Is it in the DNA? Or is it just a lot of hard work? Perhaps it's a mix of both for Canyons District’s Cheng family, who can now boast two General Scholar winners at the annual Sterling Scholar competition.

On Friday, March 15, 2019, Alexander Cheng, a senior at Hillcrest who has been accepted to Stanford, was named the winner of the Science category before being announced as the overall winner of the 57th annual competition that singles out the best and brightest in the state.

In 2016, Alexander’s brother, Anthony, also was given the top award in the prestigious competition sponsored by the Deseret News and KSL-TV. For his achievements in the prestigious competition, Alexander Cheng ended the night with a $2,500 check as the Science Sterling Scholar and an additional $2,500 for being named General Scholar. 

This is just the latest in a string of big accomplishments for Alexander Cheng, the top student in Hillcrest’s Class of 2019 and one of 80 students worldwide selected to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Research Science Institute.

Cheng was recently selected as a Regeneron Science Talent Search Scholar and a regional finalist in the national Coca-Cola scholarship. Last week, he also learned he 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.” 

"It's truly an honor to even be here so I'm truly blessed to have won and to be recognized. I'm so grateful, especially to my parents for all of their support and help,” Alexander Cheng told the Deseret News.  “I think they're really crucial. My brother actually won General Sterling Scholar three years ago. It just goes to show the dedication and the influence they've had on us so I really thank my parents.” 

In the 2019 Sterling Scholar competition, 13 students from Canyons District high schools advanced to the final round of competition in 14 categories.  Seven of those students were named runners up in their respective categories. 

From Alta High, Christian Affleck was a runner-up in the Vocal Performance category and Avery Gunnel was one of the top three students in the Instrumental Music category.  Brighton High’s Caroline Jarman was a runner-up in Computer Technology, and Hillcrest’s Alan Zhao, Ashley Howell, and Alana Liu were runners-up in the Math, Skilled and Technical Sciences, and Visual Arts categories, respectively.
It never fails. Each spring, with the arrival of the first crocus blooms to emerge from the cool, rain-soaked ground, comes end-of-year testing season in Utah’s schools.

Only this season, students will be taking a new set of Utah State Board of Education-required assessments to demonstrate how much they have learned over the course of the year. The exam for students in grades 3-8 is called RISE, an acronym that stands for Readiness, Improvement, Success and Empowerment. The computer adaptive assessment adapts to an examinee’s abilities by proposing harder questions when a student gets something correct, and easier questions when the student gives a wrong answer. Ninth- through 10th-grade students will participate in a high school assessment called Utah Aspire Plus, which is designed to prepare them for the ACT, the most commonly used college-entrance exam. llamaSmall

“Students and teachers will find the tests, the questions, and their design very familiar,” says CSD Research and Assessment Director Dr. Hal Sanderson.

Why do schools test? What do the results mean, and why should students and parents care? 

Answers to these questions and more can be found on a new Canyons District resources page. Anyone curious about the how’s and why’s of testing is encouraged to browse the site, which contains teacher testimonials, testing tips, links to sample test questions, and more. The Utah State Board of Education also has created some online brochures describing Utah’s RISE and Aspire Plus exams.

“Testing has always been integral to education. Assessments inform instruction by helping teachers know if educational goals are being met,” explains Sanderson. “They’re an indicator of what’s working in the classroom and what can be done differently. Testing also gives parents a measure of their child’s learning, which, along with grades and other measures, helps answer the question: Is my child reaching expected learning targets and doing well compared to his or her peers?”   

But did you also know that a student’s performance on RISE in middle school can predict how well he or she will do on the ACT college entrance exam in high school? RISE, in other words, gives middle schoolers a glimpse at how they’ll do on a high-stakes test in a low-stakes environment when they still have time to go back and re-learn foundational concepts. 

dogsmallAnother surprising fact: Very little of the school year is devoted to test-taking. An internal audit performed last year revealed that Canyons District students spend just 1.2 percent to 2.7 percent of instruction time taking state and district assessments. By comparison, at one sampled Canyons District elementary school, recess accounted for 4.5 percent of the year, 12 percent was devoted to lunch and math instruction occupied 27.3 percent of the year. The full report is available online.

As Mount Jordan Middle teacher Kory Crockett explains: “We all know that tests can be stressful. Tests can be hard. But it’s really these hard things in life that help us grow the most. And especially with these end-of-the year tests, they don’t just tell us how much we’ve grown, they tell us how much we’ve grown as a school.”

Talk about having the world at your feet. The Brighton Bengals’ Model United Nations Team, long-ranked as one of the best in the country, took first place as a distinguished delegation in Research and Preparation at the 2019 National High School Model United Nations conference in New York City.

Brighton High was the only Utah school to compete in the mock proceedings of the United Nations (UN). Student delegates were assigned a country to represent in one of the UN’s numerous committees with pre-set topics to debate. They researched the background of their country, their country's position on the topics at hand, and prepared notes on possible solutions to the problems faced. Students then convened in the General Assembly to debate with the other UN member states, represented by 3,500 students from 30 countries. BHSModelUN

Much like the real UN, the goal is to identify creative solutions to vexing foreign relations problems. In doing so the students flex their academic skills, and practice patience and persistence. They learn to speak well, but also to listen.

As former United-Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon once explained to conference participants, the experience trains students to be open-minded and flexible. “To analyze all the positions, even those you oppose. To propose constructive solutions that will benefit all parties. Developing these diplomatic skills will help you as you prepare for leadership in the future. Such skills have never been more important.”

Next up for the Bengals: The Model UN Team will be competing at the state conference on April 16 where the team has a good chance of earning another first-place trophy, says their advisor Jim Hodges.


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If Donald L. Miller can bring history to life on the big screen, surely he can do the same for a group of high school students.

The endowed professor is the best-selling author of nine books, one of the most respected authorities on World War II, and a consultant for many film and TV productions—including two HBO series produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg—and he’s coming to speak at Alta High this month as part of the school’s ninth annual Social Studies Colloquium.

Established in 2011 by Alta history teacher Rique Ochoa, the colloquium provides Canyons students with the rare opportunity to meet and learn from some of the nation’s top scholars. Over the years, various preeminent educators, including four Pulitzer Prize winners, have visited the home of the Hawks, making multiple presentations about their books and sitting down with a small group of students from Ochoa's class. Each time, students from other high schools throughout the District are also invited to participate. img013

Miller will be presenting on three subjects Saturday, March 16, beginning at 8:30 a.m. with a talk about the War in the Pacific, the focus of the first HBO series he worked on with Hanks and Spielberg. He will then discuss the War in Europe, and the Air War in Europe, which was the basis of his bestselling book, “Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany,” and the next HBO series. Finally, after a round-table discussion with students, he will sign each of their books.

The annual event is designed to awaken within students a passion for social studies by exposing them to leading thinkers in the field, though it’s also a big draw for local history teachers, says Ochoa.

Miller is the John Henry MacCracken Professor of History at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of St. Vincent College and the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force. He is the cofounder of the Presidential Counselors, an advisory board to the CEO of the National World War II Museum, and a Fellow and Seminar Leader of the prestigious Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

A resident scholar and guest lecturer for various universities, Miller travels the world on paid-speaking gigs. His participation in Alta High’s colloquium is being partially funded by the Canyons Education Foundation, a non-profit that raises money for teacher grants and to provide students with scholarships and academic opportunities.
This summer, hundreds of high school seniors will don robes and mortar boards in preparation to receive their diplomas and participate in a rite of passage that has come to symbolize the transition to adulthood.

Canyons District’s graduation ceremonies are a family affair, a time for celebrating academic achievement and spotlighting our exceptional students—so mark your calendars now.

The District’s five traditional high schools will perform commencement rites on Wednesday, June 5, 2019. Ceremonies for special programs and schools will be held on separate dates (see below), with exception to Jordan Valley, which won’t be hosting a completion ceremony this year, because none of its students are aging out of the school.

  • Alta High School — June 5, 10 a.m., Utah Community Credit Union Center at Utah Valley University
  • Brighton High School — June 5, 2 p.m., Maverik Center
  • Corner Canyon High — June 5, 2 p.m., Utah Community Credit Union Center at Utah Valley University
  • Hillcrest High School — June 5, 10 a.m., Maverik Center
  • Jordan High School — June 5, 6 p.m., Maverik Center
  • Diamond Ridge — June 4, 7 p.m., Midvale Middle
  • South Park Academy — June 6, 8 a.m., Timpanogos Correctional Facility 
  • Entrada — June 26, 7 pm., Corner Canyon High
  • Canyons Transitions Academy — June 3, noon, Mt. Jordan Middle
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