ST. GEORGE — At the grand opening of Desert Canyons Elementary School, five volunteer pilots set out to make the first day of school unforgettable.
Principal Rod Broadhead invited students and their families, along with school staff, to gather on the lawn behind the school for an opening assembly. As a special treat for the little Aviators (the school mascot), Broadhead had arranged a Thursday morning flyover to mark the occasion.
“Carson Stilson, a member of this community, saw on a Facebook page that I was looking for some pilots,” he said. “He went to flight school and said, ‘Let’s get four or five planes up. I’ll fly mine.’ The flight school said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ And we’ve done it and it was pretty cool.”
Students cheered as planes flew overhead, shouting the school’s motto, “Aviate, Navigate, Communicate,” and also, “Go Aviators!”
The community of Desert Canyons is located just south of the St. George Regional Airport and has close ties to the aviation industry, Broadhead said.
Construction on the site began in April 2020, and building costs added up to a little over $12.6 million, which included the cost of the land, the construction of the building, and all furniture and fixtures inside. Desert Canyons currently has 25 classrooms and 15 teachers, with the infrastructure to serve up to 800 students.
The new school was built with growth in mind, which has already been validated with unexpectedly high enrollment from the start, said Nathan Esplin, assistant superintendent of elementary education.
“We were originally expecting about 300 students, but with all the excitement and the growth out here we now have over 400 kids that will start,” he said. “We’re growing at a quick pace. We’ve always got to be thinking ahead and be prepared.”
While there are no elementary schools currently under construction in the district, the growth in the Little Valley area and Hurricane has administrators contemplating future elementary school sites in those communities, Esplin said.
Community feedback during planning and construction helps shape each school’s identity, especially at Desert Canyons Elementary. Both Broadhead and Esplin said the response from Desert Canyons residents was overwhelmingly positive.
“We’ve got great people out here,” Esplin said. “They’re so excited to have a school out here. They’ve done a great job of using their mascot, and they’ve tied the aviators to almost everything they’re doing. We’re excited for a great school year and the future.”
Washington County School District welcomed back students on Thursday. Kindergarteners will start their classes following an open house Aug. 20.
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