Enrollment spikes after public school reopens in polygamous Utah town

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HILDALE, Utah - One year after the Water Canyon School reopened they’re already outgrowing the building.

School enrollment numbers show 291 students are enrolled for the 2015-16 school year, that’s almost double the 162 that were enrolled in 2014.

Principal Darin Thomas said while the growth is bigger than they expected, it shows public education is making a comeback in the small polygamous town.

“We are giving these children opportunities they haven’t had,” Thomas said. “And the end goal is to have students in school. And the goal is to graduate children.”

The Water Canyon School closed in 2001 after the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leader Warren Jeffs told church members to take their kids out of the public education system.

Thomas said some parents had been wary of the school’s return, but after a successful year, administrators are earning the trust of the community.

“There are no agendas other than making sure their children have the exact same opportunities to be educated as, say a student in St. George or Salt Lake City,” Thomas said.

The school recently underwent several renovations to accommodate the growing student population, including a new kitchen and two new classrooms.

The Washington County School District is also in the process of renovating another neighboring building to serve as a high school.

“We’ve been accepted by the Utah High School Athletic Association,” Thomas said. “We’ll be playing 1A basketball for boys and girls.”

Teachers say the additional students have meant additional work, especially working to help them get caught up, but say overall the acceptance has been inspirational.

“They’ll be able to have a bright future ahead of them,” said Language Arts teacher Cathrine Glover. “College is not unattainable when we’re done here. And they’ll be able to succeed in whatever they do.”

Construction on that new high school building should be done by the end of the school year.