HILDALE, Utah - Students in Hildale are going back to school, some for the first time in over a decade. The Washington County School District reopened the town’s public school this year. It’s called the Water Canyon School. Community members say hey hope the school will repair some of the isolation they’ve felt from members of the FLDS church..
Formerly Phelps elementary, the public school shut down in 200 after a revelation from FLDS leader Warren Jeffs resulted in almost all the students being pulled out. Residents of the Southern Utah town approached the school district about reopening it.
“The reason we’re here is because of the community,” says Water Canyon School principal Darin Thomas. “They asked us to be here. They asked that we come and bring our resources and we come and bring our expertise.”
School employees spent the summer renovating the small school building. Students pitched in to help, painting, laying carpet and moving in desks and supplies. There’s still a lot that needs to be done, but local resident Ted Barlow says the transformation has already had an impact on the families who live there.
“Before the community became so divided it was like one big family,” says Barlow. “And there was a lot of good happening, what the school does, is it opens up every person to come and be able to be treated equally.”
Water Canyon English Teacher Leeanne Worwood says the first couple of days have been a little rocky, getting into the schedule and figuring out where all the students are in their learning. The school houses grades Kindergarten to 12th grade, but Worwood says she’s already felt an emotional connection.
“I read a simple book, I read are you my mother to them,” says Worwood. “And we talked about not knowing where your mother is. And a girl just came up to me and she had just written this poem that when they’d decided to leave the FLDS church, their mother left them.”
Renovations have cost several hundred thousand dollars, but Thomas says the students are worth every penny.
“The residents of Hildale want the same things for their children as you want for your children and I want for my children,” says Thomas. “They want their children to have the opportunity to be educated.”
Current enrollment at the school is close to 165 students. Administrators hope to see that number increase to around 200 by the end o the school year.