Last summer, Calena Slesser's sister was struck and nearly killed by a car while crossing the street. As her parents shifted their focus to hospital visits, medical consultations and rehabilitative care, Calena fell into the role of caregiver to her younger siblings. 

It was a lot to shoulder for any high school senior, much less for someone who was putting in extra hours to get back on track academically. But no matter what personal and family hardships Calena has faced, she’s done so with grace and strength, never losing sight of her goal of graduating in the hopes of pursuing a college degree.

“She has fire in her belly and she has hope,” says Canyons School District’s Student Advocacy and Access Director Karen Sterling. “My hope for her would be that she continues on this high of realizing she can do hard things, and that she can make a future for herself and find within herself the strength to rise above any challenge.”

For her persistence in the face of adversity, Calena was chosen to receive the Canyons Education Foundation's premier $2,500 Rising Star Scholarship at the Foundation's seventh annual Spring Gala on Thursday, April 19. This year, the Foundation awarded a record $11,000 in college scholarships to nine deserving students. 



At the event, which was held to generate funding for future scholarships, the Foundation also launched a new campaign to raise money to subsidize the cost of tuition for Canyons District teachers who are furthering their own education by enrolling in master’s and doctoral degree programs. “The Foundation works with community leaders and businesses to secure resources to fuel innovation in the classroom and help students realize their dreams. An important piece of the equation is supporting teachers in their efforts to grow professionally and improve their teaching practice,” says Foundation Officer Laura Barlow. “Many factors contribute to student success, but nothing matters more than having a passionate and highly-skilled teacher in the classroom.”

Not too long ago, Calena — whose family had been uprooted by financial and housing insecurities — was struggling to wake at 5 a.m. to catch a bus every day to school. Today, the 18-year-old plans to enroll at Salt Lake Community College, boasts a 4.0 grade point average for the term, and is working with her peers to start a student council at Diamond Ridge, Canyons District’s alternative high school.

Thankful for the close mentoring she received at Diamond Ridge, she says she wanted to give something back: “Everyone there is super supportive. They all want you to graduate and to succeed.”

Smart and tenacious, she’s “very generous with her time and talents and helps other students who are struggling,” says her math and financial literacy teacher Wendy Quigley. “She is one of those kids who could go really, really far given the opportunity.”

Congratulations to Calena and the following Bright Star Scholarship winners:

  • Alta High: Olivia Steadman
  • Brighton High: McKayla Dumas
  • Corner Canyon High: Sam Aamodt
  • Hillcrest High: Marthe Mfourou
  • Jordan High: Vanesa Beers
  • Jordan High: Makayla Wright 
  • Mountain America Scholar: Emily Arthur

Canyons Foundation Gala Photos
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  • Misty Suarez doesn’t mince words. She believes there is no better place to teach special education than Utah’s Canyons School District (CSD).

    “We have it all: Competitive salaries, coaching supports, professional development, and a focus on innovation coupled with the resources to help make it happen,” says Canyons District’s Special Education Director. “And there are as few places as safe, affordable and beautiful as the Wasatch Front to live, work, and raise a family. It’s the full package.”

    CSD also has plenty of special ed job openings — 16 full-time positions and 12 part-time paraeducator positions — and as an added incentive to fill them, a new stipend for qualified special education teachers. “Like most states, we’re grappling with a teacher shortage that is especially acute in special education, math and science. The greatest need we have is in our elementary schools,” Suarez says. “The $4,100 stipend recently approved by state lawmakers will give us a real recruiting edge.”

    Teaching is a demanding job, even for the most skilled educators, and particularly for those who work in special education. Special education teachers need to be adept at planning, writing goals, developing interventions, and meeting timelines.

    But Canyons District’s Special Education Teacher Specialist Stacey Nofsinger says the rewards of the job far outweigh the demands. “There is nothing better than seeing your student finally grasp a concept that maybe you were working on for six weeks or six months. …to finally see them say, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s what you meant?’ It’s very exciting to be part of that educational journey for kids.”



    For her, the job is more of a calling than a career, and now she delights in supporting others who have chosen the same path. The New York native chose Utah’s Canyons School District because of the District’s investment in teacher supports, such as the coaching she now provides.

    Now, to further sweeten the deal, the Utah Legislature has approved a $4,100 yearly stipend for special education teachers with a bachelor’s or advanced degree in special education. This comes on top of a double-digit percentage increase in teacher pay approved last year by Canyons District’s Board of Education. 

    “As a teacher, we still need to keep learning for our students and to implement our own best practices. And Canyons District’s philosophy in making sure their teachers are modeling that and continuing their own education and getting that professional development on a regular basis really spoke to my own philosophies in education,” Nofsinger says. For more information about the stipend click here.

    Find out what Canyons District has to offer you at this stage in your career: canyonsdistrict.org/hr
    If rebuilding a high school is a major undertaking, try tackling three at once. This summer, construction crews will begin work on rebuilds of Brighton and Hillcrest high schools along with a major renovation of Alta High.

    Architectural firms, with input from students, parents, employees and community leaders, have been hard at work shaping plans for the improvement projects — the largest and most complicated of many more to be financed by the $283 million bond approved by voters in 2017. At Open Houses in the coming weeks, community members will have a chance to preview the still-developing plans (see the schedule of events below).

    “This is such an exciting time for the District,” says Canyons District Board of Education President Sherril H. Taylor. “We’re not just building schools, we’re building communities. With the completion of these projects, all of our high schools will be brought up to a high quality facilities standard. The safety and technological upgrades will improve the learning environments for generations of students, including the children of those now enrolled. It’s a momentous undertaking, and one that wouldn’t be possible without our patrons.”

    The high schools will be built in phases over 2-3 years so as to allow them to remain in operation during the construction. Tackling all three at once is ambitious, but in order to keep costs contained, it was imperative to get to work as quickly as possible, says CSD’s Business Administrator Leon Wilcox.

    Construction costs have soared, and are expected to continue to rise in the near future, Wilcox says. “We want to lock-in costs now on the largest and most complicated bond projects.”

    Each project varies according to the priorities established by the school communities. But among common focuses are school safety, sustainability, and futuristic thinking. Wilcox says, “We’re building these schools to last and to accommodate the rapidly changing technological demands and instructional practices of modern classrooms.”

    Careful attention is also being paid to preserve recent investments, such as the schools’ new football stadiums. Taking cues from research on the health and learning benefits of natural light, large windows and skylights are planned for commons areas and classrooms.

    Since Canyons’ inception, the District has worked to address the safety and technological deficiencies of the aging buildings it received from a previous school district while also planning for growth. The 13th and final project financed with proceeds from a bond approved by voters in 2010 — the renovation of Indian Hills Middle — will be completed in time for start of the 2018-2019 school year.

    Everyone is invited to attend the community Open Houses to showcase plans for the high schools. There will be presentations by architects, and an opportunity to submit questions and comments. The dates, times and locations are as follows:

    Brighton High School
    Tuesday, April 17 at 6 p.m. in the Auditorium
    Featuring MHTN Architects

    Hillcrest High School 
    Wednesday, April 18 starting at 6 p.m. in the Auditorium
    Featuring FFKR Architects

    Alta High School
    Wednesday, April 25, 7-9 p.m. in the Auditorium
    VCBO Architecture
    After this weekend, the “once-in-a-lifetime” bucket lists of the singers in Hillcrest’s Vocal Ensemble and their director are a little lighter. Travel together to New York City? Check. Perform with a Grammy-winning composer and conductor? Check. Sing in Carnegie Hall? Check, check, and check. 

    After more than a year of planning and practicing, Hillcrest choir director RaNae Dalgleish and her 33 vocal ensemble students took a red-eye to New York City during Spring Break to prepare for a performance in Carnegie Hall on Sunday, April 8. They were joined by high school choirs from Dubai, New Jersey, Tennessee, Canada, Wisconsin, Texas, Ohio, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and California for the Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) performance of The Music of Eric Whitacre. 

    The opportunity to perform in Carnegie Hall is a remarkable experience, but to perform composer Eric Whitacre’s music with him as the conductor is even more significant, said Dalgleish who also performed with her students on Sunday. “This is huge,” she said. “This is a once in a lifetime experience for the kids. I knew that going in, just to work with Eric Whitacre alone is monumental because he is a rock star in the music world.”

    Dalgleish responded to an advertisement on Facebook more than a year ago when she saw the potential for her students to have such a unique experience. Her choir from the 2016-2017 school year auditioned for the performance, and they found out in December 2016 that the 2017-2018 choir had been accepted to perform at the event that was described by BBC Music as the “No. 1 North American Live Event Choice for classical music.”



    “The Vocal Ensemble received this invitation because of the quality and high level of musicianship demonstrated by the singers,” said Dr. Jonathan Griffith, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor for DCINY, in a news release about Hillcrest’s participation. “These wonderful musicians not only represent a high quality of music and education, but they also become ambassadors for the entire community.”

    The choir began working on nine pieces for Sunday’s performance right away, recording and sending videos intermittently to the organization to ensure they would be prepared for the big stage. The students performed “The Rumor of a Secret King” by John Mackey, three spirituals by Moses Hogan, and several songs composed by Whitacre, including “Seal Lullabye,” which was originally written for a Disney movie that was later cancelled.

    Whitacre is a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music who has conducted choral and instrumental concerts around the globe, including with the London Symphony Orchestra.
    Spring is here, and summer isn't far behind, which, for busy working parents presents the special challenge of how to keep kids occupied. Fortunately, Canyons School District offers a rich variety of summer learning opportunities for students of all ages. From summer camps that expose young children to the arts and sciences in a fun, relaxed atmosphere to online courses that allow high school students to earn credits toward graduation from the poolside, there's something for practically everyone — and at affordable prices.

    Summer Camps
    Learn to sing and dance like Moana, or draw a portrait of your family pet. Build a rocket and journey into outer space. Become a mad scientist and program videogames. Canyons District “Community Education” summer camps are much more than fun and games. They offer students a chance to tinker and dream, build friendships and social skills, and cultivate a love for lifelong learning. Weekly camps exist for all grades, from elementary through high school, and run from June through early August. Registration is open now and camps are filled on a first-come-first-serve basis. Weekly camp information and registration can be found at entrada.revtrak.net under “Community Education.” 

    pdfFind out more about Community Education camps here


    Get a Jump on High School with CSD’s Summer Semester
    Summer Semester is Canyons District’s solution for high school students who want to get a jump on their studies or free up their class schedule for more electives. Registration for CSD’s Summer Semester opens April 16 and runs through May 25. Three classes are offered in a blended-learning format: computer technology, financial literacy, and participation skills and techniques (a physical education course required of all high school students). About 40 percent of the coursework can be done online, so students can take their laptop to the pool and do some homework while enjoying the nice summer weather with friends and family. Of course, it’s helpful if they live close to Mount Jordan Middle in Sandy where the face-to-face classes are being taught. The school is only one block away from a TRAX station so kids from all across the valley can take public transit to the class. The classes, which are filled on a first-come-first-serve basis, are for original credit only and run from June 11-28. Registration and payment can be submitted online at canyons.revtrak.net. The cost per half-credit class is $70.

    pdf Find out more about Summer Sememter here.



    Virtual High School
    On the go this summer? No matter. High school students can earn original or make-up credit online in a variety of engaging courses through Canyons Virtual High School. With few exceptions, registration is open year-round. Course fees for credit recovery are $35 per quarter credit course. Click here for more information or to register.


    SCHOOL-BASED CAMPS
    Individual schools also host summer camps. Following is a sampling of offerings. For more opportunities, check with your neighborhood schools. 

    ALTA HIGH ROBOTICS: Looking for a fun summer program that builds engineering, science and math skills? Look no further than Alta High’s Robotics Camp. You don’t have to be enrolled at Alta to participate or have any prior knowledge of mechanics or programming. The camp is open to all middle- and high-school-aged students (ages nine and up). Participants in the half-day program (8 a.m. to noon) will learn wiring, programming and manufacturing techniques, and take part in competitions by using their problem-solving to beat their opponents. Two, four-day sessions are being offered in June (25-28) and August (6-9) for $120 per session. The fee covers materials, snacks and a T-shirt.  Parents must provide transportation. For details, including registration information, visit the Hawks Robotics Team’s website.  Questions? Email Ronald Strohm, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

    HILLCREST HIGH ROBOTICS: 
    This camp is open to elementary and middle school-age youth interested in robot building and programming. Three, four-day sessions are being offered in July and August. Elementary camps run for two hours and cost $65.  Secondary-level camps cost $125 and run for half-a-day in the morning or the afternoon. In order to accommodate as many youth as possible, each child will be permitted to attend only one session. Each participant will take home new skills and knowledge, a T-shirt, and a small robot toy. Parents must provide transportation. For details, including camp dates and registration information, visit the Husky Robotics Team's website. 

    BRIGHTON HIGH WOODWORKING:
     Brighton High is hosting a free, one-day woodworking class where students can learn concepts in design and engineering. The program is great fun for girls and boys in grades 7-10. There are three classes to choose from: June 19, 20 and 21. Each class runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Registration opens in mid-April. For more information, visit: http://bit.ly/woodclass or contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
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