Josephine Garrett knows what it’s like to meet a hero in real life.

Last year, as a student at Draper Park Middle, she decided to enter the National PTA Reflections program to tell her story. The program encourages students from all grades and abilities to explore the arts and express themselves through a variety of mediums, from literature to music composition. With the 2019 theme of “Heroes Around Me,” Josephine, known to her friends as Josie, knew just what to do.

She looked to her neighbor, who had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer, for inspiration. Her neighbor, although sick, had decided that she would perform acts of service for her last 12 months of life, and as Josie watched those acts unfold, she was moved. “She was amazing,” Josie said later. “She was a real hero.” JosephineGarrett

First, Josie, who is now a student at Corner Canyon, submitted her entry on the school level. She won there, so she moved on to the next level, competing against several other schools. From there she progressed to the District level, then region level, and finally, she made it to the state level of the Utah PTA, where her essay, titled “Day By Day,” was selected to move forward to the national level of the competition.

“Hero-like characteristics are in everyone. We just have to find them,” Josie wrote in her essay. When asked how she defines a hero, the subject of Josie’s piece, Annette Ferran said, “Someone that inspires someone to be better and give hope.” Josie agrees and wrote about how Ferran “inspires everyone to be a hero by doing service. … Tomorrow gets better all of the time living by Annette’s example—day by day.”

Josie found out that she was selected as a Merit Award winner just a few days after her neighbor passed away. Her entry was selected from submissions from some 5,000 local PTAs from throughout the country. For her award, Josie received a bronze medal, a Certificate of Merit, and an invitation to attend a celebratory banquet at the National PTA Convention in Ohio. Her work will also be featured with other winning entries from the National PTA Reflections Program in a traveling exhibit, beginning on January 13, 2020 at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington D.C. and ending in June 2020 in Louisville, KY. The Reflections Program was started in 1969, and is offered free of charge to participating students.

“We are so proud of Josie and her accomplishment,” said Tonya Rhodes, Utah PTA Region 17 Director. “We appreciate her message that a hero is someone who looks beyond themselves, who lifts those around them. We are so happy her entry was selected to win an Award of Merit on the national level during the 50th anniversary celebration of the Reflections Program through PTA.”
At first glance, the students in Jonathan Hale’s class at Sprucewood Elementary look like they are engaged in their art lessons just like any other fourth-or fifth-graders. They are gathered around their projects, weaving fabric on a loom, painting creations they’ve made and working with different materials — but the true masterpiece they are building isn’t made out of acrylic and cotton. Their true achievement is working with each other. 

Hale’s students are participating in a “peer partner” research program that pairs students from a general-education class at Sprucewood Elementary with special-education students from Jordan Valley, Canyons’ school for students with severe disabilities. The disabilities include communication impairments, cerebral palsy and traumatic brain injuries.

Together, the students participate in the same art projects, each learning important lessons and growing in ways that are achievable only by peer interaction, Hale says. He presented his findings last summer at the 2018 Kennedy Center VSA Intersections: Arts and Special Education Conference and has since seen even more growth in his students.

“It is really cool to see how they find ways to help each other and that they are OK if their job is being a peer partner, and they are OK with adapting (the project) and turning it into something else that works for everyone,” Hale says. “It's true collaboration. If you go into another art room, the focus might be different. I like that community feel, when kids are thinking about people other than themselves, so it’s more about a process and the learning that occurs than a final product, per se.”

Hale, who is a Beverly Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program visual arts specialist at both Sprucewood and Jordan Valley, joined with a research team from the University of Utah to study how the students learn differently from each other, versus learning only from adults.

Their research focuses on how peer partnerships can be used to help students succeed. An art setting provides more latitude and flexibility for accommodating a variety of cognitive levels, but after seeing the monumental growth in students while learning art techniques in a peer setting, Hale says peer partners could be beneficial in other class settings, as well. Since presenting their findings at the Kennedy Center conference, Hale says his team’s peer partnering model has been adapted in Art Access programs in Washington, D.C. and California.

“There is a connection between the students that is almost magical,” Sprucewood Elementary Principal Lori Reynolds said after observing Hale’s class. “It is an absolute joy to see how the arts can bring our students closer together, and is a perfect way to bridge the divide and benefit both groups.”

Hale and his research team, which includes Kelby McIntyre Martinez, Assistant Dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Utah, and professors Kristen Paul and John McDonnell, started the program at Sprucewood in 2016 with only three classes. This year, the students from Jordan Valley came to Sprucewood 12 times to work with their peers. Over the course of the year Sprucewood students opened their circles of acceptance and assumed leadership roles they might not have normally experienced.

The Jordan Valley students also progressed. Students who had difficulty sitting for more than a few minutes during adult instruction could sit independently with a peer partner for 45 minutes and engage in periodic self-initiated interactions, such as raising their hands and participating vocally even if they were non-verbal. That is a huge accomplishment, Hale says. 

As Hale’s team continues to research students’ interactions, they have plans to expand the peer partner program to include dance and music this coming school year, to see how kids benefit.

“Some people might say students with severe disabilities don’t fit in a program like ours," Hale said. "I like to acknowledge growth in lots of different ways. I truly believe this is a way of accessing different abilities, and a way to provide social opportunities for students and let them rise to the occasion.”
Altara Elementary's beloved Kittyhawk has a new set of wings. She's still the same high-flying feline we've come to love, albeit with some aviation upgrades to keep her airborne for years to come.

As part of Canyons District's continued effort to upgrade and modernize the branding for its 50 schools and special programs, graphic designer Jeff Olson unveiled a new logo suite for Altara at a May 21 art fair, which doubled as a fundraiser benefitting one of the school's students. The event kicked off with a street parade led by the Sandy Police Officers, Alta High cheerleaders and Kit, the new Kittyhawk mascot who arrived in a convertible speedster.

The big reveal of the new school marks, featuring a kitten modeled after the famed pilot Amelia Earhart drew nearly 700 cheering students and family members. Also present for the unveiling was Zanette Nordhoff, the artist behind Altara's original logo.

"It is not an easy job to change an iconic mascot like our Altara Kittyhawk. Everyone has an opinion and everyone has ownership," says Principal Nicole Svee-Magann. "Jeff very patiently worked with me, three PTA presidents, and other stakeholders to create a beautifully developed, modern version, of our beloved feline. I could not be more pleased with 'Kit' and the fleet of artwork that accompanies her."

Over the past three years, nearly 20 school logos have received makeovers under an initiative by the Office of Public Communications to professionalize school marks and ensure they're based on original artwork. 

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  • The beating heart of Diamond Ridge High now hangs on permanent display at the school in the form of a colorful mural inspired by the rock art of southern Utah.

    Traditionally, the heart—a muscular depiction of which is the focus of the student-made mural—is the seat of emotion. For some of the Diamond Ridge artists, it symbolizes peace and prosperity. To others, it signifies human connection. “The heart is the centerpiece. …To me, it represents what it feels like to be loved and to be accepted,” explained student artist Josie Croft at a May 14 unveiling of the painting.

    Diamond Ridge, Canyons District’s alternative high school, is a place where many teens discover just that: A sense of belonging, purpose and pride. The school is the sixth in Canyons to create a Sacred Images mural as a monument to indigenous peoples, capping a longstanding relationship with the Center for Documentary Expression and Art and its “Sacred Images” artist-in-residence program.

    Each year, the program kicks off with an immersive field trip to Nine Mile Canyons, a petroglyph site near Price, UT. Students are then paired with Lakota/Plains Apache storyteller Dovie Thomason and an artist-in-residence—in this case, with Alicia Maria Siu Bernal whose primary role was to help students unleash their creativity and guide them through the mural-making process.

    “It’s been amazing,” said Diamond Ridge’s River Troyer. “When you’re working on a big project like this, all together with as many students as this, it makes it difficult to get on the same page, because people have different ideas and backgrounds.” But to accomplish anything of significance takes the innovation and hard work of many hands, Troyer added, which also is depicted in the mural.

    Diamond Ridge’s Isabel Reynolds agrees. “It was really hard,” she says, “But as a team we created something beautiful. Without this school, I would never have experienced anything like this.”

    The Sacred Images mural is now at home in the entryway of Diamond Ridge, which is located at the Canyons Technical Education Center.

    When Salt Lake City’s Eccles Theater revealed which shows would be staged in the coming year, the voices of Hillcrest High students belting “You Will Be Found” from the Tony Award-winning “Dear Evan Hansen” were a pitch-perfect part of the publicity blitz.

    Videographers were at Hillcrest on Monday to film students in the vaunted drama program perform the song from the popular show, which will attract crowds March 4-14. Clips of the Husky performance, done in the school’s auditorium, will be used by the theater to promote the show and six others that are coming for the 2019-2020 season.

    Along with “Dear Evan Hansen,” Broadway at the Eccles will mount such box-office draws as “Frozen,” “Miss Saigon,” “A Christmas Story,” “Anastasia,” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” The lineup was rolled out on Friday, March 22 — the same day that theatergoers could renew their season tickets. The Hillcrest students who performed the “Dear Evan Hansen” song on Monday said they hoped to snap up expected-to-be-scarce tickets to the show that resonates with audiences of all ages but has proven particular popular with teenagers. 

    Hillcrest drama teacher Josh Long said his students were given less than a week to learn the song before the filming. It was particularly hectic, Long said, because rehearsals had to be scheduled around planned choir performances and the school’s March 14-16 production of “Akhnaton,” which was the first time the Agatha Christie play had been performed in Utah.

    Long said his students were asked to do the performance after Eccles Theater officials saw  — and were impressed with — Hillcrest’s performance at last year’s Utah High School Musical Theater Awards at which the school won Best Musical for “Les Miserables.” The show’s star, Bennett Chew, also won the Best Actor for his portrayal of Jean Valjean

    As part of the Monday rehearsal, Long said, the students were able to Skype with a New York-based director who gave them tips on how to perform the song for the cameras.  

    Standing between seats in the auditorium where she’s made countless memories during musicals and plays, senior Megan Wheat said it was thrilling to receive tips from entertainment-industry insiders who work with some of the country’s top stage talents. Among the notes:  Students were encouraged to find balance between the acting and singing — and to err on the side of performing with emotion and intent rather than a rote recitation of words to the song. 

    Senior Ian Williams, who was cast as Link Larkin in Hillcrest’s fall production of “Hairspray,” said the experience helped cap his last few months at the school before graduation. 

    “That was one of the coolest things I have been able to do,” Williams said after the filming wrapped Monday morning. “This is kind of something you hope for, but you don’t ever know if you’ll ever be able to do it.”
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