Community construction underway at Sandrock Elementary |

Community construction underway at Sandrock Elementary

Lockers line the hallway at Sandrock Elementary, where new principal Jon Herring is working to build cohesion and community.
Eliza Noe / Craig Press

For students who had their first years of school during the COVID-19 pandemic, community building is something that many missed out on because of remote learning.

Teachers and administrators at Sandrock Elementary School are working hard to combat that.

Jon Herring, principal at Sandrock, is finishing up his first semester in the role after moving to Craig from Las Vegas. Herring said that building community has been a priority for him and his staff since beginning this year.

“Something I’ve been talking to the staff about is community,” he said. “The world has lost collective efficacy — what we call it — or a certain sense of community. Well, community starts in the schools and churches. That’s the bottom line: schools and churches build community. So that’s what we’re working on. We have to rebuild our community, and we have do it in a very positive way. I think the staff at Sandrock has tackled that challenge with gusto and are succeeding.”

Though it’s not just a Sandrock problem, Herring said that providing a positive environment for staff and students is an ongoing project.

“Everybody in the world is thinking the same thing right now: please let me get back to normal,” he said. “And it’s not. There’s so much stress in everybody’s life, so we’re trying to create a relaxed atmosphere and a comfortable atmosphere.”

One way of doing that is by providing more inclusivity in day-to-day operations. That includes providing the morning announcements in Spanish as well as English. Karen Torres, who teaches kindergarten, grew up in Craig, and she said that seeing her Hispanic culture represented at Sandrock has been a positive addition to the school’s culture of community. There’s also bulletin boards in the hallways that discuss how other cultures celebrate Christmas, and many posters are provided in both Spanish and English.

“(The Hispanic community) is smaller, but having those announcements in Spanish is huge. That extra touch of culture on the bulletin boards has been awesome to see,” Torres said. “Because I was that kid that started at Sandrock many years ago. It’s really cool to see that they’re so proud of their heritage. Even in our kindergarten class, they’re so attentive to what’s going on. They just want to know, and they have the curiosity. I think it’s just great that that’s happened, because I haven’t really seen that happen anywhere else.”

According to data from the 2020 census, 18.5% of Craig’s population identified as Hispanic or Latino. Allison Nees, the music teacher at Sandrock, said that she’s seen greater interest from English-speaking students, as well. Herring said he hopes that in the future, more languages and cultures can be featured school-wide.

“It helps normalize it for our non-Hispanic kids, or our kids who only speak English,” Nees said. “They’re able to understand and identify it like, ‘Oh, that’s Spanish.’ It’s really normalizing it — especially if they’re not used to it. It also helps them understand their friends who are Hispanic or speak Spanish, so I love that. I think that our Hispanic kids are awesome, so the announcements are great.”

In addition to community building, Herring hopes that providing activities keeps students excited about coming to school and engaged in their classrooms. This way, they stay more focused about what they’re doing academically.

“We’re having fun, we’re actually increasing the amount of time that students are on task,” Herring said. “And the teachers are now having actually not more, but less distractions from the classroom.”

Teachers are enjoying getting to work together, as well. In addition to committees, teachers are bouncing ideas off of each other to see what new ideas are working and which ones aren’t. Herring said that Sandrock staff is building connections with other schools in the district — including reading buddies and pen pals with older and younger grades.

“I think one of the biggest things to change that attitude is to ensure that the kids and the teachers are happy to come to school, and so I’m doing everything I can,” he said.

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