For 57 years, Twin Peaks Elementary has been the ‘heart of the neighborhood’May 08, 2023 11:56AM ● By Julie Slama
For about a dozen years, culture night, seen here in 2017, has celebrated the student body’s diversity through sharing traditions, music and food. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
On June 2, Twin Peaks Elementary will hold its last day of school—ever.
The school, which cost about $700,000 to build in 1966, opened to 760 students. It now is home to 225 students, making it Granite School District’s smallest school.
However, that doesn’t make the closure any easier.
For more than 40 of the school’s 57 years, Lea Garvey has been connected with Twin Peaks. She tagged along with her older sister when she was a student, playing on the monkey bars or the huge tires until she was old enough to attend herself. Her niece and nephew and her own children all attended the school and for the past eight years, she has managed the cafeteria.
“It’s an awesome school where kids feel safe and they come here to play,” she said. “We knew it was our school, our place and parents knew where we were. When there was a community event, it was held here. Twin Peaks is the heart of the neighborhood.”
With an overall declining student enrollment, the Granite Board of Education voted this school year to close three elementaries, including Twin Peaks, this spring. Three other elementary schools were closed in the previous five years.
However, classrooms were bursting with students when Garvey attended Twin Peaks in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
“We had anywhere from 30 to 35 kids per class, guaranteed, and there were three teachers teaching per grade. Every class was full, and it was all our friends who lived right here in the neighborhood,” she said, adding that she remembers always having friends to walk the two blocks to and from school. “We’d pound erasers from the chalkboards on the side of the building to clean them and we all wanted to help in the cafeteria serving line or spray the dishes off. That meant you were special. We had some fun times.”
Garvey remembers her field trips as a Twin Peaks student. Her favorite was in second grade.
“We rode to Provo to a history museum, and everybody was excited because we hadn’t ridden a train before,” she said. “We were more excited about exploring the two levels of the train than we were about the museum.”
As fifth-graders, they had a mock legislative session where they’d learn about democracy.
“We’d have to choose where you’re a Democrat or a Republican, and of course, we all chose whatever our moms were because we knew nothing about the parties, and we’d just start debating the legislation. It was fun because we got more involved and we got to understand it more,” she said.
Their PE days were always outside, where relay races were a favorite; they’d be introduced to music and learn to play instruments from a music teacher, and they tried to fend off the choir teacher “with bright red lipstick” who would kiss the students on their cheeks for their birthday.
“It would not come off, no matter what we tried, so everyone knew it was your birthday,” she said.
Several teachers would teach students skills before and after school. Garvey remembers chess being popular and learning how to clog and performing dances at a senior center.
“We did that for about three or four years until we caught up to her level and she couldn’t teach us anything new,” she said.
In the summer, she was part of the ceramics class.
“In the morning, he would pour into molds and by afternoon, we’d take them out and paint them. Then, he’d fire them,” she said. “I made several items. My mom got two owls which I still have, and I remember making the piggy bank and a Christmas plate.”
It was during that era that the panther school mascot was changed to “Pink Panther.”
“It was after the movie came out that all of us called ourselves the ‘Pink Panthers’ and that’s how we were known. We even had a picture of the Pink Panther on the wall, but after that era, we returned to the panthers,” she said.
After school on Fridays, the PTA would hold a movie for students and those who had money could purchase candy or cupcakes.
“School was a lot of fun, you didn’t feel any pressure or stress,” she said. “Now so many of our choices involve technology and the push to learn 24-7. I used to walk home for lunch, and it wasn’t a big deal. Now, the atmosphere is different; safety is in the forefront.”
Much of the building looks the same, except for different tables in the cafeteria, the addition of a computer lab (and not as much emphasis placed on penmanship), the elimination of library book pocket check-out systems, the back of the stage being converted to a kindergarten dramatic play town—and empty classrooms.
“Our numbers have dropped. We don’t have any re-los (relocatable portable classrooms) for students and in some of our grades, there is only one teacher,” she said.
There are some changes in the student population—sixth-graders moved into middle school, kindergarten being offered full day and a more diverse student body, with more than 56% identifying as an ethnic minority, which has brought about a more recent favorite tradition, cultural night, said intern teacher-mentor and instructional coach Melissa McQueen.
“There are so many different languages. You don’t just teach English to your class; you translate everything. For example, we give a writing prompt, and the prompt is given in English, Spanish, Arabic and Portuguese. Google Translate is a huge part of our day, but it teaches our kids to embrace culture and diversity, which is super cool,” she said. “During COVID, we not only had to move to online platforms, but we’d be translating assignments into 15 or more languages; it was a big learning curve for everyone.”
McQueen said the number of students who are considered economically disadvantaged has increased.
“We have a closet of supplies; vision, hearing and dental services; breakfast program; and take-home meals from the children’s pantry now for 58% of our population. Compared to zero students when I started at Twin Peaks 26 years ago, there are a lot of families who are struggling on the east side of the (Salt Lake) Valley. This community rallies around our children, no matter the language, the cultural differences, the financial changes. We just believe students need to be celebrated and loved by their community. Being an educator comes with compassion,” she said.
While employees are guaranteed positions next year, they still aren’t sure where they will be.
“I understand that a school does not function well with one or one and one-half teacher per grade well, and no matter how qualified your teachers are, you don’t have a team to collaborate with and it’s hard to build leadership with the same people—but it doesn’t mean we’re not going to miss our students, our school when we close,” she said.
In the last two months, the 12 faculty members and staff are helping students make memories, including distributing a school yearbook to the school’s last students.
Some long-standing traditions have continued through the years, such as field trips to the Utah Symphony and the children’s museum as well as holiday programs with visits from Santa Claus, but the return of a school musical—this year, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”—has been welcome. The show was slated for late April.
The school’s 11th culture night where students, along with their families and the community, can learn more about the world and explore traditions and customs of many of their classmates, will be held beginning at 5 p.m., May 4. Typically dance, displays, music, food and stories are shared.
Thanks to the students themselves for surpassing the school fundraiser Penny Wars goal of more than $1,000, a community event to celebrate the legacy of Twin Peaks Elementary is scheduled from 5 to 8 p.m., May 19 at the school, 5325 S. 1045 East. Not only will alumni be able to look back at PTA minutes, photographs and memory books, but they will be able to join the students in the traditional cultural night festivities.
To incentivize the students, McQueen and Principal Rachel Lowry promised to sleep on the school roof after delivering bedtime stories to students. As of press deadline, they were expected to brave the dip in temperatures during a mid-April night. λ