|Melissa Hamilton, the new principal at Petersen Elementary, stands in front of the eagle on the College of Eastern Utah campus while displaying a book that will become a significant part of the education provided to the students attending at the school this year. The school's mascot is presently the Eagle, but that may change next year when the new elementary school in Sunnyside opens and the name of the institution is changed.|
Imagine being a new principal visiting every student's home and meeting his or her parents before school starts.
Melissa Hamilton, the new principal at Petersen Elementary in Sunnyside not only imagined that, but she also achieved it.
During some of the hottest and sultriest days of summer 2006, the principal went to the homes of all 106 students expected to enroll at the school to spend time with the children and their families.
"It was an experience I will never forget," said Hamilton. "And I hope it helped parents and kids to know me better."
It was an all out effort, much like everything Hamilton has done in her years in the education field.
Hamilton, a 1993 graduate of Carbon High, went directly to Utah State University and graduated with a bachelor's degree in three years.
She promptly went directly into one of the toughest assignments any teacher in the state could face when she began her career at Central Middle School in Ogden.
"People don't realize that the center of Ogden is a tough inner city area," explained Hamilton. "But you know what - it was hard, but I learned a lot and found that I love junior high age kids."
After Ogden, the Petersen principal spent two years teaching at St. Vincent's Elementary, a private Catholic school in Salt Lake.
"It was kind of like I went from one end of the scale to the other," she said. "It was during that time that I decided that I wanted to be an administrator."
After two years of working on a master's degree in school administration, Hamilton got through the program only to find herself returning to the local area, where she began her education odyssey, at Carbon High as an assistant principal in 2001.
"It was a great five years," she said. "My mother [Patsy Bueno an assistant superintendent with Carbon District] told me all along I should go into elementary education. Well now here I am."
Hamilton said when she thinks of an elementary school, particularly one in a small area like the east county, she thinks of community.
"That's what it is all about there," she said. "There are a lot of things going on in Sunnyside and East Carbon and I think the energy is very high right now. There is talk about some possible economic development and people are upbeat. Add to that the new elementary school that will be finished for school next year and that will become the center of the community."
All statistical data that one can review on schools confirm that an elementary school in a small community is the lifeblood of those towns.
With the closure of East Carbon High School last year and the subsequent destruction of the building this summer, preparing for the construction of the new elementary school, many eyes are on what will happen this year at Petersen Elementary.
"When we talk about attracting people to a community, we have to consider that people will not come if the school in the town is not top notch," stated Hamilton. "So it is our job, both as a teaching staff and a community, to make Petersen and the new school be just that."
Along with Hamilton come a cadre of new teachers at the school.
Only three teachers remain from past years and many others are transfers from other schools in the district.
There is also one new teacher, Tyler Grundy. For the first time in years, there will be a male teacher in the building.
"Many of the kids at the school need that male model in their lives," stated Hamilton. "This is Tyler's first year of teaching, but he has great enthusiasm and energy."
Hamilton said that all the teachers in the school are so excited about the upcoming year and on top of situation that Hamilton has two aces up her sleeve: an extensive new reading program for which teachers went to a special workshop and a program she calls the Eagle Excellence Program.
"First, everyone was involved in a four-day training program in Salt Lake to help children with reading skills," stated Hamilton. "That attendance was part of a grant the district got for improving reading skills in it's schools. There is a lot of money there for professional development and for materials. Reading truly is fundamental to a good education, and with those home visits I hope I have established a rapport that will help parents to help us improve their kids' performance. We certainly can't do it without them."
The Eagle Excellence Program is based on an idea that Hamilton thought of in the middle of the night.
"Of course, the name comes from the school's mascot," said the principal. "The program will focus on attendance at school, academic performance and kids getting into healthy lifestyles. It will be a school wide reward and discipline system."
Hamilton said besides the reading grant to improve reading skills the school also received a grant for a similar type of math program.
"The truth is that we want to refine our practices and do what is best for the students' education," she said.
The teacher roster is full of experience and energy.
Along with Grundy who will be teaching fourth grade, Carol Labato will teach preschool.
Robin Trujillo will teach kindergarten and Janene Avery will take on the first grade.
Karla Pokraka will teach second, Sandy Bertola will instruct students in third grade. Cathy Milburn will teach fifth grade.
Also in the mix is resource teacher Chris Watkins and reading coach Tisa Manus.
"I think the big message here is that kids will get a top notch education from this staff," said Hamilton. "But everyone has to remember that education needs to reach beyond the walls of the school and into the homes. Parents need to read to their kids and then need their kids to read to them."
As part of the enthusiastic approach to education in the east county area, a Community Night Plus has been scheduled Aug. 16 at the school.
A free dinner will be served starting at 5 p.m. From 6 to 7 p.m. there will be a presentation about the school and what will be happening.
Parents and east county community members are encouraged to attend the event.
"Our emphasis is to get the community involved in this school. We have a lot to offer," concluded Hamilton.