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Debbie Hummel and Julia Lyon: Closing Wasatch Elementary School would be a mistake

Wasatch is exactly the kind of school that the district should be promoting as a success.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Wasatch Elementary School in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, July 25, 2023.

We believe it’s a mistake to include Wasatch Elementary School on the list of schools considered for closure by the Salt Lake City School District because Wasatch:

  • Has a track record of educating lower income and underserved kids,

  • Offers a unique arts-integrated curriculum,

  • Is centrally located between downtown and the University of Utah,

  • Is just blocks away from one of the last schools closed by the district, and

  • Draws nearly three dozen families from outside of the district boundary.

Let’s go through these reasons one by one:

High academic achievement by a diverse student body

Wasatch is known for academic achievement by students from a blend of backgrounds and incomes. We are home to an inclusive, strong and successful school community.

More than 30% of our students come from low-income families. We have a proven track record of serving unsheltered students, those who reside in nearby recovery programs, refugees and other English language learners including those whose parents are enrolled in programs at the University of Utah or with positions at the U. or Research Park.

Unique arts curriculum

Wasatch is committed to improving students’ lives through the arts. This has been our focus for 30 years.

Every Wasatch student receives instruction in dance, drama, visual art and music every year.

No other public school in Salt Lake City – and perhaps the state – offers students this unique, arts-integrated education. Our well-established arts program benefits all children, making them creative, confident and collaborative learners. They can be seen on stage, on the wall, in the classroom — no matter where they come from or where they live.

Good location, with room to grow

We are in an ideal location for working parents. The school’s location makes it an easy drop-off, during all kinds of weather, for parents headed to work in the city’s employment hubs. The new turn lane on east South Temple prevents traffic backups during pick-up and drop-offs. It is easily walkable and along several accessible UTA bus routes, which many students used this year.

Our East Central City neighborhood already suffered a school closure

Just over 20 years ago, the district closed elementary schools. One of those schools, Lowell Elementary, was only a few blocks west of Wasatch. Does the district plan to continue taking away schools for families in the central city and downtown neighborhoods?

Closing Wasatch threatens to shrink the district

If Wasatch closes, the district will lose almost three dozen families who live outside the district’s boundary and have chosen Wasatch — above all other schools — as the best school to educate their child.

We believe this is the moment for the Salt Lake District to be innovative and look more closely at the value schools such as Wasatch provide.

Why is Wasatch on the list of schools to be studied for closure? We believe, in large part, because our building is older. We do not think this justifies gutting our school community, scattering our families and educators and ending a highly successful arts program proven to help kids succeed.

We are aware of the position the school district finds itself in, with shifting demographics, fewer students per building, rising housing costs and a need to downsize. However, Wasatch is exactly the kind of school that the district should be promoting as a success, working to maintain and investing in.

As more apartments open, where are these children expected to attend school? Last spring, one apartment complex alone added seven children to Wasatch Elementary. We are the right school, in the right location and ready to grow.

Salt Lake City and the state of Utah are at a crossroads. It appears that the school voucher program will move ahead, allowing hundreds of more families to opt out of public education. We believe this is the moment to value successful schools like Wasatch Elementary.

At Wasatch, we are eager to welcome more students and families to our school community. We believe in public education as a public good.

Keep Wasatch open, and let’s all work together to make Salt Lake City Schools the best they can be.

Debbie Hummel

Debbie Hummel began her career writing features for The Salt Lake Tribune and then daily news for the Associated Press. She is now a freelance writer and the proud parent of two Wasatch Elementary students.

Julia Lyon

Julia Lyon is a parent of two children at Wasatch Elementary and a former newspaper reporter who covered local and state education issues in Oregon and Utah, including The Salt Lake Tribune. She is now a freelance writer and author of books for children.