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South Jordan Journal

Elk Meadows Elementary’s carnival celebrates 25 years of student learning

Feb 09, 2024 03:09PM ● By Julie Slama

Elk Meadows and Jordan School District leaders came to support the school’s event celebrating its 25th birthday. Pictured (L-R): Former Elk Meadows Principal Aaron Ichimura, Jordan School District Elementary School Administrator Jill Durrant, Elk Meadows Assistant Principal Molly Morgan, Elk Meadows PTA President Liz Howard, Elk Meadows Principal Tiffany Smith and Jordan School District Superintendent Anthony Godfrey. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Ichimura)

It was 1998 and back then, Jordan School District stretched east to west in the southern part of the Salt Lake Valley. With a population boom, several schools were being built, including Elk Meadows Elementary in South Jordan. 

“We started as a year-round school as our student body was a lot larger, probably double of what it is now,” said Tricia Troester, who is one of only a couple of the original staff and faculty members still working at the school. “There was a real need for a school in this area so they built Elk Meadows to accommodate the growth.”

While few were there on that opening day, 25 years later, the school PTA held a celebratory carnival, complete with games, inflatable obstacle courses and slides, a magician and balloon animals, cotton candy and popcorn. The school choir performed three songs, including the Elk Meadows song written by a former teacher.

Former principals and Superintendent Anthony Godfrey were invited to the event and the school mascot, Falco the falcon, made an appearance.

The school mostly looks like it did a quarter of a century ago, Troester said.

“We have new carpet, but they put in the same color of carpet. We now use badges to open the doors and the office was redone when it flooded last year,” she said. “Some of our programs have changed through the years. We have an orchestra and theater programs and we used to have a computer lab where they would test students’ words per minutes to see if they could type faster than the principal. Now, the computers are gone, and it has changed to a hands-on STEM lab. They also added an emotional support unit and everyone welcomes those kids.”

Throughout the years, Troester, echoed by former and current administrators, said it’s a supportive community.

“The PTA is amazing; there are always volunteers. It’s a great school to be at,” she said.

Steven Burnside was the school’s first principal.

“Our PTA, along with our faculty and staff and students established our charter, colors and mascot,” he said. “Some students wanted to name our mascot Burnie after me; I had a couple of grandkids there then and I think they were pushing for that. When the students voted, I was glad they voted for Falco. I thought we’d have an elk as our mascot as we had a beautiful picture of an elk in the main lobby. But the children just decided on a falcon. They also voted on the school colors.”

Early on, Burnside established a culture of service and appreciation.

“That first year, we helped with the landscaping of the school. We had every child plant a tulip. That next year, we had hundreds of tulips,” he remembered. “Our students also made 1,000 hospital dolls for Primary Children’s Hospital that could be used to explain their medical procedures and then the patients could have to cuddle with. At our assembly, we laid the dolls on the steps of the stage and a representative from the Primary Children’s Hospital came to accept them. An NBC national correspondent did a report on us. It was very touching for our students.”

Burnside worked with Elk Ridge Middle to establish a peer mentorship program. 

“As part of their leadership programs, Elk Ridge students came to talk about safety, they’d tutor and would play with the kids on the playground or help with activities in the classroom. They were good students who were being role models to our students,” he said.

Throughout his nine years at the school, there were moments Burnside remembers: inviting University of Utah and Brigham Young University cheerleaders to eat lunch with the students; having “tremendous” participation in Reflections and a packed audience for choir concerts; watching Shakespeare plays in language arts classes; posting students’ photos for citizens of the month; telling stories at the annual Christmas program; gathering by the flag pole for Veterans Day pledge of allegiance; and during the Olympics, joining a sixth-grade field trip to Soldier Hollow to see cross country events.

“We had a Halloween parade every year and I had the privilege of leading the parade with kindergarten kids,” he said. “On Dr. Seuss day, I wore my striped red-and-white hat and read with students. I enjoyed doing that.”

Talent shows were a hit at the school, with lots of participation. He said two custodians performed country music programs and “the kids enjoyed that.”

Burnside was an involved principal.

“We had a powerful group of teachers who were really good, so I got to be with the kids more. Every year, we did the American Heart Association’s Jump for Heart and we would exceed the goals they set for us. I would jump and try double Dutch. I got a pie in my face a couple of times when the students reached a certain reading level; and the teachers and I dropped containers the sixth-graders made to protect their raw eggs from the roof for egg drop day,” he said.

However, about two years before he retired, Burnside had a heart attack and a brain bleed. 

“I was out five or six weeks. The beautiful thing about that time was hundreds of posters were made and signed by all the kids and posted covering my entire hospital room and down the hallway. The doctors had never seen anything like that,” he said. “Every school has a special spirit. At Elk Meadows, there were dedicated people who loved kids and we had such a tremendous PTA.”

His successor, Howard Griffith, also remembers the fun times he had with the Elk Meadows community.

“One time, we roller skated in our parking lot,” he said. “A company in town had a trailer that he brought out with hundreds of pairs of roller skates, so we set up an area in the parking lot with the drop off lane and made a big oval and invited the whole neighborhood. We had music on until 8 or 9 o’clock at night. It was a great success with a lot of people having fun.” 

Other times, on vehicle days, Griffith would bring his motorcycles and sports cars.

“A couple times, I brought my limousine when I had limo service on the side. I had fun taking some kids, parents, teachers who had never even been in one before. I tried to wear our falcon mascot costume, but I found it a little short, so I left that to the others,” said the 6-foot-5-inch former principal who served 30 years as an educator before retiring.

One memory that stands out was when a parent called who lived two blocks south of the school. 

“She said, ‘I can’t get my kid out of bed. So, I threatened him that I was going to have the principal come get you up.’ She invited me in and since I had a little time that morning, I went to their house. He was still in bed and, needless to say, that was the last time that he was ever not at school,” Griffith said.

He appreciated the dedicated teachers who worked together to meet the needs of their students, with their caring attitude, work ethic, strong instructional skills and cooperative abilities. 

During his tenure, student enrollment was reducing, so “the District decided to move different units to schools so that it can better utilize the buildings,” Griffith said. “We had a special ed cluster that used two classrooms; I was surprised at how open and willing the rest of the population of the school was to embrace them and be open to the different challenges that came when they came to the school, like specific locations and time schedules to best serve them.”

Aaron Ichimura followed Griffith as principal.

“What makes Elk Meadows great is the amazing students and their families and our terrific teachers and staff,” he said. “At Elk Meadows, all students were accepted and they were loved. No matter where they were coming from, or what challenges they may be facing, when they walked through our doors, they were all Elk Meadows students.”

Ichimura, like the others, appreciated the PTA, who stepped up to have successful events, including the jogathon fundraiser.

“We had a lot of parents come to support the cause and running with the kids. I liked seeing the parents being active with the kids. At one fundraiser, the kids threw pies in my face — and they didn’t take the pie tins off. I got my face all cut up; that was memorable,” he said.

Ichimura danced with students during cultural events; jumped during Jump for Heart; helped with third-grade Kids Marketplace; ran the fastest mile with them; and enjoyed morning choir rehearsals.

“I would walk in and hear the choir and think, ‘What a great way to start today with happy music and smiling faces. There’s not a better way to start a day of school,’” he said.

At Elk Meadows, Ichimura was known for being engaged with students, doing everything from dressing up in a toga with a laurel wreath on his head to be the “God of Rain” for a fifth-grade social studies ceremony to cheering on his cluster students on Sports Day. Before they left to compete, as well as sixth-graders on their last day of elementary school, he, along with the entire school population, would clap out the students in support.

“Seven years flew by, but what surprised me was when Falco appeared at assemblies and celebrations, the students didn’t seem to pick up on his height variations through the years,” said the principal who now heads up Welby Elementary.

Tiffany Smith is the current principal of Elk Meadows, with Molly Morgan as the assistant principal.

A Break the Rules Day fundraiser now replaces the jogathon, where students raise funds to get tickets for opportunities such as running in the halls or using a pen instead of a pencil. There are opportunities for a class dance party or to be principal for the day. 

A new parking lot was added on the east side to improve parking and make it easier for buses to pull through, as Ichimura remembers nine buses at the school, three times his current school.

But what stands out to Morgan, in her second year, echoes what others say about the school.

“Our kids are amazing,” she said. “The teachers are unrivaled. Everyone’s willing to help one another and are always focused on what’s best for students. Our PTA is fabulous; there are so many people who are waiting in the wings for an opportunity to serve, which is such a blessing. The PTA always is looking to celebrate our kids and this carnival had an amazing turnout to celebrate the school we all love.” λ