Standard Open Enrollment Application forms will be accepted by Canyons schools until Feb. 19. Filling out the permit request does not guarantee placement in the DLI program at that school.  

Questions?  Please call the CSD Instructional Supports Department at 801 826 5045
Tuesday, 31 March 2015 16:09

Union Middle School - Bryan Stephenson

Parents say that Bryan Stephenson already is a master teacher, but he still keeps looking for ways to improve. That’s why he spent his summer reading Ken O’Connor’s “A Repair Kit for Grading,” and revamping his classroom. He supports students and parents by developing his own website and video teaching tools, filming his daily lessons, and teaching students that mistakes are part of success. After school, Stephenson works with hundreds of students to present “miraculous” musicals, as one colleague said. His dedication to tutoring students before school, inspiring students with encouragement and kindness, and his lasting impact on Union Middle School are reasons why he has been selected as the 2015 Teacher of the Year.
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