5 Things I Learned at Lincoln Elementary School’s Cultural Night

Amanda Matthewsby Amanda Matthews
Lincoln Elementary Community School Director

I am genuinely, incredibly inspired by the community at Lincoln Elementary. On March 19th Lincoln hosted its first annual Cultural Celebration Family Night, with dances, poetry, and food representing the variety of cultures of our students. The compassion and community that was displayed highlighted, for me, five lessons that deepened my commitment to and passion for our Community School efforts.

1. Students are dedicated.

For two weeks prior to the event, students volunteered to learn and repeatedly practice new cultural dances, a different one for each grade level. We were fortunate enough to have the connection to Cottonwood High School, where we were able to reach out to students and ask them to allow us to film instructional videos for various cultural dances that could in turn be taught to our elementary students. While we weren’t able to have every culture at our school represented through dance, we were able to showcase Native American, Mexican, Utahn, Burmese, East African, Middle Eastern, and Nepali cultures. The enthusiasm and effort that students put into their performances was incredible!

IMG_69502. Communities turn out.

We were thrilled to have over 500 people attend our event, a huge number for our school! Additionally, a group of high school girls from the Hser Ner Moo Community Center came out and gave a wonderful performance of a Sundanese dance. It was great to see so many people come together.

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3. Tamales go a long way to building community.

We all know that food is a great way to build connections and cross boundaries. One special piece of our Cultural Night was the variety of food that was available to families that reflected their own culture. There were tamales, African sambosas, and Middle Eastern dolmas; all of which caused excitement among the students. Students were able to see food at school that they have seen their parents prepare at home.

IMG_72464. Original student poems speak of life, friends, and homes.

Another aspect to our Cultural Night was the announcement of the winners of the student poetry contest. Many of our students participated in the contest and wrote about their own personal culture and families. First place went to a very talented second grade girl, who wrote about her life both in Nepal and here in the United States. We have some talented poets at our school!

IMG_68515. Dance brings people together.

The final performance of the night was our Native American closing ceremony dance, led by 6th grade students and their teacher. Slowly, they moved from the stage into the seating area and grabbed hands of audience members until almost the entire auditorium was on their feet, dancing together. It was an incredible feeling of community that even weeks later, still brings a smile to my face. It reminds me that, together, as a community, we will create bright futures for students.

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Promise South Salt Lake — United Way Partnership Receives National Praise

CherieWoodCherie Wood,
Mayor of South Salt Lake

….but the real reason for celebration happens here at home, in our community!

Untitled2Last month, I was pleased to present the Promise South Salt Lake model at the National Afterschool Summit at the University of Southern California. The event, hosted by former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, provided a forum to celebrate our work in partnership with United Way of Salt Lake and to be recognized as a national example of excellence. Education experts as well as technology innovators, leaders from the private sector, celebrities and political allies of afterschool, came together at the summit to pledge their support, raise public awareness of the importance of afterschool programs, and highlight the resulting benefits to school age children, their families and communities. I was excited to have the opportunity to share information about the 10 Promise SSL Neighborhood Centers that enable us to deliver services and resources throughout the city. (5 centers are co-located in our Community Schools, and 5 deliver services in community-based locations.) I am proud of the accomplishments that the Promise South Salt Lake-United Way partnership achieves, and I am constantly inspired by the improvements in the overall wellbeing, economy, safety and health of our community.

Afterschool Summit Gov&MayorWoodThe feature of Promise South Salt Lake that drew the most interest at the summit was the holistic, comprehensive approach that is central to our work. Summit organizers and community leaders alike were anxious to know more about the Promise South Salt Lake Councils and how we have mobilized partners and stakeholders in the areas of health, safety, education, jobs and economy, housing, arts and community, and neighborhoods to guide, inform, and implement our work. We received praise for establishing a Promise South Salt Lake Department within the municipal structure of the city. We also received attention for the framework of communication, planning and organizing through which we have created a citywide system of programs and services.

I am so grateful for the Promise South Salt Lake-United Way of Salt Lake partnership, encompassing our many educational and community partners that supports the learning that occurs during the school day and helps us to achieve targeted academic benchmarks for our youth, such as homework completion, social skills development, and improved behavior. The partnership provides a welcoming place for our youth to learn and play together; provides working parents a safe place for their children to be during the afterschool hours; offers adults and families English, citizenship, and life skills classes; as well as arts, recreation, and other interest-based programs. The face of South Salt Lake is forever changed for the better because of this unique and amazing partnership.

Data Drives Instruction, Strategies, and Motivates Reading Volunteers at South Kearns

nate-salazarby Nate Salazar
South Kearns Elementary Community School Director

Data is a major component of the day to day decision making at South Kearns Elementary, and it is changing the way we do business. Principal, Dr. Julie Lorentzon says “We work really hard but now we need to come up with ways to work smarter.” SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) goals, and data driven decisions, are becoming the norm and changing our culture

One of the ways data is driving instruction is through pre-test Common Formative Assessments (CFA’s). Teachers have been developing CFA pre-tests on common core standards and are able to assess what a student knows about a concept before the lesson is taught. This process enables the teacher to differentiate or group students in the classroom during the lesson in order to meet student needs. Teachers then give a post-test to assess what students comprehended and determine if any re-teaching needs to take place. Each grade-level team and school leadership meets monthly for data teams. Student data is analyzed at this time, and the progress and development of CFA’s for their classes is discussed. Although initially there is a lot of work, the return of being able to make data driven decisions in the classroom centered on SMART goals and the potential for student growth is well worth it.

DSC_0146Data Teams are also a great opportunity to discuss the importance of other aspects that affect the day to day routine of a classroom. During our last Data Team meeting, kindergarten teachers expressed their struggles with parent involvement. Our discussion led to the planning of a kindergarten parent night, geared towards the importance of reading. This also sparked a conversation about developing a more intentional strategy for parent engagement as a school that includes a “Strong Fathers Strong Families” curriculum that will be rolled out next year.

Data is also playing a role in motivating and showing appreciation for our AmeriCorps ReadToday volunteers. In February, South Kearns hosted an open house for our volunteers where they received test score data for each student they tutor, and lunch on us. Volunteers received the Beginning and Middle of year test scores from the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) exam students take three times a year. This experience was beneficial on many levels for the volunteers. Not only did they feel the appreciation from the school for the work they do, but their work was validated through seeing the progress of the students they work with. Paramount was the understanding volunteers gained about the DIBELS exam, what they are tested on, and how students are placed in levels of proficiency based on their scores. One volunteer mentioned that seeing her student’s data has changed her outlook on the importance of the volunteer work she does, and has influenced the degree to which she pushes and motivates her students to work harder.

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Why Did Taylorsville High Students Wear Summer Clothes in the Middle of Winter? Find out!

By Hollie Link
Student Body Officer, Taylorsville High School

During the last week of November, Taylorsville High School held its annual charity week. This year, our charity of choice was United Way of Salt Lake. As a group of 28 Student Body Officers, we collected over 5,000 dollars in just one week!

We took time during and after school asking for donations and we also carried milk jugs to gather donations while in class. After school, we spent several hours walking around neighborhoods, adventuring door-to-door, to ask for a small donations. When asked about this experience, many of my fellow student body officers reported that just getting a single cent made them feel like they were making a difference.

Besides walking around neighborhoods, Taylorsville SBO’s have a tradition to stand outside of local grocery stores and approach customers about donating. One night during this week-long charity drive, the senior class officers, and other caring students, participated in what has become known as the “Senior Freeze Out.” At this event, the seniors dress in summer attire in the middle of winter, hoping to bring attention to themselves and gather more donations!

IMG_1410To reach our goal of 5,000 dollars, we also held a dating bid. Students who donated the most could win a date with an officer of their choice. The officers love this because it encourages the students to really get involved!

Taylorsville High School officers adore charity week. This year, we really got to know one another and created bonds that will last a lifetime, all while supporting our community! For this reason, we suggest more schools get involved with United Way of Salt Lake and find ways to give back. UWSL is a diverse organization, and because of this, we felt that more people donated to our charity week.

The student body officers at Taylorsville High urge schools and other community organizations to get out there and GIVE, ADVOCATE, or VOLUNTEER with United Way of Salt Lake!

Spending Time at Guadalupe – Volunteer Today!

Michelle for blog postby Michelle Azzaro
Young Leaders Member, Enterprise Rent-A-Car

Michelle Azzaro wanted to do more for her community. With the help of UWSL’s volunteer team, she organized a series of volunteer projects at Guadalupe School for her company. She and her colleagues currently volunteer at this UWSL Community School to help kids with their reading and academics.


Hi, my name is Michelle Azzaro and I work for Enterprise Rent-A-Car as a Talent Development Manager. I have worked for Enterprise for seventeen years and love our company commitment to supporting our local communities. One of our founding values is: “We strengthen our communities, one neighborhood at a time.”

image 5Spending time at Guadalupe School fits right into my personal belief that all children should have access to high-quality education, as well as aligns with Enterprise Rent-A-Car’s commitment to our communities. I am so fortunate to be able to have the opportunity to bring different employees within our organization to help with reading and homework. The kids are truly amazing!!

CindyHave you had an opportunity to volunteer at Guadalupe? If not, schedule time right away! There is always room to help with homework: reading, spelling, math (don’t be afraid), and science. If you have not been to the new location, plan a visit. The school is so spacious and offers a lot of different services for entire families. Check it out!

I promise it will be an experience you will not soon forget!!

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American Express Brings “Uncontrollable Excitement” to Granger Elementary!

Dennis Huynhby Dennis Huynh
Community Investment Advisor

As 130 students in the Granger Elementary afterschool program finished up their activities, they headed into the cafeteria to wrap up the evening. What was a quiet room just moments prior, started buzzing with uncontrollable excitement. When the students entered the cafeteria, they could see mounds of gifts awaiting them……….DSC_0511

On December 16, a group of 19 volunteers from American Express went to Granger Elementary to help students in the afterschool program learn how different cultures celebrate the holiday season. The volunteers rotated with the children between three groups where they decorated cookies, created beaded necklaces, and learned about Chanukah by playing the dreidel game.

DSC_0429At Granger Elementary Community School, a United Way of Salt Lake Neighborhood Center, 81 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch. The holiday season is especially rough for the kids and their families. Some of these students, when asked what they wanted for Christmas, replied with socks, pillows, blankets, and other clothing. Not the usual toys and games that you would see being requested by elementary students. One student even asked for shoes and a blanket for his parents.

DSC_0469These volunteers took time out of their busy days to help these students learn about different holiday traditions and had a lot of fun doing so. And, they saved the best for last. American Express had generously purchased gifts for all of the students! The amount of joy on the students’ faces was immeasurable. Thank you so much American Express for being such a bright light during the holidays and for showing everyone how to LIVE UNITED.

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Afterschool Programming Bridging the Gap at South Kearns Elementary

nate-salazarby Nate Salazar
South Kearns Elementary School Director

South Kearns Elementary is the newest Community School in the Promise Kearns pipeline. Since becoming a Promise Community School, South Kearns Elementary has added numerous strategic supports geared towards helping students gain proficiency in literacy, a major priority for South Kearns. One strategy that was discussed to help meet literacy goals was out-of-school time and afterschool programming. Principal Dr. Julie Lorentzon made her expectations very clear that the program is not going to be glorified babysitting, but rather a strategic program where students receive high-quality tutoring and re-teaching of what they are learning during the school day.

_MG_5635Through the work of United Way’s Director of Elementary Learning, Stephanie Rokich, and Grant Specialist Nancy Major, United Way applied for and was awarded a Federal Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) Grant to add financial capacity to the UWSL Promise Community Schools for the next three years. Because of this grant, South Kearns was able to expand afterschool programming from two days a week for forty-five minutes to every day for two hours. A computer lab is also now open every morning, Monday through Thursday, before school. We also now have a school choir which practices two days a week before school. The CCDF Grant money for the afterschool program enables the school to use its Title 1 funds in different ways to support student learning.

UWSL and South Kearns have also developed a partnership with Kelly Riding at Salt Lake County Youth Services to manage and oversee the operation of the afterschool program. Since Developing this partnership, South Kearns has hired Afterschool Program Coordinator, Talisha Thomas, as well as eight South Kearns teachers to run the academic hour, and three Youth Development Leaders to help with tutoring and enrichment activities for students.

_MG_5667Ms. Thomas said, “Being a part of the afterschool program is a rewarding experience. The program provides opportunities to help children excel in school, reach their potential, increase their confidence in learning, and provide enriched experiences that the children might not otherwise have. I recently asked the kids what they wanted to be when they grew up. One particular child perked right up, with big eyes and said “I want to be like Alexander Fleming, he invented penicillin and changed the world of medicine.” Being surrounded by such caring and supportive staff has made this program possible.”

The South Kearns afterschool program has capacity for sixty students, and within the first week of the application process, we were over capacity with a waiting list. Even though the program is in its inception here at South Kearns, we are already noticing a difference in attitude and behavior of the students enrolled in the program, as well as an increased understanding of the Community School model from the school and the parents. Through this type of understanding, South Kearn’s goals to help students become more proficient in literacy, while enriching the lives of our students, becomes more realistic.

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