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Located right across the street from Brigham Young University, Wasatch Elementary is a school that is well-known for its established traditions, attendance improvement, outstanding arts programs, and Chinese Dual-Immersion program. Mike Barker, assistant principal at the school, states, “there are so many great opportunities here at Wasatch, beyond the Chinese Immersion program. The Chinese Immersion program tends to get a lot of the focus because it’s an extraordinary thing, but there are so many opportunities for the students who are not in that program as well. There’s so many great opportunities for the kids who are seeking them out and I think that anybody who comes here wanting to find something where they fit in, should have no problem finding something — it’s just a great school.”
Although Wasatch is a school of many traditions, it is also a school of progress. As the district seeks to improve graduation rates, Wasatch is committed to doing what it can in that endeavor. As the school began to look at its students and study the data they had, it became apparent that attendance was an issue that needed to be addressed. Using research showing that school attendance directly correlates with student achievement, Wasatch began to identify ways to improve. It was quickly determined that understanding why attendance was a issue for some students and providing incentive to be at school was the best place to start.
There are many reasons a student may be absent from school. Circumstances involving sickness or family emergencies are situations that occur throughout the year and do lead to understandable absences. However, Wasatch realized that not all students absences could be attributed to those situations. Working closely with district social workers, the school began to identify students with chronic absences and focused on those students. Social workers have made home visits to these families to try to identify any areas where a family might need help. Resources and understanding were then provided for each student and family to create the ability for the student to attend more regularly. By understanding each student’s individual reason for missing school and providing necessary resources, attendance rates began to increase.
By working with students individually, Wasatch has taken students who originally had a 30 percent attendance rate to a 100 percent attendance rate. According to Principal Rene Cunningham, “As we’ve been working with individual students, we’ve found that some of those who have had chronic absenteeism have discovered that, once they start attending school routinely, they feel so much more on top of things. That was our whole focus, was to get kids on top of their learning through just being here at school on a regular basis.” Assistant Principal Mike Barker has had at least one student state that this is the first time they really understand what is going on at school.
Not only is attendance being addressed on an individual level, but it is also being addressed on a school-wide level. School social workers have played an important role in creating a rewards programs for great attendance, including a school-wide attendance program where students without any tardies/absences for the whole month have the opportunity to receive rewards from local businesses. This has catalyzed increased improvement, as Wasatch attendance numbers have gone from 300 out of 870 students without any absences or tardies during the first month of school, to 500 out of 870 students without any absences or tardies during the month of December. Wasatch is continuing to increase their attendance percentages and, as they do so, are increasing the future graduation rate as well.
Wasatch is one of the older elementary schools in Provo City School District and with that comes great tradition. Wasatch prides themselves on their great traditions that have carried on throughout the years and, as Rene Cunningham says, “tradition runs through the veins of this school”. One of the traditions that Wasatch has been doing for the past few years is their Storytelling Festival. It was started by their librarian, Mary Peck and was fashioned after the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival. With the help of Mary, students learn the craft of storytelling and choose a story to demonstrate this craft. Wasatch holds an evening of storytelling, where students perform their story in front of parents. Storytellers from the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival are in attendance as well. They have many other great traditions that include the Writers Olympics, their maypole dance, spelling bees, science fairs and their flag corp. Overall, Wasatch is a school that has rich traditions that have been carried on and will continue to be carried on throughout the years.
Another tradition that Wasatch has practiced for years is their culmination arts show. This is where samples of different art pieces that students have done throughout the year are displayed for parents to see. Rene says, “it’s been a tradition for so long and it gives the kids, those that might not be as successful academically or in other areas, an area to be strong in and to do well in. I think it just contributes to the whole child and so we are educating the whole child.” Along with strong traditions, Wasatch also has a great arts program and strives to educate the “whole child” through academics, music, arts, etc. Rene states, “it’s always been a big emphasis at Wasatch and I think that’s one reason why we are so successful too.” Their arts programs go beyond just visual arts and include musical arts as well. Starting in the third grade, students can choose to come early to school to participate in the school’s various choirs. Once students reach the sixth grade, they can then decide whether they want to participate in band, orchestra, or take a general music class during the school day as one of their electives.
Chinese Dual Immersion
One can’t talk about Wasatch without mentioning their incredible Chinese Dual-Immersion program. This is a program where students have the opportunity to learn in both English and Chinese, which helps them to learn Chinese as a second language. Wasatch has great native Chinese speaking teachers that teach in the classrooms alongside English teaching teachers and help children learn the Chinese language concepts. Through this program, students have the opportunity to not only learn the language, but participate in events such as Chinese New Year while at school.
Wasatch is a wonderful school that is full of tradition, increasing attendance rates, great arts programs, and a unique Chinese Dual-Immersion program. There is something for every student at this school. Not only is it full of opportunities, but Rene says that the best part of their school is their teachers, saying, “we have such great, dedicated teachers. The teachers are trying to make a difference in children’s’ lives every minute that they are in the classrooms with the kids. They just care so much about the kids, building relationships with them and just have their best learning interest at heart. They work so hard and are just so engaged with their kids. We have the best support staff. Our interventionists have every child’s interest at heart that they work with. The best teachers, the best support staff — we’ve got great things going on here. I just see nothing but wanting the very best for each child here and there’s nothing but love here.”