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South Jordan Journal

Daybreak new principal advocates for students

Apr 13, 2021 02:02PM ● By Julie Slama

Daybreak Principal Leslie Ewell encourages students this year to be BRAVE. (Photo courtesy of Jeanne Nichols.)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

When Leslie Ewell was little, she liked playing school and dreamed of being a teacher.

She was on that path, but after earning her associate’s degree, she married and started a family, so her dream was put on hold.

When her oldest son—now an adult—was in second grade, he became a challenge for some teachers, as he was an advanced learner with a near photographic memory, Ewell said. 

She recognized some teachers went to great lengths to help him, while others not so much. In that process, she became his champion and decided all students needs a positive influence to help them progress, to take a risk and try to help them, to love them and be the person who supports them in being successful.

Ewell returned to her path to become an educator. 

After teaching second and fourth grades and being an instructional coach in Nebo School District, she became a dean of students at a dual immersion elementary where she was a mentor for teachers but still worked as a teacher on special assignment.

It was there, incidentally, that she called upon her niece, who attended the school then, to help her decorate her office.

“She insisted I decorate with this picture of a flamingo, so I did,” she said, not realizing that it would spur others—students, colleagues, her five sisters—to add to what now is a collection in her office. “It’s kind of fun, kind of silly.”

Ewell started looking for more administrative opportunities, so she came to Jordan School District to work as an assistant principal at Foothills and Black Ridge elementaries. 

This is her first time being principal.

“I love the people I work with; they’re very dedicated and creative,” Ewell said about her Daybreak Elementary staff. “I love learning from them.”

For example, the third grade teachers felt that Kids Marketplace—a role-play activity where students are introduced to careers and money management—was important to be held during COVID-19 pandemic. While usually parents volunteer to oversee stations from the bank to housing to animal services, aides were to fill the roles in March, and teachers were to instruct students in the process and stagger the times in the marketplace to keep social distancing in place.

Daybreak’s student council was working with the school PTA to hold a March reading challenge, with kindergarten through third grade students versus fourth through sixth grade students in completing the greatest number of minutes of lessons completed on their reading programs.

The PTA also was starting to plan year-end activities that follow the health and safety guidelines.

“I have a fantastic PTA president and board and SCC (school community council),” she said. “I can’t have volunteers in the school, but I’m feeling I’m getting to know the community. Everyone is very kind, and it’s just been a fantastic experience.”

This year, Ewell has appreciated recognizing students who “Find Your Brave.”

Early in the school year, she recorded herself reading “Be Brave Little One,” then went into classrooms to talk about her favorite passages. That has led to posters around the school indicating what it means to be BRAVE: Believe you are here for a reason; Recognize the voice of your heart; Accept that fear is part of the process; Vow to do your best; and Expect the ups-and-downs.

Each week, she recognizes up to seven students of the 740 in-person and 120 online students who are nominated by their teachers for maybe asking questions in class to mastering a concept. Recently, a kindergartner who earned the honor said, “I’m so proud of myself.”

“I thought about with kids out of school for such a long time (after the soft closure of schools last spring because of COVID-19), that we need to find and recognize the ways we’re brave,” she said. “We need to celebrate their resiliency. It’s great to recognize the kids and call home with positive messages.”

While being a student advocate, Ewell recognizes the fact that to be successful, everybody needs help along the way.

“You don’t do it alone; there’s people behind you,” she said. “I have my staff, my administrative assistants, my family. And we are here to help our students be successful.”