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The City Journals

Valley Junior High celebrates 70 years

Jun 10, 2019 01:37PM ● By Jess Nielsen Beach

The display case inside the school chronicles its impressive 70 years. (Jess Nielsen Beach/City Journals)

By Jess Nielsen Beach | [email protected]

Past and present students of Valley Junior High gathered on May 4 to celebrate the school’s 70th birthday. With banners, decorations, and even a few birthday sheet cakes, it was the perfect place to be on a sunny Saturday morning in West Valley.

Partnering with Comcast Cares Day, participants were greeted just outside the main entrance with free shirts, doughnuts, and an itinerary for the activities ahead. Dozens of activities were planned by the hour to keep people entertained.

“It’s going to be a big day,” said Holly Hennessey, a parent volunteer. “It’s awesome, because for each person who signs in, $14 goes back to the school.”

Also excited to participate in the festivities were committee members from the Taylorsville/Bennion Heritage Center, who hoped to not only celebrate the school’s anniversary, but also encourage people to visit their museum.

“I went to Valley,” said Susan Yadeskie, Historic Preservation Committee chair. “We were originally going to have one table, but there were so many historically relevant pieces that the principal gave us an entire room.”

The setup was a blast from the past, with dozens of yearbooks, photos and plaques all showcasing the accomplishments and milestones of the school through its 70 years. Much of the display was in perfect condition, lending an air of awe to the assortment.

“We have pictures from our Historical Preservation Museum that show the very first school bus, drawn by horse,” Yadeskie continued, reminiscing about the origins of Valley Junior High and her own memories of her time there. 

“It’s amazing to see the difference year to year. Valley was remodeled last year, and when we walked past the gymnasium, I had a flashback of all the games we watched on the bleachers. It’s just so fun to be here.”

Children were invited to take part in a Latin dance demonstration. (Jess Nielsen Beach/City Journals)


After perusing the past, the students were invited to invest in their future. On hand with pamphlets, pins and more was Teri Dial, the site coordinator for GEAR UP. The program, which stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, helps students from seventh grade all the way up to senior year. 

“We take students to college campuses, provide job shadowing, fund additional education field trips, academic tutoring and really anything the kids need,” Dial said. “GEAR UP will also support them through their first year of college.”

Children were encouraged to learn more about the program and how to participate by completing a word search throughout the school: find the definitions of A-Z, and then come back to receive a prize. 

“It’s really a fantastic program to have in your school,” Dial said. 

Other activities around the school took place in shifts. Indoors, there was volleyball, rocket making, hat decorating for Mother’s Day, a STEM lab and video games. Outside was soccer, Twister, face painting, drone flying, and even a booth set up by the local police and fire departments. 

“We’re here to give the kids some education about safety,” said one firefighter. “We’ve got booklets, bracelets and other things to make it fun.”

After the third session of activities, attendees were invited outside to a Latin dance demonstration and, later, stunning performances with traditional Mexican costumes and music. 

There were several dances, between which Salt Lake County District Attorney and former Valley Junior High student Sim Gill, spoke.

“If you’re walking down the halls, there’s so many memories,” he began. “Let me tell you: in junior high, sometimes you feel a little awkward, things feel a little different, but this is really where you start to set those great memories. Over 40 years later, I still remember all these friends that I’ve kept in touch with. You’re going to make lifelong friends here. This is a great, great school to be part of.”

Gill stressed that relationships can be the foundation of future success. 

“It was the friendships I made here that laid down the seeds for everything that I’ve been able to accomplish in my life. This is a great community, a wonderful school and this is where our future begins. I’m proud to be a liger.”

Another alumna, Taylorsville Mayor Kristie Overson, added her thoughts following Gill.

“I love this school. I’m having a lot of memories today,” Overson said. “I’m liger proud and proud of all of you who are here today; you never know what’s going to happen, you never know what’s in your future. Study hard, make lots of friends, life is a journey that is not over until we’re done. Let’s learn, respect and enjoy.”

The event came to an end with a student speaker who praised the value of teamwork at the school, and the principal, Trent Hendricks, saying a few words in favor of his own experience.

“Our past is what creates us. Junior high is the time when you start to shape who you are and it’s an honor to be a principal in that part of kids’ lives, especially in such a great community.”

The school then brought out a liger (half lion/half tiger) mascot piñata, carefully crafted by the students and supervised by the art teacher. Dozens of children gathered, and squeals of excitement were heard as it was broken and candy scattered.

Spirits were high as the attendees were entertained again by the Latin dancers. The crowds enjoyed pizza and cake to honor the school and community they love and will continue to love for many more birthdays to come.