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Sandy Journal

From strangers to friends: Celebrating togetherness in Willow Canyon school community

Feb 09, 2024 02:49PM ● By Julie Slama

Students, families, neighbors as well as students from nearby schools gathered at Willow Canyons Elementary for a festival that united the community. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

After kindergartener Rylee Knaub picked out pink cotton candy, she threw bean bags at a carnival game to win candy. 

Her mom, Barbara, watched her youngster and felt comfortable knowing her fourth grader and seventh grader were doing other activities with friends at Willow Canyon Elementary’s second annual harvest festival.

“It’s a really fun, good community event where we can get to know one another,” Knaub said. “The teachers and the community are caring and loving; they make it a safe place for kids.”

PTA volunteer and parent Emily Hose was seeing how the event came together after helping string lights and setting up hay bales.

“I like that it brings our community together,” she said. “It’s fun to see everybody with their families. My kids (first-grader Dani and fourth grader Dylan) look forward to it all year.”

That feeling of community and togetherness is a goal behind the festival, said event coordinator Rachael de Azevedo.

“This is the perfect event,” she said. “It’s a true family event. I literally think every person in the school is here, enjoying themselves and eating food. The kids are running around playing and getting all these fun experiences together as a school.”

It also sets the tone for the school year and future school years.

“This event brings us together as a community. We’re all here for our kids and want the best for them,” de Azevedo said. “It’s important to have connections with your friends, your teachers, your administration and other parents. As our kids grow, they’re presented with challenges, and we know each other to help get them through them.”

She also invited middle and high school students to help with face painting and run carnival booths as well as teach elementary kids the basics of lacrosse.

“It’s important for little kids to have interactions with big kids and big kids with little kids I’m kind of a big fan of building relationships our feeder schools. These little kids see the Jordan lacrosse team and that’s one more thing that will stick in their head when they hear about Jordan High. Then, the big kids, they’re getting leadership experience, and gaining a different perspective, as they step into that teaching role. I love our feeder schools. I love that we can pull a community together for this. That’s unique. We’re lucky to have that,” de Azevedo said.

The event, which included a free hot dog meal as well as the activities, was free to everyone, paid for from the school’s no fuss fundraiser, which raised $20,000, she said.

“The PTA decided that we really wanted to keep it free for our community so everyone feels welcome and it’s completely carefree,” she said. “It’s become a great new school tradition.”

Canyons Board of Education member Karen Pedersen also enjoyed the festivities.

“I am loving the community support and the spirit that the festival provides for our school,” she said. “This is a good way for our parents to meet each other, especially the men who typically don’t make it into schools as much, so that they will help one another during the year.”

Pedersen, who taught at the school for 23 years, remembers the fun run fundraiser which was replaced by the harvest festival. 

“I enjoyed the fun run while it lasted, but I think schools should evolve,” she said. “The fun run appealed to a specific target group, and it was hard for parents to be here since it was during the school day. This involves far more people, more families and I think we’ve had enough changes at Willow Canyon that it’s good to have a change, especially now when we’re trying to bring back our community from not being involved in schools during COVID.”

One of those changes is Nicole Svee Magann, a veteran principal who is in her first year at Willow Canyon.

“I love that the festival is really inclusionary, and it brings in our whole neighborhood, not just about our school,” she said. “It’s a community effort and our school is the community center, where everyone should feel welcome. Rachael, this is her vision, and she has just made this magical. Our PTA put in an incredible amount of effort to make it feel festive and inclusive. They’ve incorporated involving the high school and the middle school students so it creates a larger community and gives those kids a chance to do service. That’s a lesson that these younger students can learn. It also gives our students a chance to see our teachers as people who live in this community, not just as teachers.”

Svee Magann appreciates the community that supported the school with donations for the event as well as those who provided services, such as VIPS (Volunteers in Police Services), who not only provided fun for the elementary students, but informed adults of their free services.

The festival also gave fathers, grandfathers and other male role models in the community a chance to sign up to help launch the school’s chapter of Watch DOGS or volunteers who serve as extra sets of eyes and ears to enhance school security, reduce bullying, provide a greater sense of campus safety allowing students, and teachers to focus on learning and instruction and further build community within the school.  λ