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South Salt Lake Journal

South Salt Lake’s 21st century school, Olene Walker Elementary, opens

Sep 14, 2020 04:05PM ● By Bill Hardesty

A typical classroom in the new Olene Walker Elementary School. Each desk is on casters allowing for numerous configurations. (Bill Hardesty/City Journals)

By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]

Before opening on Aug. 24, parents and students were welcome at two open houses for the new Olene Walker Elementary School in the Riverfront area of South Salt Lake. This is the first newly-built school in SSL for decades.

The school is expecting about 400 K-5 students along with a preschool class. They are expecting about 20 home languages spoken by the students.

“We wanted to let parents and students see their new school,” Principal Valerie Bergera said.

“This school is so much closer than Roosevelt when my child is sick or something,” Elizavet Cacares, mother of a fourth-grader and preschool student, said. 

21st century school

The district refers to this school as a 21st century school and certainly looks like it.

Each 32 classrooms have a regular door, but they also have a large glass garage door that opens into the hall. The halls are wide and will be used as an extension of the classroom.

Since each desk is on casters, students can roll out their desk for specialized instruction or work together on a project. The halls are not halls; they are collaboration areas with welcoming soft chairs.

There is an open foyer with one door into the office. The only way to get into the school is to go into the office and be buzzed out a different door. 

The school does not have a lunchroom. Round and oblong tables are rolled into the main hall. Currently, each chair has a number and each student is assigned where to sit in case they must do contact tracing for COVID-19. 

The gym also has glass garage doors that can be closed for instruction or opened for an assembly, which will be allowed sometime. 

The school has two STEM-focused classrooms and two seclusion rooms used by special education students who might need a quiet space.

There is a lot of natural light, open space, and air flow which should help with COVID-19 control.

The playground is more than swings and a slide and more like a climbing rock.

The school is surrounded by an 8- to 10-foot fence. Each entrance has double doors allowing for monitoring movement.

Daily procedures

School safety and COVID-19 concerns have added to a student’s school life.

Students are asked not to come to school early. They can only play on the school equipment during recess.

Each class will line up outside at designated doors. Teachers will come out to lead them into the classroom.

Students must wear a mask all day, including recess time. They can remove the mask while eating.

Students are given a water bottle, which can be filled at the bottle filling stations.


Gov. Olene S. Walker became the 15th Utah governor and the first female governor in 2003.

She received a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University, a master’s degree from Stanford University, and a doctorate from the University of Utah. From 1969 to 1992, Walker served as vice president of County Crisp Food, a family business. 

Before entering politics, Walker founded the Salt Lake Education Foundation and served as its director. While serving as lieutenant governor, she spearheaded many important initiatives regarding education programs.

“Having a school named after someone who has done so much for education in Utah is a privilege,” Bergera said.

Community school

Bergera and her staff including teachers have spent time reaching out to the greater community.

They sent welcome letters and welcome email. They did many home visits with social distancing measures in place.

A separate community center was built on the campus. The district partners with many organizations like Promise SSL to give the students and parents resources to succeed.

Promise SSL will also conduct an after-school program at the center.