OGDEN -- Odyssey Elementary Principal Dale Wilkinson shifted easily between Spanish and English as he discussed one child's work with his mother, congratulated a second for getting his testing done, and commiserated with a third who looked quite green and said he was sick in class. It is fortunate Wilkinson is bilingual.
Odyssey Elementary, built to be a magnet school for science education for students throughout the Ogden School District, has turned out to be primarily a community school in a part of Ogden that is mostly Hispanic.
That means 70 percent of the school's students are Hispanic while the school only has two bilingual teachers, plus a bilingual secretary and principal.
Fortunately, PTA President Ysenia Selgado said, most of the students are bilingual.
"It's cute when the students translate as well, and that teaches them the value of being able to speak two languages," Selgado said.
Odyssey Elementary was built four years ago and is, outwardly, the most unique school in the district. What other school has a life-size space shuttle poking out over its front door?
The space shuttle is used in Space Camp, which is still an integral part of the school's curriculum and is also used by neighboring schools and school districts.
But Wilkinson, who has been at the school a year, said the science magnet school concept didn't develop as intended.
Instead of drawing students from all over the district, most are from the community around the school. While it is unique on the outside, it is mostly a normal community school on the inside.
Selgado and Wilkinson said that has actually helped both the school and the community.
The school's community orientation has given the PTA a local core support group that makes it stronger than PTAs in schools that draw from a wider area, Selgado said.
Wilkinson said Odyssey is working to build itself up as a community resource for parents and families, not just for students.
"This population was bused for years. I think we drew from seven different elementary schools, so the opportunity to have this a community school has been a blessing for the kids in this community."
Donna Corby, district spokeswoman, said the community emphasis was an unexpected benefit.
The west-central part of Ogden hadn't had its own elementary school since the former Jefferson Elementary closed in the early 1980s. After that school closed, children from that part of town were bused to seven other schools.
With Odyssey, all of those students had one nearby school and most chose to go to it.
Corby said the new school even gave a boost to homeownership in the area.
"People started sprucing up homes, families started moving in," she said.
Odyssey filled up and had to install two portable classrooms to handle the overflow.
But the school is also unique because of Space Camp, the core of the school's original science-based curriculum.
Space Camp offers extensive science classes in addition to giving the students an opportunity to take part in a simulated space shuttle launch.
The camp draws students from around the district, state and even foreign countries, Corby said.
"It really is a school district's dream," she said. "It really is internationally known, an international jewel."
Selgado spoke more proudly of the staff's work to help the school's Hispanic students do well.
All of the school's newsletters and notices are in two languages, and the school includes the students' background in all its festivals and other observances, such as a carnival to celebrate the end of the last school year.
"That way, the children know if you were born here or you lived the majority of your life here, these are the things your parents would have experienced," Selgado said.
Wilkinson said he started working with Ogden High School to do a program similar to Latinos in Action in the Davis School District.
The program uses bilingual students in the high school to mentor elementary students.
It got a late start, finally operating in February, and had logistical issues, but Wilkinson is confident it will work better this school year.
Odyssey Elementary School
• LOCATION: 375 Goddard Ave., Ogden
• COST: $9.5 million
• HISTORY: Opened in 2007
• SIZE: 74,343 square feet
• STUDENT BODY: About 595
• STAFF: 65 teachers and support staff
• TIDBIT: Only school in Utah with a life-size space shuttle poking out over the front door