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An extra hand for Welches Elementary School

Welches Elementary adds a teacher to help alleviate a large first-grade class size of 37

After its first-grade class size swelled to 37 students this fall, Welches Elementary School announced last week its addition of a part-time first-grade teacher.

'Our voices were heard, which was comforting,' said Kelli Ewing, a mother of twin first-grade students at Welches. 'Thirty-four students was a lot, but 37 is pretty overwhelming.'

At the beginning of the school year, Ewing was among the first-grade parents who brought their concerns to the school board and administrators, citing safety as a major issue with so many students in one class.

Ewing says the parents felt frustrated with the large class size and continued to ask for a solution from the school board and administrators. They're now relieved an additional teacher is coming on board.

Alex Leaver, the Welches principal, and Mary Ann Burke, the first-grade teacher, share this relief. This year marked Burke's largest class ever, and she says classes are only getting larger.

'Children deserve a smaller class size for optimum learning,' Burke said.

The school took a two-pronged approach in addressing the class size for the fall, bringing in assistants and parent volunteers. But classroom instruction was done in a large-group setting, leaving limited options for one-on-one attention.

Welches Elementary had planned for a 2011-12 school year with 28-29 first-grade students, Leaver said. That number climbed quickly.

With additional students in the first-grade class, the school had additional revenue to create the part-time position for January 2012 and split the class into two classes of 18 and 19.

Superintendent Aaron Bayer said a number of factors went into the decision to add the part-time position, 'not the least of which was the class size and the amount of revenue associated with the student count.' He said the position was temporary.

Leaver said that beginning in the new year, first-grade students will spend half an hour with Burke, their current teacher, before splitting off into two classrooms from 9:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. for smaller group instruction in core subjects. Students will spend the remainder of their day with Burke.

The new teacher, Lisa Sheppard, is a Sandy High School graduate who has volunteered and worked as an assistant and teacher the past 10 years. Before coming to Welches, Sheppard substituted at Firwood Elementary School and assisted with the school's after-school program.

Sheppard cited her ability to develop rapport and value each student individually as strengths coming into the position, traits welcomed by parents.

'I think (the additional teacher) will greatly impact the students' experience, especially for some of the kids who need more attention,' said Ewing, the mother with twin first-graders. 'I hope they figure out something for next year, too.'