At a time when so much hangs on the promise of science, these Hillcrest High students give us cause for hope.
Five Hillcrest students claimed podium finishes in the 2020 University of Utah Science and Engineering Fair, an event that was scaled back to include only the Senior Division due to mounting concerns over the COVID-19 outbreak. Faced with a directive to avoid mass gatherings and practice social distancing, event organizers postponed the Elementary and Junior divisions until May 18-20.
But that didn’t diminish the excitement for the Huskies who, in the head-to-head regional competition with their high school-aged peers, won several top prizes and sponsored awards. Additionally, Wentao Zhang qualified to be an Observer for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for his project, “Building Air Quality Predictions With Machine Learning Techniques.”
Students from seven school districts and schools under the umbrella of the Salt Lake Catholic Diocese competed at the event.
Let’s hear it for these future inventors, seekers of cures, and fighters of disease.
Three Canyons students — two from Hillcrest and one from Jordan high schools — captured first-place category honors in the 2020 Sterling Scholars competition.
The CSD winners are:
Rishab Balakrishnan, Hillcrest, in the Business and Marketing category
Sanjana Kargi, Hillcrest, in the Computer Technology category
Nathan Holley, Jordan, in the Speech/Theater Arts/Forensics category
Ten other Canyons students earned finalist status in the 49th annual competition, sponsored by the Deseret News and KSL-TV.
The students are judged in 14 categories. The topics include business and marketing; computer technology; dance; English; family and consumer sciences; instrumental music; mathematics; science; skilled and technical sciences education; social science; speech/theater arts/forensics; visual arts; vocal performance and world languages.
The Sterling Scholar program celebrates the academic and artistic achievements of students in Utah schools. Every school is invited to nominate one student in each category. Candidates are judged by panels, and the top-scoring students advance through the judging process.
Top winners and runners-up were selected after final interviews on Feb. 28.
Category winners earn $2,500 scholarships. Runners-up, including Hillcrest’s Horace Gao, in Instrumental Music, receive $1,000 scholarships. Winning students also are eligible for scholarships and tuition waivers at several Utah colleges and universities.
From the second star to the right to an enchanted florist with a horrific plant. From a campy roller skate crew to a cursed castle haunted by a doomed prince, Canyons District’s middle schools and high schools are bringing plenty of excitement your way this spring to shake you out of the winter doldrums.
Check your calendars — there are plenty of dates from which to choose — and enjoy one, or all, of these fantastic productions, which are sure to chase all the cobwebs away. All members of the public are invited to attend — don’t miss out!
Feb. 19-22: The Alta Theatre Department will be performing “Our Town” at 7 p.m. Tickets are $9 in advance at showtix4u.com or $10 at the door.
Feb. 20-22, 24: Jordan High will be presenting “Peter and the Starcatcher,” the prequel to Peter Pan, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 for students and $7 for adults.
March 6-7: Corner Canyon will be performing the short play, “Check Please,” a funny comedy about awful dates, in the Little Theater on March 6 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. and March 7 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased at www.cornercanyontheatre.com or at the door.
March 11-14: Draper Park Middle will showcase “Xanadu Jr.” Doors to the auditorium open at 6 p.m., and the show starts at 6:30 p.m.
March 19-21: The Hillcrest High Theatre Department presents William Shakespeare’s “Richard II” at 7 p.m. Tickets are $8-10, and will be available at www.HillcrestTheatre.com beginning March 1.
March 25-26: Midvale Middle will perform “Cinderella.” Doors to the auditorium open at 5:30 p.m., and the show starts at 6 p.m.
March 26-28: Eastmont Middle students will put on a production of “Music Man.” Doors to the auditorium open at 6:30 p.m., and the show starts at 7 p.m.
April 22-25: Union Middle students will perform “Once on this Island.” Doors to the auditorium open at 6:30 p.m., and the show starts at 7 p.m. In addition to the evening performances, a Saturday matinee will be held at 2 p.m. on April 25.
May 1-2, 4: Brighton High will present "Where Words Once Were," by Finegan Kruckemeyer at 7 p.m. at Butler Middle School. Tickets are $7.
May 13-16: Corner Canyon will present “Little Shop of Horrors,” the musical, in the auditorium at 7 p.m. Tickets are $8 in advance at www.cornercanyontheatre.com or $10 at the door.
May 14-16: The Hillcrest High Productions Company presents the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical “A Chorus Line – high school edition” at 7 p.m. Tickets are $8-10 and will be available at www.HillcrestTheatre.com beginning May 1.
May 19-21: The drama program at Mount Jordan Middle will produce “Beauty and the Beast Jr.,” promptly at 6:30 p.m.
For Hillcrest High senior Laura Wan, the question of which school she would choose to attend began as early as kindergarten, when her parents steered her to an advanced learner’s program at Canyons District’s Peruvian Park Elementary.
After completing the SALTA program in elementary school, she chose Midvale Middle for its Middle Years Program, and then Hillcrest for its International Baccalaureate (IB) program.
Although her path was unique, Wan is not alone in her quest for a uniquely tailored educational experience. She is one of the more than 20 percent — or one in five — of CSD’s 34,000 students who are enrolled in the school of their choosing, or a school other than the one assigned to them by geographic boundaries. Of those students, nearly 1,200 come from outside the District, each brought by different reasons and to take advantage of different opportunities.
In honor of National School Choice Week, Jan. 26-Feb. 1, we asked Canyons District students and parents what school choice means to them. For some, it means having access to the breadth of electives and extra-curricular activities that only large, traditional schools can provide. For others, it means having the freedom to commit to a particular focus.
“I think the IB program has been beneficial for me, and the community that we created here, because we are a bunch of similarly motivated students working toward the same goal,” said Wan, who has already received a presidential scholarship offer from the University of Utah.
Public schools fill the unique role of serving all children while also extending learning opportunities to students that are best suited to their individual interests and needs. Signature programs, such as the Step2theU partnership through which students can earn two semesters of college while enrolled at Alta High, or dual language immersion programs offered in Chinese, French and Spanish, are a big draw for many families.
“We wanted our kids to have every advantage in today’s global economy,” said Brandy Duckworth who chose to have her now-third-grade child transfer to study Mandarin at Draper Elementary. “I think it’s a fantastic program. This is a great way to learn another language and culture.”
The dual immersion program, where students spend a good portion of their instructional days learning a world language, is driving innovation not only at the K-12 level, but in higher education. Colleges are having to redesign introductory language courses to accommodate the more sophisticated speaking and writing skills of immersion graduates.
Another example of innovation is CSD’s Supplemental Hours of Kindergarten Instruction program, which is now accepting applications for spots at 20 elementary schools. Kindergarteners who opt in to the four-year-old, tuition-based program can receive nearly four additional hours of instruction every school day.
Convenience can factor into schooling decisions. Jordan High draws more students from outside the District than any other high school in Canyons due to its reputation and proximity to a public TRAX line. At Canyons Virtual High School, which serves thousands of students throughout the state, choice means having access to remote, online learning opportunities. With its small class sizes, Diamond Ridge High is the school of choice for students looking for an alternative high school experience.
Every school has its special strengths and traditions. From the nationally recognized Model UN team at Brighton High to the robotics club at Alta High School, there’s something to capture the purpose and passion of every student.
Frankie Otis was drawn to attend Hillcrest High after he saw a performance by the school’s acclaimed theater department. As an incoming freshman to the school, he quickly found friends in his acting classes. He has participated in 10 different productions, coached his peers, acted as a lead in ensemble pieces, joined the theater presidency, and taken multiple classes that have helped him set a goal of someday becoming a professional stage actor.
“Theater allows me to explore my creativity and surrounds me with the most expressive people I’ve ever met,” Otis said. “I found friendship and acceptance and confidence through theater. (Coming to Hillcrest) was one of the biggest choices I’ve ever made in my life, to this point, but it’s one of the best choices I’ve ever made.”
Sterling Scholar, check. National Merit Scholar, check. Presidential Scholar, check, check, and check.
Hillcrest High’s Alexander Cheng has won the equivalent of the triple-crown of academic achievement, a feat matched by only one other student in Canyons District history: his brother, Anthony.
Throughout their educational careers, Alexander Cheng and Anthony Cheng broke educational ground with top awards at science fairs and other scholarly competitions. But the past few months have been particularly productive for Alexander, as were the culminating weeks leading up to his brother's graduation in 2016.
A senior at Hillcrest who has been accepted to Stanford, Alexander Cheng was selected as a Regeneron Science Talent Search Scholar and a regional finalist in the national Coca-Cola scholarship. He also won first place in the Materials and Biomedical category at the University of Utah’s Science and Engineering Fair for his entry, “Determining the Role of Microvascular Pathology as Reflected by Changes in Primary and Secondary Retinal Vessels in the Pathophysiology of Diabetic Complications.”
In March, 2019, he won the science category of Utah’s Sterling Scholar Competition and, like his brother before him, was named the overall winner of the 57th annual competition. Now, to cap the year, he was named one of three U.S. Presidential Scholars from Utah, and announced as a 2019 National Merit Scholar.
Joining him in earning the National Merit Scholar distinction are two of his peers at Hillcrest, Emily Langie and Bryan Guo. Eighteen CSD students were named as semi-finalists in the prestigious scholarship competition, representing less than one percent of the nation’s high school seniors. Presidential scholars are invited to name a distinguished teacher who supported them along the way, and Cheng chose Hillcrest’s International Baccaulareate coordinator John Olsen.
Each year, up to 161 students are named as Presidential Scholars, one of the nation's highest honors for high school students. The White House chooses scholars based on their academic success, artistic and technical excellence, essays, school evaluations and transcripts, as well as evidence of community service, leadership and demonstrated commitment to high ideals.
Photo credit: The photo of Alexander Cheng receiving his Sterling Scholar award is courtesy of the Deseret News.