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South Salt Lake Journal

Kearns-Saint Ann Promise SSL is place for teens and elementary students

Mar 17, 2021 11:07AM ● By Bill Hardesty

Kearns-Saint Ann School is home of a Promise SSL afterschool program. (Bill Hardesty/City Journals)

By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]

The Kearns-Saint Ann (KSA) Promise SSL is one of 14 after-school programs. The programs are similar, but each is different. In the case of Kearns-Saint Ann, it is the only program with an elementary and a teen program housed in the same location.

The site is also different because it only takes students enrolled at Kearns-Saint Ann Catholic School (439 E. 2100 South). "Kearns-Saint Ann Catholic School is a Christ-centered, Catholic school serving a very culturally diverse population of students from preschool through eighth grade," according to their website.

The same is true for the after-school program. The after-school program has students from parts of Africa, with a sizeable Sudanese population. They also have a large group from Hispanic families and students with different Asian backgrounds. 

"The program here at this school has a large community of refugee and immigrant families," Heidi Qin, Promise Center Coordinator for KSA, said, "They make up a majority of our program participants."


Both the teen and elementary programs focus on enrichment and academics. Besides offering homework help, they sponsor a Girl Scouts Troop and STEAM (Science Technology Art Math) programming. They have a Cooking Club. They also provide a Social and Emotional Learning curriculum.

"Our programs are special in that we have smaller groups, and students get to spend more individualized time with staff. Through the presence of our volunteers and staff, we also offer opportunities for mentorship and college/career awareness," Qin said.

Typical day

Because of the pandemic, the first activity is symptom and temperature checking. The goal is to make sure everyone is feeling well.

"During this time, we will also check in about their day, their schoolwork, and overall, how they're feeling that day. It's a great way to keep updated in every student's life," Qin said.

As they settle in, dinner is served to the students. Mealtime allows them to unwind over a hot meal and chat with friends.

After dinner, they go outside to burn off childhood energy. They play basketball or tag. Sometimes, the younger students bring their "class pets" out for some fresh air. The class pets are stuffed animals.

They then head in for the power hour. Students work on homework or other academic activities if they don't have any assignments. This time allows students to stay caught up and get one on one help they might not get during their school day.

After the hour, they transition into their activity, which might be an art project or a science project. Their robust Girl Scout troop, Game Club, STEAM programming, and the "incredibly popular" Cooking Club meet during this time. 

"Our teen program could easily run a Michelin star restaurant while creating a comedy routine. I'm waiting for the day they go viral on Tik Tok," Qin said.

For teens, they participated in "Real Life" which is a mentoring program through Youthlinc. The program teaches social and emotional skills. 

While students are checked out, other students take the time to read, study or get more fresh air.

Movie project

For their Fall Family night, both the elementary and teen programs wrote, filmed, and edited their scary movies. They spent weeks writing the script, casting the roles, and rehearsing before starting to film. After the filming, they edited and created a film of their creation. They had a Zoom movie premiere for their friends and family.

"As this was toward the beginning of the academic school year, this project really brought students together who might not otherwise interact. The students took so much pride in creating something they could premiere and show to their friends and family," Qin said. "Seeing the students come together for a passion project and see it unfold into a success makes me proud of their success, dedication and hard work. Events like this really connect the staff, students and families in ways that feel like a community."

Source of comfort, joy and growth

Qin loves her job. She says, "The greatest joy of working with kids is knowing you get to be a part of their young lives as a source of comfort, joy and growth."

Qin continued, "They're only young once, and they get to be young with us. It is such a privilege to be a part of their lives and an immense honor to be able to help shape it. Working with kids is refreshing, humbling and fulfilling in ways that resonate deeply with me."

Greatest challenge

Qin realizes that not everything is solved in a classroom.

"Some of the greatest challenges is helping kids navigate the world around us. It's always difficult when you have kids experiencing poverty, racism, food insecurity and other obstacles to a happy and healthy life. Many of these challenges are out of our control. However, I'm very proud of the ways Promise SSL has been able to address these challenges in both immediate and systemic ways. Our Family Liaison team is fantastic in making sure families have the resources they need to thrive. Oftentimes, the best way we help our young people navigate the world we live in is changing it."

A brief history of Kearns-Saint Ann

In the late 1800s, many mining accidents and disasters resulted in a large number of orphaned children. The Sisters of the Holy Cross, seeing the need, opened an orphanage in 1891 in a small two-story adobe building.

Soon the need overwhelmed the adobe building. In 1898, Jennie Judge Kearns, wife of Utah Sen. Thomas Kearns, donated $60,000 to the Catholic diocese to build a larger orphanage. Her gift covered both acquiring the land and building the orphanage. The land chosen along 2100 South was rich farmland that the Sisters could grow food for the orphans.

The building was designed and built by the famous architect, Carl M. Neuhausen. Neuhausen also designed the Cathedral of the Madeleine and the Kearns Mansion. The Kearns-Saint Ann Orphanage was dedicated on October 7,1900 and became home for 92 children.

The orphanage continued to operate until 1954, when the Utah State Foster Care System was created. Orphanages were no longer needed.

In 1955, the orphanage transitioned into Saint Ann's School. Leadership was transferred from the Sisters of the Holy Cross to the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. As the number of Sisters declined in America, lay teachers replaced them. The Sisters continued their involvement until the early 21st century.

In the early 1990s, Saint Ann School was an old building and needed renovation. Monsignor John J. Sullivan, the pastor of Saint Ann's Parish, met with the parish council, and the work was commenced. 

In 1980, Kearns-Saint Ann was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is also listed on the Utah Division of State History as a historic site.

In 1991, in honor of the founders, Saint Ann school was renamed Kearns-Saint Ann School.