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Alta Mini-Hawks celebrate learning through school’s 40th graduation

May 18, 2018 10:14AM ● By Julie Slama

This year will mark Alta Mini-Hawks’ 40th graduation ceremony. Seen here, an Alta Mini-Hawk graduates in 2010. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

This past month, some of the youngest graduates may have passed through Alta High’s halls. 

The Alta Mini-Hawks held its 40th graduation, allowing 30 preschoolers to be honored for their early education success. This year, the celebration was allowed their high school teachers the chance to talk about each student before presenting their diplomas. 

Alta, like all the high schools in Canyons School District, has a preschool that allows students who are age 3 and potty trained a chance to learn. It also gives high school juniors and seniors a chance to explore the possible career of becoming a teacher, said Alta preschool director Kim Hanni. 

“The preschoolers get one-to-one attention from our high school students,” she said.

For 38 years, the preschool rotated with the high school schedule, having students attend preschool on Mondays and Wednesdays one week and Tuesdays and Thursdays the next. Two years ago, Hanni switched it so it would be easier with parents’ schedules to have their children attend school on the same days each week.

“This allows for the preschoolers to get used to two different teaching styles as they have one high school teacher one day and another a different day. This actually has worked out very well and the parents are pleased we listened to their comments,” she said.

Alta students, who earn concurrent enrollment in education through Salt Lake Community College with the class, create the lesson plans and activities for the preschoolers under Hanni’s supervision.

“We focus on letters each week and themes such as oceans, space, science, art, zoo animals, farm animals and others. We have learning centers that have art, science, math, language, sensory and dramatic art activities. We used to encourage students to rotate through them, but this year, we introduced the centers with a colored bracelet. As long as the student wanted to stay engaged at the center, they wore a certain colored bracelet. When they want to switch to a different center, they would need to switch bracelets with another student. This allows the preschoolers to build on their communication skills as well as their emotional skills when someone may not be willing to switch,” she said.

While Hanni said the preschoolers have several speakers, such as fire fighters, police officers, dentists, nurses and even therapy dog trainers, they only go on one field trip — to the Living Planet Aquarium, where they learn more about marine life to tie into their oceans unit. 

“My favorite thing is to watch the little kids learn and catch on to concepts,” she said. “They learn so much and become so knowledgeable in such a short time. The same can be said for the high school students. Some are really shy or insecure, but this gives them a way to get some hands-on teaching experience to become more confident.” 

Even for those high school students who might not end up in the education field, they have gained skills in teaching and leadership as well as become certified in first aid and have their food handler’s permit, Hanni said. 

Through the years, several high school students continue to stay in touch with their former preschool students, even as they approach their high school years.

Many schools have open enrollment for fall preschool, but Hanni said that as of early May, Alta already has a waiting list. 

“I have some parents who put their name on the list when they learn they’re going to have a baby,” she said. “I work a lot with Jordan and Corner Canyon since we’re close by one another, and Corner Canyon still has openings.”