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Taylorsville Journal

Westbrook morphs into West Lake STEM Junior High

Oct 21, 2020 02:42PM ● By Bill Hardesty

Workers make the change official by changing the name to West Lake STEM Junior High. (Bill Hardesty/City Journals)

By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]

How long does it take to change an elementary school into a junior high school? For Granite School District, it took about four months.

As a result of the March 18 earthquake, West Lake STEM Junior High School (WLJH) located in the Granger area of West Valley City, sustained enough damage to make it unsafe for students and faculty. Weeks after the earthquake, reports of a partially collapsed wall, caved-in ceilings, and rubble scattered throughout hallways were made.

The decision to close Westbrook Elementary (3451 W. 6200 South) at the end of the school year became a serendipitous decision.

“This is a lifeboat for West Lake Junior High,” said Ben Horsley, communications director for Granite School District. 

“It is a miracle how this campus has morphed from an elementary to a junior high. It has taken a lot of work these past couple of months,” Principal Tyler Howe said.

WLJH will stay at the Westbrook site until either the old school is repaired or a new school is built. The state, which acts as the GSD insurer, has not yet decided.

Not only did Westbrook need to be remodeled to accommodate a larger student body, but also changes due to the pandemic.


The projected population for WLJH is around 900 students. Six hundred students are expected to attend in class while around 300 students are distance learners. To accommodate the increase, an entire new wing was built from portable classrooms. In addition, other portable buildings were added for a new cafeteria and locker rooms and showers. 

The class size is smaller. At the old school, the average classroom size was 900 square feet. At the new school, the average size is 700 square feet. However, even with the smaller size, they were able to bring the furniture from the old school. Because of the STEM teaching methodology, students sit at tables rather than individual desks.

The old cafeteria is now the gym. 

Students will not have lockers, which works well with pandemic regulations. Since students tend to gather around lockers, other schools are not using them.

Besides a traditional faculty room, a collaboration hub was built. The hub has only small desk dividers, which allows teachers from the different disciplines to discuss curriculum, teaching techniques, and classroom management among other subjects. These types of areas are becoming popular throughout the district.

“We don’t want our teachers to stay in their classrooms,” Horsley said.

Because WLJH is a boundary school and the school is now located over 3 miles to the south,16 buses provide transportation. 

All remodeling costs were covered by the state.

Pandemic procedures

Physical distancing and guiding student movement are key pandemic prevention protocol. Just like grocery stores, there are reminders on the floor of the school to stand 6 feet apart.

Hallways are one way. The school office and administrative offices form a square in the middle of the school. Students travel around the square in one direction. However, this is only during class changes.

“So, if it's in the middle of class and you need to run to the bathroom and the doors right there, you're not going to have to run all the way around. You'll be able to just go right there. This is just during the busy part of the day,” Horsley explained.

In addition, there are entrance doors and exit doors. For example, when students go out to the portables, they enter either on the south side or in the middle. However, they exit the hall on the north side. 

In the cafeteria, students line up on the west side, but there are blue X’s for the students to stand on. Students sit between blue X’s on the table allowing for physical distancing.

If requested, teachers’ shields are available. They are a lightweight plastic shield which allows teachers to move it around the classroom if needed. There are also student shields available to separate students. While classroom tables accommodate six, there will only be three students.

The office and counselor counters are shielded with plexiglass.

On the first day of school, students were given Mustang go-bags. In the bag was a mask that needs to be worn all day except for when eating, a water bottle because water fountains are turned off, and other school supplies. Because there are no lockers, these go-bags become portable lockers.

At the end of each class period, students use a mild cleaning solution and microfiber cloth to wipe down all common touch areas.

“We have microfiber rags and cleanser. We use two different types of sprays. This is a disinfecting sanitizing solution that is electrolyzed water. We have a higher grade for our teachers and custodial staff. This is safe for students to be able to use,” Horsley said.

Stem methodology

WLJH was designated as a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) school by the GSD Board of Education about five years ago. WLJH is the first junior high school in the district to have the STEM designation. 

“We still teach the same Utah core standards, but as a staff, we're really striving to teach that curriculum using the procedures and the philosophies that exist in the sciences,” Howe said.

The STEM methodology is about helping students make connections across all disciplines and their world. It is a hands-on collaborative approach. Students are challenged to be innovators and critical thinkers.  

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