Utah West Desert community sees largest school enrollment in years; 27 students grades K-12

Aug 22, 2023, 6:56 PM | Updated: Aug 23, 2023, 4:23 pm

WEST DESERT, Utah — As students return to school this fall, one school in the West Desert is celebrating the largest enrollment in years: 27 students.

That first day back is one Mary Westover always looks forward to.

“I am only supposed to be here I think a few days before school starts, and I come the whole month of August to get ready for the first day of school,” she said with a laugh. “I miss them over the summertime.”

It is that type of dedication that makes her commute as a teacher easier to handle.

“It’s a four-hour drive from my home but I don’t mind,” she said. “The drive seems to get shorter over the years.”

Westover teaches at West Desert Elementary in Trout Creek.

It’s about as far from a paved road as you can get in Utah’s West Desert. She stays in teacher housing Monday-thought-Thursday and goes home for the weekend in West Point. Audio books and podcasts have become her companion during those long drives.

“We don’t have any choices out here. We don’t have any places where we can go and buy a home or lease a home,” Westover said.

Providing teachers with a home and utilities is just one solution for a school far from everything.

“We have to provide that to get teachers out here for the students,” Gregory Thornock said. “It’s a frontier school and there are very few of those in Utah.”

Thornock is the superintendent of the Tintic School District and says making sure students get a quality education at West Desert has always been a unique challenge.

From music to math and all the other subjects in between, teachers teach it all at West Desert.

This school year, there is growth.

Between the elementary school and the high school, which is just a few steps apart, there are 27 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. It’s one of the largest student bodies in years.

“There is a dollar amount attached to every student, so that means we get a little more money to invest in the schools here,” said Thornock.

At the high school, students like Gannon Murphy can even take remote college classes. He was taking a Snow College course when we visited. Murphy is in his senior this year, and along with his friend, who make up the entire graduating class.

“We’re talking two whole people,” Murphy said. Even with that small class, he said he doesn’t feel like he is missing anything by being in a rural school.

“It is all I have ever known. All of my learning has been on this campus,” Murphy said. “There is something really charming and quaint about out here. We don’t have to worry about bullying and I don’t know how much of a problem that is out in the cities and such, but everyone here is really good friends.”

Out here, with everyone helping each other, it just works.

“I love it out here,” Westover said. “It’s like little house on the prairie.”

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Utah West Desert community sees largest school enrollment in years; 27 students grades K-12