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Sandy Journal

Peruvian Park packed memories for nearly six decades; new school building underway

Jul 16, 2021 10:30AM ● By Julie Slama

Peruvian Park Panthers help shovel dirt at the groundbreaking of the new school building, which will open to students in fall 2022. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

In late March, a small gathering celebrated the ceremonial first shovel of dirt for a new home for Peruvian Park Panthers. A much larger audience witnessed the historic moment virtually, as COVID-19 limited social gatherings.

This summer, the 1964 Peruvian Park school building is gone as crews level the ground to start building on the same campus with funds secured from the 2017 voter-approved, tax-neutral bond.

“This building will go up very quickly,” Canyons School District Business Manager and Chief Financial Officer Leon Wilcox said, anticipating the foundation, utility, steel and masonry work will be completed by winter. “By January, we expect to have the entire two-story building fully enclosed where we will begin the electrical, sheet rocking and painting and other finishes. We’ll plan to meet back here in August 2022 for our exciting ribbon-cutting.”

The new building, which will feature its school colors of red and black, will house up to 800 Panthers. It will be a seismically safe, energy-efficient building that has updated technology in all 30 classrooms and skylights for natural lighting. Two classrooms will be dedicated to music and art instruction. The 92,000-square-foot school design is by NJRA Architects and will be built by Hogan Construction.

While the building is being constructed, students will attend school at the former Crescent View Middle School through the end of the 2021-22 school year.

Even though the old building, which had the same layout as the former Alta View Elementary, including a bomb shelter under the school stage, was demolished, memories of the school days are fresh in the minds of some former teachers. 

Monthly, a group of teachers and administrators gather together in-person (and over Zoom during the pandemic) to reminisce about “the good ol’ days.”

“It’s a very close-knit group of teachers,” said Kim DeBruyn, who worked at Peruvian Park for 30 years starting in 1986.

Her former colleague, Jackie Sudbury, who taught at the school from 1990 to 2015, explained: “We all were a family when we were there; we were there for each other when babies were born, when people lost a loved one, kids got married, grandkids born. We were there for a lot of different things in people’s lives. We were like a family—and we still are.”

 Julie Hepworth, who taught at the school for 15 years beginning in 2000 said the school felt “welcoming” with “big classrooms with windows” as well as a sink, a drinking fountain and storage in classrooms. 

As each grade level had their own programs and plays, she remembered, “Having a real stage really meant a lot; it made a performance so much different.”

The stage was in the multipurpose room, where a folded wall was pulled to separate the lunchroom. Often before the winter break, students would sit in a big circle and share holiday songs with one another, she remembered.

In the front hallway, “there used to be a hat that used to be in the frame in the hallway, that was a Peruvian hat,” DeBruyn remembered. She also said that the ramps in the front east-west hallway, which made it compliant for students who were in wheelchairs, was beneficial for “pushing those great big TV carts.”

However, she also recalled the top two common complaints of the aging school.

“Because it was so old, we only had two working plugs in each classroom. With technology coming on, we had to become very creative, and creativity didn’t go along with the fire code. We started daisy chaining, which is a big ‘no no’ we found out later,” DeBruyn said. “We didn’t have any air conditioning. Each individual class had its own temperature. You’d go to some classes, and it would be freezing cold, and you’d go to other classes, and it would be so hot. The boiler system never worked so sometimes during the winter, we had our coats on.” 

She, as other teachers, had uninvited visitors in her classroom, No. 13.

“We were always setting traps in my room, trying to catch these mice,” DeBruyn said, adding that once they had a visitor during a standardized test at the end of the year. “There was a little mouse. He came out, it was so quiet because they were testing, and he comes to the side of the wall and he’s just nosing around the classroom. The kids are just dying.”

DeBruyn recalled another teacher, who had mice sitting outside her window ledge “heard peppermint was supposed to dissuade them so she put peppermint out there” during a parent-teacher conference just to learn “they loved peppermint.”

Hepworth recalled that next to the mop closet was an incinerator.

“When stuff burned, you could smell it if your windows were open. At most schools, you don’t smell burning,” she said.

Sudbury also remembered that every fall, the bees would swarm the younger grades’ entrance, but the school was kept up, with asbestos removal, new carpet, paint, retiling the multipurpose room, updating the playground several times and eventually, swamp coolers. Later, a secure entrance was installed.

She also said that equipment was updated through the years—chalkboards to whiteboards, reel film strips to overhead projectors to the internet, Thermofax machines “where purple ink got all over our fingers” to typewriters to laptops. Handwritten report cards were replaced by ones that were completed on the computer.

“I loved Peruvian. That’s why I was there for so many years. There’s a lot of good memories there; it’s just very sentimental, but it was more than just a building. We were just such a cohesive group and we had great administrators that would support us,” Sudbury said.

She remembered older students loved to create their own picture books and share them with first- and second-grade students and on Fridays, students would select three different teacher-led extracurricular classes called “Bright Ideas” to expand their learning.

“They loved it; the staff was behind it. It was great,” Sudbury said.

Many of the activities through the years—history fair, debate, chess, math club, geography bee, spelling bee, Shakespeare, art, filmmaking and animation, field trips and year-end celebrations at Flat Iron Park—were what made the school and were supported by the PTA, Sudbury said.

“The PTA was awesome; they were supportive. We didn’t have to worry about a thing. They would give us money for field trips or things to purchase and help the students in our class for the year,” she said. “They were over the 50th celebration (in 2015). It was a big celebration and carnival and lots of former teachers and principals came back to that.”

A timeline of the school history, a choir performance, a 50th birthday cake and an essay contest for the time capsule were part of the celebration.

DeBruyn said that with the focus on standardized testing, it transformed the way teachers taught students.

“There was so much that changed with how we got to teach. We used to do a lot of plays—we did ‘Huckleberry Finn’—and a holiday play every year in classroom. There were lots of singing programs, a founders’ program (western-themed), a miners’ day and Utah program in fourth grade, a fifth-grade patriotic program, a president’s program and an earth day program in third,” she said. “Those things were all put aside, and everything was just put to book teaching; that took away a lot of the creativity.”

She also said a fourth-grade favorite was pioneer day. 

“We cleaned and brushed wool, made bricks, made candles and did all kinds of stuff that pioneers would do,” she said.

In third-grade, students tended a garden on the east side alcove. 

“We got seeds and we had the kids plant them in the spring and they got to go out there and water and tend them so that was really a lot of fun,” DeBruyn said. “I missed the kids, I miss the camaraderie of the teachers and working together and using my creativity. I miss being with a class and nurturing them; I really miss that.”

She also remembered in November 2004 when part of Sandy Elementary burned after insulation caught on fire, so Peruvian Park teachers doubled up to give one-third of the Sandy teachers and students space in their building.

“It worked great,” she said about the unexpected students and faculty who stayed “all year long until they rebuilt their school.”

Teachers said the students gelled from a neighborhood school to one that supported the ALPs or advanced learners’ program. Even when the focus changed when the Jordan School District split and Canyons formed in 2009 and changed the program to SALTA to enrich the teaching, students still bonded—including talking about the ghost who locked all the bathroom stalls, Hepworth said.

“Introducing Playworks (structured recess) was a good thing as it got them all involved; everybody was playing with everybody and everybody had someone to play with,” she added.

Hepworth said students loved “Meet the Masters” art program; 36 club math program; the annual PTA beach day; orchestra; the second-grade traditional Thanksgiving celebration where they learned Native American games and crafts; and learning from their custodian, who was a mountain man, teach them about his outfits, teepee and tools. 

At the year-end awards, which featured rewarding older students with the Presidential Fitness Award or younger students with a Golden Sneaker Award, school administrators also honored its “Honest Abe” students, who were rewarded for turning in something, even as simple as a penny.

“It was about teaching them a lesson, to be the best they could be,” Hepworth said. “We valued our students, their learning and their success. It’s what made the difference in the school.”