For Trailside fourth-graders, ‘Amazing Race Utah’ was on
Sheri Johnson grew up in Utah but there was much of the state she had never experienced. She hadn’t visited its national parks, nor had she seen the numerous famous historic sites.
And that was fine — until she became a fourth-grade teacher.
"One of the big focuses of the curriculum is teaching about our state," said Johnson, who teaches at Trailside Elementary School. "I thought, ‘How can I really teach that if I haven’t seen all these places?’"
So she and her husband got in their car last summer and drove. the time school started again, she had visited many of the sites that have earned Utah its reputation for natural beauty.
"Everywhere I went, I was just amazed at the history and the beauty of it," she said.
She kept a list of the places she visited. Then, when school began, she issued a challenge to her students: Go see them for yourselves. Coincidentally, the Obama administration around the same time announced the Every Kid in a Park initiative, offering free passes to every national park to fourth-graders and their families during the 2015-2016 school year.
"It was perfect timing," Johnson said.
Many of the families of students in her class took advantage of the passes and accepted her challenge, which she dubbed "Amazing Race Utah." All year, she has been posting photos of the students at the parks and the sites on a wall dedicated to the challenge.
"I’ve encouraged it all year, and I think families have had a great time seeing all of these incredible places in Utah," she said. "It’s been really exciting that they’ve gone to these places. A lot of families started doing it and said, ‘Oh, this is fun!’"
The sites included all five of Utah’s national parks, as well as places such as the Fremont Indian State Park, Golden Spike National Historic Site, Dinosaur National Monument, the Utah State Capitol and Timpanogos Cave National Monument.
Johnson’s list included 27 places. One student and her family tackled the entire list. For Paige Adrian and her family, it seemed like a chance to engage in two of their passions — hiking and experiencing the outdoors.
"I brought the paper home, and my parents said, ‘We’re going to rent an RV and we’re going to go to these places,’" said Adrian, adding that her favorite sites were the Spiral Jetty in the Great Salt Lake and Hovenweep National Monument. "It was like non-stop. It’s been really fun for our family because we got to see practically a whole new world."
Johnson plans to issue the challenge to students next school year, too, with about 10 additional locations. She said visiting the sites has made the students more excited to learn about Utah’s history. She was pleased that the parents also saw the value in ensuring their children experience what the state has to offer.
"Parents are very involved in Park City, which I love, and I figured it would be something they would get into," she said. "But maybe just assigning it or putting it out there would encourage more people to do it and take their kids to these places. So I did. As soon as you make it a challenge, people all of a sudden want to do it. That’s what happened for us."