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The City Journals

The four B’s one Taylorsville School is doing to keep kids learning

Jan 13, 2020 01:57PM ● By Kathryn Elizabeth Jones

Lavinia Mapa waits her turn while her sisters Suzie (back) and Arianna (front) take care of some dental work on Bennion’s stage. (Photo by Leisl Leystra/Bennion Elementary)

By Kathryn Elizabeth Jones | [email protected]

When was the last time you smiled when going to the dentist?

Probably never.

But Bennion Elementary can’t help but keep everyone smiling.

In its second year, Big Smiles Dentist has made another comeback. “This year’s forms that we turned in to the dentist have doubled,” Public Relations Officer Leisl Leystra said. Fifteen children were seen last year; this year, over 60 applications were submitted. 

This year’s Big Smile’s plan was a one-day event held Dec. 2 from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the school’s stage area. But the plan quickly changed when the dentist ran out of time on the originally scheduled day, and additional time had to be slotted for a full day on Dec. 9.  

The talk for next year?

A definite two-day dental experience.

Big Smiles, is a real dream for parents who struggle to pay for preventive care or cavity costs for their children. Big Smiles, whose organization also offers free services for those without insurance, took the load off students as well—students who, following their procedure, could now focus on their school work without the pain of a toothache.

Other than the space to work, everything was provided by the dentist including a chair, a light, a traveling cart of dental tools and drills.

Everything from X-rays and cleanings, to cavity filling and tooth pulling, were taken care of, Leystra said. Parents were welcome. Many even brought younger children for a dental visit.

Currently, Big Smiles Dental sees only students who are enrolled at the school, but that doesn’t mean parents can’t fill out a form and wait to see if the dentist has time after serving the students, Leystra said. This year, several Bennion Jr. High students also visited the dentist.  

Big Smiles Dental.org, who began their organization because of many a parent’s struggles getting their child to the dentist due to transportation and work issues, was eager to help children who might not visit the dentist otherwise. Big Smiles, which caters to children’s teeth throughout the United States, has five local dentists currently on the roster, dentists who travel to schools to assist children in need of dental care. 

And that means a lot — to everyone.

Best in books 

The Battle of the Books, run by fourth grade teacher Erin Bitner, is in its second year.

Students are required to read five or more books recommended by the Granite School District from incoming nominations to be on a team and to compete at the district level, said Bitner, who has been at Bennion for 11 years. She has been holding monthly meetings in her classroom, has had students choose the books they are committed to reading and has separated the 25 students into teams. Each team is expected to read 15 books among the team members, and each individual reader is expected to read at least five of the 15. 

“I have seen much more follow-through on reading the five-plus books and already have a few kids that have met their goal and beyond,” Bitner said. “I also have several parents that come to the meetings to help and discuss the books with us, which is awesome!”

Although the district sends along a set of 30 books to be used for the “battle,” and librarians pull from their shelves what they have already, Bennion uses “bonus points from Scholastic Book Club to buy additional copies,” Bitner said.

These books are placed on a different cart from the other school books and can be checked out by students. 

The ultimate goal, however, is to get “several teams together for the district competition,” she said.

At the upcoming competition in the spring, grades will compete in a “quiz-like competition” about each of the books. “You want to make sure all 15 books have been read amongst the team members,” Bitner said. She’s keeping the comprehension strong by having her students fill out a “story map” on each of the books they’ve read. The story map includes basic elements such as characters, plot and setting — stuff that makes a book interesting and memorable.

“We’re trying to make reading cool again!” Bitner said. “It is so fun to discuss the different books and some of the things they liked about them or things they connected within the story. It’s kind of like a book club at school.”

Best in behavior

Because learning is never enough without positive behavior attached, Bennion Elementary has incorporated a Bobcat Best program to keep students’ brains ticking. 

 “Students are given a Bobcat coupon when they are recognized for good behavior, going the extra mile,” Leystra said. The student turns in their coupon, and once a week, names are drawn from the box. “Students can earn anything from a pencil to a pizza party. Each teacher picks one student that is consistently showing Bobcat Best behavior.” She added that she is in charge of their Bobcat Best Student of the Month and that she puts up a monthly display of the winners.  

She also orders a favorite book for each of the winning students from the Scholastic Book Order, and the students get to eat donated lunches from Chick-fil-A with the principal on the second Friday of every month. A postcard is also mailed to the parents making them aware of the award.

Best in service 

Success for Bennion extends far beyond the classroom and includes outside projects as well, such as the before-school music program; the Student Ambassador Leadership Team, or SALT; and aluminum tab collecting for the Ronald McDonald House, initiated by Bethany Johnson, the school’s social worker.

The before-school music program offered to third through sixth grade is sponsored by Riverton Music in Jordan Landing. 

“This has been a great little activity for the students here,” Leystra said. The students meet at 7 a.m. on the school stage. Band practice is every Monday and Wednesday. Orchestra is offered every Tuesday and Thursday. 

SALT provides leadership-oriented students opportunities to serve their school by welcoming new students and participating in needed service projects, Leystra said. 

“The team meets several times a month; they help serve the school with service projects (and) welcoming students to Bennion,” Leystra said. “As their name says, they are leaders.”

The SALT Team raises money for charities such as Make-A-Wish, the Humane Society and the Ronald McDonald House.

As part of SALT, Bethany Johnson collects aluminum tabs for the Ronald McDonald House. She’s run this program for years. 

“It’s been good to see the kids reach out to donate to children that are sick,” Leystra said.