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South Jordan Journal

Brand-new Daybreak school builds ‘CommUNITY’ from the outset

Dec 10, 2019 02:53PM ● By Jennifer J Johnson

More than 1,000 Daybreak students formed this heart to kick off a year of “CommUNITY.” (Jason Yeaman/Dronetertainment)

By Jennifer J. Johnson 

Back-to-school anxiety is where children — and parents or guardians — struggle to cope with change that a new school year brings.

But what do you call the anxiety when there is not a school to be going “back” to?

Administrators at the newest of new Utah Schools — the 1,000-plus student Mountain Creek Middle School in South Jordan’s Daybreak Planned Community — proactively turned anxiety on its head.

Rebranding the new year as “community building,” school officials set off, from the starting blocks, uniting the school and the school within the community.

The school’s theme for the first month of school? CommUNITY.

In the shade, then the blaring sun of the mountain—swimming upstream in the creek

In June the new school did not yet have a name, school colors or a mascot.

In August and September, the Jordan School District was squaring off against Daybreak regarding the school’s right to fence off the school — a five-letter “F” word, according to JSD’s interpretation of Daybreak’s 180-page design manual.

At the fenceless school, Teachers and staff were “living out of boxes,” with “no time for prep,” and “having schedules change three times,” said school counselor Becky Hunsaker.

One day would be freezing, the next day burning up—thanks to an unstable temperature control system.

‘Everybody has wrapped their arms around each other’

“I love my school,” Hunsaker said. “I love working here. That trickles down to students. We’re in it together.”

Embracing the concept that “Everything is coming from scratch,” the school wanted to stake the claim, from the start, that the school was all about 360-degree success — for every student.

In addition to language arts, math and other Utah Board of Education-mandated subjects, Mountain Creek Middle School students would be developing a culture of community building — with no child left emotionally behind.

Calendaring culture

“There are some students who struggle to introduce themselves,” Hunsaker said. “We wanted to teach students how to do that and to have them teach other students how to do that.”

The best way to do that was through literal fun and games, all starting Oct. 7 and coming to a crescendo  Oct. 11.

Monday was the unthinkable — but, staff found, very speak-able — “No-Phones Lunch” where kids packed away what has become akin to their new limbs — their electronic devices — and just plain interacted in real-time with each other.

Tuesday was “Meet Someone New Lunch.” Students were given Tootsie Pops and guided to sit at tables with others they did not know—united only by the fact that they attend Mountain Creek and that they were in possession of purple, orange, red or other colors of suckers.

Wednesday was “Get To Know You Bingo.” To win a $10 gift card, students had to interact with each other and find Bingo matches or students who have traveled out of the country, spent part of the summer going boating or the more commonplace “squares” to fill on the Bingo card—“My favorite food is pizza” and “I like video games.”

Thursday was an alliterative group memory game: “Getting To Know You” was a case of a huge group sitting in a circle, each child making up an alliterative adjective to precede their name, then adding it to a song, repeating each of those preceding them. “Bodacious Becky” Hunsaker and “Darling David Parker,” both school counselors, said it was a huge hit.

And Friday? Finale Friday lived up to its name. Within a 15-minute start-to-finish window, a total of 1,035 students flooded onto the fenceless lawn, as a team visually depicting the culture of love they are all working to build by forming a humans heart.

Drone photography captured the collective beat.

“We were originally going to fill it in — like a coloring book,” said Darling David Parker, who teamed with Hunsaker to plan and execute not just the Friday finale but the whole week’s cultural kickoff. “I liked it better, how it turned out.”

Culture-building throughout the year

Mountain Creek Middle School is a subscriber of the Utah nonprofit “Choose Kind” anti-bullying program. This last year, the Anti-Bullying Coalition trained more than 280,000 kindergarten through 12
th grade students in Utah as well as 8,000 parents in the art of daily heart-making through community building.

Crediting the school’s innovative concept with the mass heart, Choose Kind board member Robert Behunin, with R&R Partners Marketing and Advertising, said, “These types of visual projects are highly motivating and get kids centered, galvanized into a single, common cause.”

“We are more alike than we are different,” Hunsaker said. Hunsaker noted that the school serves a diverse community with “more cultures and many different languages” and comprises about 40% minority populations.

So far, the school has had monthly activities, including the kickoff CommUNITY in October and is coming up on the Thanksgiving-appropriate “Gratitude.” Other themes to be implemented with programming throughout the year include “Forgiveness,” “Self-Care,” “Digital Citizenship” and “More Alike Than You’re Different.”

Thirty-six “Choose Kind Ambassadors” who had to submit resumes and get two teachers’ signatures to participate help imbue cultural concepts to the seventh, eighth and ninth graders at the school.

“You make this community,” Hunsaker said to the students.