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Murray Journal

County lesson allows students to learn about Utah, connect with their families

Feb 26, 2020 11:42AM ● By Julie Slama

Grant Elementary fourth-grader Cruz Gardner shares with his classmates what he learned about Juan County. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

In the Grant Elementary classroom, Dian Thomas spoke in front of students, sharing facts about San Juan County, where she was born and spent her earliest years. 

It wasn’t quite the entrepreneur who wrote the New York Times bestseller, “Roughing it Easy,” along with 27 other books, or the one who has given thousands of speeches and interviews, but it was an admirer, fourth-grader Naitailyia Jones, dressed in a plaid shirt and jeans, who was portraying Thomas while presenting her facts and about the county for the classroom county report.

“I picked San Juan County as my grandpa had been there and showed me a lot of pictures,” Naitailyia said. “My mom knew of Dian Thomas so I learned more about her. My mom helped me with my board.”

Naitailyia and her classmates researched about their Utah counties — reading and writing were amongst her favorite parts of the project — then they made PowerPoints — which Naitailyia said was the easiest part for her. 

Since December, the 26 students could pick any one of the 29 counties and research about it. During the county day, they presented nine facts about the county, ranging from population to recreational areas and shared a trifold board they created about the highlights of the county. Many students dressed up as someone tying into the county and portrayed that person and shared what they learned in a wax museum-atmosphere with parents, that also featured songs they had been learning since the fall, said teacher Ginger Shaw.

Students also made salt-dough maps of the state, showcasing different topographical features such as the Great Salt Lake, Delicate Arch, lakes, rivers, mountains — and in fourth-grader Cruz Gardner’s case, even where his family loves to camp.

“It is a culminating lesson that ties in Utah, which is in the fourth-grade state core, with research, oral and written communication, technology, geography, history, art, music and more all integrated together,” she said. “But it’s also fun for them to enjoy the limelight. They’re learning about Utah, but they’re also spending time with their families, being inspired to listen to their parents or grandparents to learn about other parts of the state where they may be from and hearing their stories. This is to be a fun time they can learn about the county and do it together and maybe, they will get to visit that part of the state and know about it beforehand.”

Cruz had been to Juab County before. 

“Most of my family was born there, my mom, my grandma, my great-grandpa,” he said. “I’ve visited it a lot so I knew a lot of facts about it.”

But he learned a few more family stories along the way. 

“I asked my family for help. Great-grandpa Fred had a wheat field. We owned a Sinclair. Both sides of the family owned businesses there. My grandma gave me a Sinclair shirt, and I’ll wear a cowboy hat to dress up,” he said.

Cruz spent time with his family on his board presentation, in which he not only included family photos, but he had glued wheat and different stones to represent minerals like copper, lead, silver, zinc and others mined in the county.

“I loved doing the board and spending time with my family,” he said.