The robust cheers heard throughout the Salt Lake Valley on Monday, Aug. 19 were likely from the back-to-school celebrations held at Canyons District schools.
Per an 11-year tradition, principals rolled out red carpets to welcome students to the 2019-2020 school year. Teachers, principals, and parents, as well as Superintendent Dr. Jim Briscoe and members of the Canyons Board of Education, lined up to snap photos, cheer and give high-fives and fist bumps to the students headed into school for the first time of the school year.
Adding to the festivities were players from Real Salt Lake and Royals FC, the professional soccer players who compete at Rio Tinto Stadium, located within the Canyons District boundaries. The players, who encouraged all the students to set their sights on reaching their goals, were accompanied by Leo the Lion, who attracted a crowd wherever he went.
Elementary and middle school students also received a free pencil for their backpacks. Another tool Canyons District is providing students is “social-emotional” training to make good decision, manage emotions and solve problems. After all, children can’t learn at high levels if they feel insecure, anxious, stressed or scared.
BJ Weller, Canyons’ Responsive Services Director, appeared on ABC4 and KUTV on the first day of school to talk about how the District is helping children develop the confidence and character traits needed for success in life and school. This includes things like teaching students who to set and achieve goals, make and keep friends, and make responsible decisions.
“We’re still teaching math, science, reading and writing … but we’re now cognizant of how, say the simple act of reading, can teach children empathy by exposing them to different perspectives or persisting with a math problem can teach perseverance,” he says. “As a parent, you may hear your teacher refer to this as social-emotional learning. But it’s really best described as life skills, which, research suggests can significantly increase a student’s chances of graduating from high school and college.”
In Canyons District, the Board of Education has invested in the hiring and training of psychologists, social workers and counselors for every school. These professionals are there as a resource for families and to help maintain environments where children feel connected and safe to raise their hands, try hard things, and reach out to new friends. Also, starting this fall, and over the next few years, Canyons schools will be rolling out a new, social-emotional learning curriculum to help teachers and staff speak the same language when talking about things like problem-solving, focusing in class, and working as teams.
“Again, much of this is just part of everyday learning. For example, while reading a book in kindergarten about a boy who loses his dog, the teacher might prompt students to talk about how the boy feels or discuss steps he might take to begin searching for his pet. A failed science experiment can serve as an important lesson about it’s OK when things don’t work as planned, it’s part of the learning process. It’s kind of a new way of thinking about book smarts.”
Parents can support, Weller says, by modeling a positive attitude about education and showing interest in their child’s classes, teachers and friends.