Kent School District kicked off its first day of the new school year on Aug. 23, welcoming students back to its 40 schools — including 850 students to its new Canyon Ridge Middle School.
“This is their school, this is their place they’re coming to for the next 180 days, and I want them to walk in smiling and proud to come into this building,” said Canyon Ridge Middle School Principal Brian Gauthier.
The Kent School Board in October 2022 approved an $8 million renovation for Canyon Ridge. The district renovated the former Kent Phoenix Academy and Sequoia Middle School, 11100 SE 264th St., to help handle the transition this fall of sixth-grade students to middle schools from elementary schools.
The board approved in June a district staff request for an additional $2.5 million for the renovation, including $1.5 million for a synthetic turf field that cost higher than anticipated ($4 million initial costs) due to a water reteniton system.
In addition to the new school, Kent School District introduced a new grade system model.
Previously, their elementary schools taught kindergarten through sixth grade, and the middle schools taught grades seventh and eighth. This year, that model changed, with elementary schools teaching kindergarten through fifth grade and middle schools teaching sixth through eighth grade.
“I’m excited that we have sixth, seventh and eighth because now we have students that will be here for three years, and they’ll feel like they’re really part of a school community for a longer time than just two years previously,” said Principal Gauthier. “So our goal this year is to build a community culture of people who want to be here, and really our main focus is reading.”
Gauthier said reading is not only necessary for English classes, but also for math, science, social studies, and even physical education classes. They’re moving away from just a balanced literacy approach and instead trying to teach kids how to read with a focus on phonics and foundational skills, Gauthier said.
“It’s a crisis in our country. It’s a big equity issue. If you can’t read, it’s hard to succeed in whatever you want to do later in life, right?” Gauthier said. “If you’re an athlete, you still need to read to become an athlete. There’s a contract that you want to sign? You have to be able to understand that. Or if you’re going to law school, you have to be able to read the law and understand it.”
In addition to the academic advantages of the new reading curriculum, Gauthier said bringing together sixth- through eighth-graders has its benefits, and the kids seem excited to come together.
“The curriculum we use aligns better with sixth, seventh and eighth than it does with kindergarten through fifth grade,” Gauthier said. “So having sixth, seventh, and eighth graders on the same curriculum path creates more continuity with how we deliver instruction for those three grades before they move onto high school.”
Some of the features the new school has are its size, holding around 42 teaching spaces, murals and three gyms. The new track and field is on its way, which Gauthier said will probably be ready by the end of October. He said the athletic field will be synthetic, and include an eight-lane rubber track. In addition to the new track and field, Gauthier said Canyon Ridge Middle School is the only school in Kent with the latest version of the electric whiteboard named “Promethean.” In addition to that, the district assigns a laptop to every student.
Regarding what one of the biggest challenges for students to succeed academically, Gauthier said he thinks it’s finding a sense of belonging. He said he wants students to feel connected to the school and feel like they’re a community.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated.