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Episode 101: Some Fun with Students at the New Aspen Elementary School

It is a new year and a brand-new school for students at Aspen Elementary in South Jordan.

On this episode of the Supercast, Superintendent Anthony Godfrey gets a look inside the newly opened school with a stop in the principal’s office. Then, he has a candid conversation with some 4th grade students about their impressions of the new school and the importance of learning and making new friends.

Audio Transcription

Anthony Godfrey:
Hello and welcome to the Supercast. I'm your host, Superintendent Anthony Godfrey. It is a new year and a brand new school for students at Aspen Elementary in South Jordan. On this episode of the Supercast, I get to look inside the newly opened school first with a stop in the principal's office. Then I head to a classroom for a candid conversation with some fourth grade students about their impressions of the new school and the importance of making new friends.

All right, we are here at the brand spanking new Aspen Elementary school with Suzie Williams and April Thompson, her assistant principal. Suzie is the principal here and was principal previously at Eastlake. We have our principals assigned halfway through a school year to start opening a school for the next year. Here we are, the new school year is here and so is the new school. Tell us a little bit about it, Suzie.

Suzie Williams:
Well, it came quickly! You know, you anticipate, and I was able to be a part of the construction, and what I mean by that was they included me in the construction meetings. So I came out probably twice a month and toured the building and listened in on the meetings, which was so interesting.  I was able to give some input and work with the architect and  Hughes Construction. So it's been fun to watch this come from just as a skeleton to what it is now, and it's beautiful.  I have been at the District Office for the last six months just planning, ordering, hiring, and just getting ready to get us all moved in and have everything set up. I'm just excited that it's finally here cause we've worked hard to get it ready to go.

Anthony Godfrey:
You certainly have, and there are a lot of details to think about. I'm amazed at how great it looks. I was here at the skeleton phase as you described it. The grass is in, the landscaping is done, and the school looks fantastic. Now, April, you are a new administrator in a new school, starting a new school year. How does that feel?

April Thompson:
Everything is so new, so I'm just part of all the new. It's so fun to have the kids here because that's what has made the school the school. It's been a building, but now that the kids are here, it's alive.

Anthony Godfrey:
Tell me about the color and mascot phase of things. I see a turquoise theme going on here in your office.

Suzie Williams:
We're voting on that today. Each classroom is voting on the mascot and the colors. Right now I just checked, Alligators are winning.

Anthony Godfrey:
Oh, the Alligators, the Aspen Alligators. Yeah, wow. Well, with a little bit of flooding the last couple of days, that really makes a lot of sense. What are the color schemes that people voting on?

Suzie Williams:
Green and black was ahead, so far, but we'll see.

Anthony Godfrey:
Green and black, okay. Green and black with alligators would go along pretty nicely. I remember when Riverton High School was first looking at that and they were going to be the Riverton Raptors. That was one that was kind of a leader. Yes, but the purple color was also favorable. And when you thought about a purple dinosaur, that didn't work very well for high school kids, so they backed away from the Raptors but kept the purple. Anyway, for copyright reasons, we can't explain exactly why that would have been a problem, but I think listeners will pick up on that. What's the most exciting thing about opening a new school?

Suzie Williams:
To me it's been a little overwhelming, all the good people. It's been fun to, well, I've handpicked our staff and our faculty and oh, we have good people. And then the kids, you know, there's no kids at the District Office. It's not good, it's terrible. So it's been so nice to have the kids here. Our team leaders together, as we planned, we came up with our vision, which is "All belong, all learn, all succeed." Then we defined our mission, what that looks like. What does it look like to all belong, all learn and all succeed? So we're going over that with the students to help them understand what we're about. With the all belong, we've made an emphasis on learning each child's name. So we've had some fun story books about our names that the teachers are using this week to teach with. Then they've done some fun activities about learning the students' names and I'm making an effort to talk to the kids.  I truly do want to learn their names. So I guess the best part, the most exciting part, has been the people. Wow. We have good people.

Anthony Godfrey:
That's the best part of the job period. As I look out your window, I'm not exaggerating. I see in every direction, new homes going up. Tell me about the growth that you've already seen here at Aspen.

Suzie Williams:
Yeah, I've been a little bit surprised by that. Our projections were that we would start at 522 students. I was getting a little nervous because about 10 days ago we were still around 400. In the last 10 days we've enrolled about a hundred students. It fluctuates, it goes up and down a little bit each day. We were at 519 the other day, and then we dropped down to 512. That's to be expected. I think some students weren't aware that they were supposed come to a new school. So we're working all of that out. But yeah, so the projections are that we'll double in the next five years. So we'll see. I anticipate that we'll continue to enroll students.

Anthony Godfrey:
Well, be ready to memorize a lot of names in the future. Now you approached building community in a unique way. Tell us about that.

Suzie Williams:
So I drug our sweet Tina, who's our administrative assistant, that's who truly runs the school. She and I, over the last few months, we took one day a week and walked through the community. We went door to door, meeting people, and we had a little flyer about Aspen Elementary with our contact information on it. Most people aren't home, just because people work, so we always left it under their mat. Oh, we had a good response with that. I'll be honest, it scared me. I wasn't comfortable doing that, but we didn't have anyone who was disrespectful. They were always kind. Most people when they answered the door, had a little scowl, like 'what do you want?' But when we tell them who we were, their faces soften and that, 'oh, that's awesome.' Then we had the nicest visits.

I hired three people to be support staff here from people that we knocked on their doors. Because we mentioned that as well, that we need support staff, we're hiring, if you know anyone that's interested. So not only just to meet the community and get our name out there, it was just nice to build those relationships. We want to be school of choice because we have several schools around us that people can choose to go to. They don't have to come here, but we want to be school of choice, and we wanted to build those relationships early. Have people come to Aspen Elementary,

Anthony Godfrey:
It's a great effort, that's awesome. That's awesome. April, tell us about the building itself. What's a feature that really stands out to you as a particularly exciting feature to have available for teachers and students?

April Thompson:
Oh, there's so much, it's hard to choose one. The first thing that comes to mind is it doesn't matter where you are in the school, you get that natural light coming in. So they have the natural light coming in from the ceilings and it bounces off. It just really lightens up the school, which I love.

The STEM room is really exciting, having everything mobile so that the kids can go in and change and adapt to what activity there that they are going in. The Mindfulness room that is that something that will be really good for the kids, and we're excited about that.

Anthony Godfrey:
The Mindfulness room is the sort of thing that will start to become standard issue when you open a school, just because of the great positive impact that has on students. And the natural light. Learning in natural light is so beneficial, and it is nice when you can control that natural light with some good blinds too. So yeah, some nice features, Suzie, what stands out for you?

Suzie Williams:
Well, the same things April mentioned, plus the Kivas are nice. We have two large Kivas where we can bring in whole groups or the teachers can do small group instruction. So we're doing a new Walk to Read program where our aides will be working with small groups and to set up a table in there and work with small groups is going to be great.

The technology, we were trained last Friday on all of the technology. I worked in a school, an older school that was built in the 70s and we plugged things in. Well, I said 'overhead' the other day. Yeah, I said something about the overhead, and people said 'what are you talking about?' So I was amazed at the technology in this building,

Anthony Godfrey:
Like you said, you got to build the faculty and the community and the school from scratch. Years from now, where do you want the momentum you've created to take everyone?

Suzie Williams:
Wow, a great question. I hope this building culture will always be inviting. I hope that it will be a place that people want to come. When they walk in, they'll feel welcome. Then, you know, you think of academics. I want the kids to be successful here. So hopefully we'll build a nice foundation where that will continue on. I appreciate what the District's done with literacy. We have tools now that we just didn't have before with literacy. I taught 6th grade and I'll be honest, I didn't know how to teach a kid how to read. We read louder or slower or sound that out. I just didn't feel like I had the tools or I knew where to get the tools, and we have them now. Our Teaching and Learning department with the literacy has provided us with tools that we can now hone in on what kids are missing, which individual skills kids are missing, and then we have the tools to know how to help them. So I'm hoping that starting that foundation now, that that will just carry on where we can truly help these kids know how to read.

Anthony Godfrey:
Suzie, I'm so grateful to have you here as Principal. You're the right person to be opening this school. And I get to be part of that process of deciding how that works, and there's just no question that you're the person to be doing this. You and your administrative team are the right people to be setting this in motion, building this community and providing this great experience for our employees and our students. Most of all.

Suzie Williams:
Thank you. I do appreciate having Jarom Airhart and April Thompson here. They've been right beside us the last few weeks, getting this up and running and I appreciate them and our Administrative Assistant. She's carried a huge load.

Anthony Godfrey:
It takes everybody doesn't it?

Suzie Williams:
Yeah, absolutely it does.

Anthony Godfrey:
Stay with us. When we come back, you don't want to miss my conversation with some Aspen Elementary 4th grade students. Hear what they have to say about their new school.

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Anthony Godfrey:
We're in Mrs. Rick's class in Aspen Elementary school talking to some sixth graders, right? Fourth graders. I thought you guys looked more like sixth graders. No? Fourth graders. Okay, all right, we'll go with fourth graders. So tell me, what's it like to have a brand new school built just for you? Raise your hand. Whoa. All right, right here. What do you think about that?

Caroline:
Um, it feels nice and stuff.

Anthony Godfrey:
Okay, awesome. Tell me your name.

Caroline:
Caroline.

Anthony Godfrey:
David, tell me what you think about being a student in a new school.

David:
It feels good because it's a chance to make new friends.

Anthony Godfrey:
It is a chance to make new friends. You got a lot of great friends to choose from here. Toka, tell me about how you're feeling about being here?

Toka:
Good, like, everything looks way different though.

Anthony Godfrey:
Oh yeah, how so?

Toka:
Like the office used to be on the right side, but it's now like on the left side I think.

Anthony Godfrey:
So it's kind of like your previous school, but different.

Toka:
Yeah.

Anthony Godfrey:
That's kind of cool. That's a good combination. What do you like most about the new school?

Toka:
Um, that we have PE cause last year we didn't have P.E.

Anthony Godfrey
Ah, there's room for PE. I love it. Liam, what do you think?

Liam:
Um, it's nice not being the person that joins the school on the last year. Everyone's the first person so you don't feel left out.

Anthony Godfrey:
Yeah, I didn't think about that. Everybody's new. So what does that mean when everybody's new at the same time?

Liam:
Um, it means that a lot of people don't have friends and it's easier to make friends. Because in other schools that have been going for a long time, a lot of people have friends, but in a first year of school, a lot of people can make new friends.

Anthony Godfrey:
I love that several of you have mentioned making friends. That's really what this school is about is being connected to each other, being part of a community, making friends so that you can learn even better and make these great memories. All right, Luke, tell me about what what's on your mind.

Luke:
On the first day, everybody was kind of really nervous that they weren't gonna like have any friends and stuff.

Anthony Godfrey:
But being at a new school together at the same time, you were able to make friends quickly.

Luke:
Yeah.

Anthony Godfrey:
That's awesome. And everyone's nervous cause nobody knows where to go. Everything's new that way too. Ocean, tell me what you think about Aspen.

Ocean:
It's good because you get to exercise your brain a lot.

Anthony Godfrey:
Exercising your brain. I love it! Is it Caroline? Caroline, tell me what you think about being at Aspen Elementary.

Caroline:
I like it. At my old school there was some trouble and I'm just glad that I can like refresh my brain and learn new stuff.

Anthony Godfrey:
Oh wow, I'm getting lots of good catch phrases for Aspen. 'Aspen, Refresh your Brain'. 'Aspen, Leave your Troubles Behind'. 'Aspen, Exercise your Brain'. You guys have some great ways of thinking about making friends and learning. This is really exciting. You guys are very lucky. Della, how are things going for you?

Della:
Being at Aspen, it's a chance to see old friends and make new friends, and see the teachers that you had a long time ago.

Anthony Godfrey:
So you get to see some of the teachers you might know, some people you know, lots of new faces, a building that seems familiar, but it's different. Sounds like a great combination to me. All right. Grayson

Grayson:
So it's like an explosion of happiness. When you get into fourth grade, you see what I mean. It's like when you first get into it, you look at all the things around you and everybody that will be your friends. And it's just like an explosion of joy in your heart.

Anthony Godfrey:
An explosion of joy, happiness, and friendship. What could be better? You're in the right place at the right time doing the right stuff. This is awesome. What a great way of putting it. Yes, Caroline.

Caroline:
It's just good to know that there's only a couple of germs. There's not so many germs as if there's an old school, then they would like build up bacteria. It's just nice to know that you're in like a new school, not as many germs and stuff.

Anthony Godfrey:
So if there are germs, they're new, fresh and crisp germs rather than the old germs of previous schools. Very good. Okay, Quinn?

Quinn:
I like this new school because everything's so nice and clean. We have new teachers, and they're fun and nice teachers.

Anthony Godfrey:
Speaking of which, Mrs. Ricks, let's talk about what it's like to teach fourth grade at the brand new Aspen Elementary School.

Mrs. Ricks:
Teaching 4th grade at Aspen's been really fun. I didn't come from any of the schools that these kids came from, they're all brand new to me. So it's been great to learn their names and to learn about where they come from and what makes them special.

Anthony Godfrey:
And to have that chance to bring them together and make friends just like they were talking about.

Mrs. Ricks:
Definitely, I've already seen that. They've included each other and they're forming great friendships.

Anthony Godfrey:
Well, being with you guys today is a great reminder of why we do all the stuff that we do. This is exactly why we do it, for experiences like what you're providing for these students.

Mrs. Ricks:
Well, thank you.

Anthony Godfrey:
It's been a blast talking with you and with these students. I officially declare this as Superintendent, the finest 4th grade class in all the land. Congratulations! Thank you so much for spending time with me. You have a great year ahead of you. I know that. So enjoy it.

Thanks for joining us on another episode of the Supercast. Remember education is the most important thing you will do today. We'll see out there. Go Alligators!

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