Santa Clara Elementary celebrates 40 years of education

SANTA CLARA — Former Santa Clara Elementary School faculty and students reconvened at their old stomping grounds to celebrate 40 years in operation during an event Nov. 15.

A page from the first Santa Clara Elementary School yearbook showing the first group of faculty, Santa Clara, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Fran Stucki, St. George News

The celebration was kicked off with an assembly Friday afternoon where some members of the original faculty were invited to visit the institution and its current staff and students. Later that day, an open house and reunion were held, and teachers and students gathered to meet with each other once again. This included first grade teacher Janet Morwood, who has been at the school since it’s opening 40 years ago. Morwood has taught more than 800 students in her time at Santa Clara Elementary.

The school is nestled within a neighborhood that has become a haven for students and teachers alike. Fran Stucki, the school’s learning coach, told St. George News that faculty who are hired on at Santa Clara Elementary rarely relocate, which creates a stable environment.  Faculty might have had both parent and child as students over the years.

“We’re a very close-knit faculty,” she said.

When the school was originally constructed over 40 years ago, it was a solar-powered building. The classrooms themselves were flexible and customizable, allowing teachers to combine three classes into one if they needed the space.

A composite picture showing the evolution of Santa Clara Elementary over the past 40 years, Santa Clara, Utah, Nov. 15, 2019 | Photo courtesy of Fran Stucki, St. George News

The building wasn’t ready for students until November of 1979, so the first Santa Clara Elementary School students began at other locations before they were moved over just before the holiday season, Stucki said.

On November 16, 1979, the students brought pillow cases to the schools that were hosting them while the elementary school building in Santa Clara was being finished, she said. They scooped their things into the pillow cases, boarded buses and were taken to their newly completed classrooms so they could enjoy their first day with everything they needed.

When the school initially opened, only half of the school was finished, and children didn’t have a lunchroom or library to call their own. Instead of holding books in the library, a book mobile would come every other week so the children could borrow what they wanted to read. Students didn’t have any grass to play in either, as the school was surrounded by dirt. Stucki said they made the best of it.

Now, the makeshift lunchroom that welcomed the first Santa Clara Elementary students is a booming library filled with books and computers, as well as Kindles for children who want to read on the go.

The first faculty to teach at Santa Clara Elementary School gather to celebrate 40 years in operation, Santa Clara, Utah, Nov. 15, 2019 | Photo courtesy of Fran Stucki, St. George News

Forty years ago, the students at Santa Clara Elementary didn’t begin to learn to read until the first grade. There’s a lot more that students and teachers can accomplish now, Stucki said, with the help of newer technology — like computers — that are available not only in homes but also in the classroom.

“What the kids are doing — curriculum wise — they’re doing a lot of work off of the internet,” she said. “They’re able to go right in and type their writing instead of writing it in a notebook.”

Math curriculum, she said, has changed exponentially since the school first opened 40 years ago. Students begin to learn pre-algebra in elementary school and are able to use resources, like calculators. Overall, the availability of information has significantly increased.

The first faculty to teach at Santa Clara Elementary School gather to celebrate 40 years in operation, Santa Clara, Utah, Nov. 15, 2019 | Photo courtesy of Fran Stucki, St. George News

The Washington County School District has helped with these changes, she said, by focusing more and more on the needs of students. Stucki said the goal is to help teach as many children how to read as possible. Unlike 40 years ago, this process begins in kindergarten.

To also help meet the needs of students, Santa Clara Elementary school has a wellness room. The room opened to students this year. If students are experiencing stress, anger or anxiety, they can ask their teacher to go to the wellness room for 10 minutes where they can decompress before returning to class.

Stucki said the opening of the wellness room has significantly decreased the number of students referred to the office.

“We made the students a priority,” she said.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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