Inspiring Learning Through the National Parks at Heber Valley Elementary

Walking through the halls of Heber Valley Elementary, visitors will notice something new this year, from hallway bulletin boards to each classroom’s teacher signs.

That’s because Heber Valley has embraced a “National Parks” theme throughout the school, which has been incorporated not only in the adoption of iconic National Parks entryway signs as classroom identifiers, but also through student activities, curriculum, and its PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) systems. 

According to HVE Principal Katie Cummings, selecting the National Parks for this year’s theme was a natural choice for the school, beginning with the school’s mascot, the eagle.

“We wanted to have a theme that could connect us with the eagle and build pride in our mascot,” Mrs. Cummings said. “Thinking of nature being where eagles live, our thoughts went to the National Parks.

She further noted that, like National Parks, Heber Valley is a special place that needs to be protected. “There are many lessons we can learn from nature,” Mrs. Cummings said. “Plus, those who are in the national parks take care of them, and we want our students to take pride in our school. This is a theme that will continue to develop over the next few years.”

Creating a school-wide theme helps build spirit and morale among both students and staff and can positively affect student behaviors and test scores, which is why it’s been incorporated into Heber Valley’s PBIS system. PBIS is an evidence-based, tiered framework for supporting students’ behavioral, academic, and mental health that can improve academic success and school climate. 

At Heber Valley, the front office has become Park Headquarters, and each grade and team has selected a National Park to embrace throughout the year. The teams have decorated the offices and hallways in their area to match the theme, which include: 

PreK: Sequoia National Park 
Kindergarten: Saguaro National Park 
1st Grade: Zion National Park 
2nd Grade: Yosemite National Park 
3rd Grade: Yellowstone National Park 
4th Grade: Bryce Canyon National Park 
5th Grade: Arches National Park 
Specials: Grand Canyon National Park 
Special Education: Capitol Reef National Park 
Intervention: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park 

For Heber Valley 2rd grader, Bridger M., it’s been especially fun to come to school this year because his grade level is learning about Yosemite National Park – a place where his uncle served as a park ranger. 

Mrs. Cummings said the connection inspired Bridger to enthusiastically embrace the theme right from the beginning of the year and is an example of how the theme supports school climate without students realizing its intention and goes beyond kids being immersed in a topic they happen to find interesting. 

Allowing each team to choose their own park supports the Professional Learning Community (PLC) model that schools in Wasatch County School District follow. The PLC model helps teachers work collaboratively to achieve better results for students by sharing best practices and brainstorming innovative ways to improve learning and drive student achievement. 

“It’s been great to see students and teachers excited about the theme,” she said, adding, “The grade levels each use their park in different ways. When our staff teaches about it, they use different landmarks as stops along the way to reaching grade-level goals.”

According to Third Grade teacher, Monique Straughan, the National Parks theme has positively impacted each grade-level PLC and gets the students excited about learning. 

“I think the National Park theme has really joined our school together because we got to choose which park we wanted as a team, and it just brings us all together as one focus,” Mrs. Straughan said. “The kids are really into it because they like to follow the rules of the national parks, which we have tied into our school, so it unifies everything and brings us all under one umbrella.”