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South Jordan Journal

Elk Ridge principal bonds with students as they connect to school community

Nov 03, 2022 07:32PM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

“I’ve got next.”

A line quickly was forming after Elk Ridge Middle School’s new principal, Bryan Leggat, started playing hoops with a middle-schooler. 

The veteran principal still has his form from high school days, although he begged off the awaiting game until the next recess.

 Leggat was outside after lunch, getting to know students.

“I probably have maybe about 200 names down now; maybe 250?” he said. “A little shy of knowing the 1,110 here at the school right now, but I’ll get them.”

Getting to know students is Leggat’s first step.

“It’s important to build strong relationships with the kids — to find out what extracurricular activities these kids are involved in and talking to them about how their concert went,” he said. “It’s critical as a faculty and staff we have those good relationships, to take those extra moments in class to tell students about personal stories that might help the kids understand they’re human beings, too. They’ve maybe made mistakes in the past and learned from them. It shows we care about them and teachers can utilize those things in class to teach concepts. For example, if the kids are into sports and they’re in math class, a concept around the game can be taught so kids can connect school to their world.”

Leggat, an abstract landscape artist whose artwork is posted on Instagram at b.legitstudios, had checked out students’ work at the school chalk art festival.

“As a kid I was interested in art. It was more about pencil, pen, charcoal. Then I got into watercolor and oils. It wasn’t very long before I got into acrylics. I really enjoy acrylic paints just because you can do a painting in a small time period,” he said. “I didn’t really do a lot of pastels, but one day, I’d like to give it a try. I’ve been talking to our kids, finding out more about why they chose their different designs and gave them positive feedback. I’m impressed with the talent here at the school.”

Leggat, who previously served as West Jordan’s Joel P. Jensen Middle principal, appreciated Elk Ridge’s chalk art festival on Oct. 7 and applauded the theme of acceptance.

“At this point of the kids’ lives, they’re trying to figure out where they fit in, who they fit in with, and who are they. Many of them struggle to accept even who they are. It’s important they’re able to look at the mirror and see themselves and accept who they are and learn to accept others. They need to say, ‘OK, this person doesn’t look like me, but we might still have some things in common, and we can build a friendship.’ We have kids coming from multiple schools here, so we want them to welcome new people from different schools and accept them into their friend group,” he said.

As an administrator, principals usually change schools every six years.

“I was at Joel P. for 10 years and I really enjoyed my time there. I felt we improved on reducing our tardies and helping teachers be able to use every minute of class time. We introduced ‘bell to bell,’ which we’re doing here, with the idea of making sure kids are to class on time and teachers are in the halls during the breaks. Kids have five minutes, so our teachers have been great at reminding kids to keep moving. Once the bell rings, teachers are ready right at the bell. That’s the best way to learn,” Leggat said.

He also has been an assistant principal at Copper Hills High and at Butler Middle. He taught at Brighton High and helped open South Hills as a teacher, instructing students in the afternoon and evening, as during a construction period, the building was split with Oquirrh Hills and those students used it in the morning.

“I went into administration, I’ll be honest, because as a language arts teacher, I had to bring home stacks of papers every night. I wasn’t paid a dime for any of that time, and it was hard to have to spend time away from my young family doing my job,” Leggat said.

While his professional career has been in Utah, Leggat grew up all over — California, Utah, Virginia and Berlin — as his dad served in the military.

“I spent my middle school years in Berlin; those were the years before the wall came down. We were moving from Utah and I had friends here, so on the plane to Berlin, I remember saying to myself, ‘I’m not going to make any friends.’ I already had friends who have gone out of my life because as a military brat, we moved every couple of years. It took me a little bit of time to get past that and look at the opportunity I had to accept and make new friends. I played on a German soccer team; we went to East Berlin probably over a dozen times; we had to go through Checkpoint Charlie,” he said. “Those years were life-changing for me. I was understanding what freedom looks like compared to communism and understanding and accepting many people who were very different from me.”

While attending the Berlin American High School off base, he went to school during the Berlin bombings that happened in the disco that killed some of those in the service. He learned about threats and retaliation.

“The next day I went to the bus stop and there was a Jeep with a big gun following the bus, there to protect us. At school, there were backpack searches and three or four bomb threats that week. It was an intense time. I was old enough to really kind of understand that we were in the middle of a big crisis,” Leggat said.

Even so, he still went on his school culture week to Moscow and Leningrad, now St. Petersburg.

“It was Soviet Union at the time in the middle of February. It was meant to encourage us, kids of military parents, to go and experience different places. So, we went on an Aeroflot plane to Moscow to see the ballet and the circus; it was incredible,” Leggat said.

The love of art and being exposed to culture inspired him to pursue architecture as a career.

“I started taking some architecture classes in high school at Hillcrest, and I really enjoyed those. I went into the architecture program at Salt Lake Community College, but I looked around and the other guys in my program, most of them had construction experience and I didn’t,” Leggat said.

At the same time, he was teaching English-as-a-second language to adults during the evenings at West Jordan Middle.

“I just loved it. I was most passionate about helping those adults who are new to the United States learn English. I changed my major and went into education — and that was the thing that inspired me to do it,” he said, adding that he still is in touch with some of those first students today, and even their children who studied at Joel P. Jensen.

“I don’t think architecture would have inspired me or given me this sense of fulfillment,” he said.

He passed his night teaching job on to his wife when he enrolled at the University of Utah to finish his English degree with a minor in reading. Leggat went on to earn his Master of Education and an administrative endorsement.

While a superintendent position is “not a goal of mine,” there is one to someday “paint, enjoy life and travel along the coast of Oregon, the wooded areas of Montana and to national parks. We have some beautiful country.”

Chances are, he may even fit right in being in the countryside, as he plans to learn line dancing alongside the students at the school dances this year.

“I will be there supervising, but maybe doing a little dance. I’m not a dancer, but I can learn,” Leggat said. “We haven’t had a dance here in a while so we’re having two dances this year. We will have people who will be teaching how to do line dancing and some things like that so students will have instruction and can be a part of it. A lot of the kids really don’t want to go and dance with someone else; they would rather dance in a group.”

The school also has plans for an angel tree and to hold a Souper Bowl of Caring this winter before “Seussical the Musical” in March.

Leggat is making his home as a Wapiti.

“Most of my administrative years have been at middle school. When I taught in high school, I met kids who made poor choices for a few years and it was really difficult to make any change. Middle school is the time when we can make change,” he said. “I want to make sure kids are on track to graduate, that we’re giving them the interventions that they need so they can be with the rest of their class when they enter the high school building. That if they’re starting to hang out with the wrong group, we’re helping them make better choices, and help the whole group out. That’s why I’m in middle school.”