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Utah County's homeschool resources are booming

This article is the second in a three-part series of homeschooling in Utah County that will run this week.

When two of Debbi Edmonds’ children approached her and asked if they could be homeschooled, she thought it was cute, but would never happen.

Then her daughter looked up at her with big, brown eyes, and begged Edmonds to pray about it.

“It hit me like a ton of bricks, and I remember kneeling there beside my bed and shaking and crying and saying, ‘Heavenly Father, I have no idea how to do this,’” Edmonds said.

It was 1998, and there weren’t many resources available for homeschool families. But then, Edmonds said she felt a feeling of calm come over her, and knew she’d find help.

Now, she’s the one directing others to resources. Edmonds is the Utah County representative of the Utah Home Education Association, a group that hosts an annual convention, and organizes a graduation ceremony, proms and soccer leagues for homeschool families.

It’s one of multiple organizations, co-ops, supplemental programs and support groups in Utah County dedicated to homeschooling families.

Utah’s homeschool population has boomed in the last decade, with more than 4,000 children homeschooled in Utah County alone. As that number has increased, so has the number of resources available, with the internet and Facebook playing a large part.

Edmonds homeschooled five children and is homeschooling grandchildren. She receives at least one email each week from parents who are new to homeschooling.

“They are afraid because they don’t know how to get started; they don’t know what to do,” Edmonds said.

There are homeschooling Facebook support groups for most cities in Utah County, and additional groups for different interests.

Anna Mock, the administrator of the Hit the Trail, Homeschoolers group on Facebook, has watched her group grow to about 500 people within three years. Formerly known as Hike It, Homeschoolers, the group goes on at least one hike a week during the summer.

Mock started the group in 2016 because she didn’t want to go hiking by herself. Knowing how social the homeschool community is, she thought she’d ask them.

The page has continued to grow. A handful of families go on the hikes each week, and anyone can plan a hike. Each event will include a post with information on where the hike is, how long and difficult it is and if Mock will be leaving her younger children at home.

“I feel like they have a good idea of what they are getting into,” Mock said.

Mock, who lives in Spanish Fork, said most of the group’s members are from south Utah County.

The group doesn’t have lesson plans. Mock said learning is spontaneous, like during a recent hike up Buffalo Peak where families spotted caterpillars and bird nests.

“We are hiking and everyone is interested,” Mock said. “We take a minute to look at things.”

For the parents, the hikes are an opportunity to connect with other homeschool families.

“The moms can talk and share information, and I think that is part of the point,” Mock said. “Part of it is for the kids to have social interaction with each other. Some of my kids have made really good friends doing this.”

Social interaction is also the reason behind the founding of Rise Up Academy, which is currently based out of a farm building with classrooms in Eagle Mountain.

Dina Wells, one of the school’s founders and its vice president of administration, said the school started in 2010 as a way to create a support system for older children.

It began when she would meet with a group of homeschool moms once a week at a park. Wells remembers looking around and realizing the women around her have different skills and passions.

“I thought we need to organize this and make it accessible so that we can capitalize on other people’s gifts and blessings and be able to share,” she said.

Wells describes Rise Up Academy as a leadership factory that helps give students social interaction and positive peer pressure to create learning. Students participate in different projects — like studying the works of William Shakespeare — and parents are involved in teaching.

“When I started it, I thought it is something that my kids could raise their kids in,” Wells said. “I really thought of it as more generational.”

The academy has about 100 students, stays at about 30 families and is currently accepting applications. Wells said the academy stays small in order to encourage others to start a similar program in their own communities. Beyond the Eagle Mountain school, the academy has three sister schools in Utah County, one Utah County program that is considered a co-op and a school in Arizona.

Orem students learn about plants through summer gardening club

A line of green, fluffy leaves is popping up behind a row labeled “carrots” at Orem Elementary School. For three Tuesdays now, students have huddled in to slide on small pairs of gardening gloves, grab cups of water for their self-assigned plots and gone to work.

Not only do the students continue to come to the school’s new gardening club, but they’re showing up early.

“I think that in itself says something, because they joined the weeding club, really,” said Nanette Jensen, a sixth grade teacher at Orem Elementary School.

The club came about from a $3,000 grant from Fuel Up to Play 60, which is sponsored by the NFL and the National Dairy Council. As part of the grant, the school created a gaga pit on the playground to promote physical activity and began the garden to encourage nutrition.

Jensen said many of the students didn’t even know what seeds looked like in the beginning.

“I just think it’s good for them to see where food comes from,” she said.

Teachers planted the seeds in May on the school’s west side. The garden club is tending the garden through the summer, and Jensen is hopeful they’ll have produce in August. The students who helped with the garden will be able to take food home, and Nelson plans to do taste testing at the school.

The students are growing vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, carrots, squash, cucumbers and pumpkins, along with basil, rosemary and thyme.

The students meet every Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. to weed and tend the garden before hearing a reading from a book about gardening or plants and doing a physical activity.

Tuesday, water seeped into the ground amidst the sound of steady, muted thunking as bean bags hit the ground while the students played tennis.

Those activities are 7-year-old Nixon Sutton’s favorite part of the club. Nixon, who will be entering second grade in the fall, has helped pick ripe tomatoes from his grandmother’s garden.

He already has his eyes on what he wants from the school’s plots.

“I do really like spaghetti squash,” Nixon said. “I like the taste. It tastes good.”

Ten-year-old Haylee Brittain, an upcoming fifth grader, remembers growing cabbage in the third grade. She’s excited to see the produce.

“I’ve never seen a pumpkin grow before,” she said.

Jensen thought the club would consist only of her and a few students. It reached about 20 students Tuesday, with more coming every week. The students range in age from 4 years old to seventh graders.

“It kind of renewed my faith in teaching,” Jensen said.

She said she’s received community support for the club, including being able to rent a rototiller from Home Depot for free.

She hopes to continue the club next summer, but is working on how to fund it. Jensen said her brother, a horticulturist, may be able to help them harvest seeds from this year’s harvest to use next summer.

Utah County officials underfunded sheriff's department retirement for more than 20 years

Hundreds of people are currently employed at the Utah County Sheriff’s Office and serve in various positions such as deputies, detectives, firefighters, dispatchers, administration, bailiffs and medical responders.

But those who retired from the sheriff’s office during the past 20 years reportedly missed out on huge pension payments from the Utah County Government.

And county officials reportedly did nothing when they learned of the mistake 10 years ago.

“What I think is disconcerting to so many of us is that they’ve been aware of it. It’s not like it is a new issue,” said Utah County Sheriff’s Office public information officer Sgt. Spencer Cannon.

According to a press release from the Sheriff’s Office, the county government agreed to pay compensation for overtime worked after 80 hours.

Sheriff’s office employees are regularly scheduled to work no more than 86 hours for every two-week pay period. For time worked over 86 hours, employees receive at least one and one-half times regular pay from the sheriff’s office.

Whenever the total number of hours fell between 80 and 86 hours, county officials agreed to pay a certain percentage for the overtime.

But the county has not submitted the proper paperwork to the Utah Retirement Systems for more than two decades, the press release said.

Officials at the Sheriff’s Office and the Utah County Attorney’s Office have no idea how much money is missing or how many employees currently have underfunded retirement.

Utah County Attorney David Leavitt said he’s trying to determine the total numbers before authorizing an official investigation.

“At the end of the day, we’re going to do what’s right,” he said. “No one should be left out of their retirement.”

The missing contributions do not affect hourly or salary payment prior to retirement, the press release stated.

It is unknown who first discovered the mistake 10 years ago and why nothing was done to correct the funding.

Sheriff Mike Smith recently worked with the Utah County Office of Human Resources to correct the contributions being made. The correct percentage is now being paid for current employees, but funding for past employees is still missing.

“That’s a black mark, I think, on Utah County but it’s not a black mark on the sitting commissioners,” Leavitt said.

An attorney handling the issue for the Utah County Commissioners did not immediately respond for comment.

The Utah County Sheriff’s Office does not have an independent finance department and the entire office falls under the management of the Utah County Government for budget and finance.

“If there is something in the rules that say you are supposed to do a certain thing, you need to do it,” Cannon said. “If you don’t, there should be a price to pay. Someone should be held to account for that.”

Spanish Fork officials identify woman who died in multiple vehicle crash

Officials released the identity of a Mapleton woman who died in a crash involving multiple vehicles in Spanish Fork on Monday night.

The crash reportedly happened after a 60-year-old man suffered a medical condition while driving a Nissan Pathfinder east on U.S. Highway 6 about 7:45 p.m., the Spanish Fork Police Department reported.

His vehicle slammed into the rear of a Porsche waiting to turn left on Spanish Fork Parkway, causing the Porsche to crash into a motorcycle also stopped in the turn lane.

The Nissan Pathfinder continued through the red light and hit a Hyundai stopped in left turn lane across the intersection.

Six people were treated for injuries by first responders at the scene, according to a press release.

Jeffery Palmer, 56, of Mapleton, was driving the Porsche and was transported to the hospital with severe injuries. He is currently being treated in the ICU as of Tuesday afternoon.

Angela Marie Palmer, 54, was the passenger in the Porsche and suffered critical injuries in the crash. She was pronounced dead after arriving at the hospital.

The motorcycle driver and a passenger were both ejected during the crash and transported to the hospital with injuries.

The Nissan driver who suffered the medical condition was taken to the hospital and did not appear to have life-threatening injuries. The driver has not been identified.

The current condition of all three people was unknown as of Monday afternoon.

Police reported the male driver of the Hyundai was treated and released on the scene of the crash.

The remaining names of the people involved in the crash were not released.

Investigators closed the eastbound lanes of the highway during the time of the crash to 10 p.m.

Permanent harmful algal bloom signs installed at Utah Lake

To make sure there is no question as to whether recreationists at Utah Lake should be in the lake, permanent Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) education awareness signs have been installed around Utah Lake at prominent points.

On Monday, the Utah County Health Department issued a warning advisory for the Provo Bay area of the lake after samples collected on June 17 and June 18 showed high counts of cyanobacteria, according to an update from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.

People are encouraged not to swim, water ski, ingest water or let animals ingest it during advisories.

The lake’s algal blooms have the ability to produce cyanobacteria, which can be harmful to humans and animals.

These new permanent signs have additional warning or danger signs that are added below the main sign, as determined by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Water Quality’s sampling results, according to a Tuesday press release.

The permanent signs were a joint project of the Utah County Health Department, Utah Lake Commission and the UDEQ’s Division of Water Quality.

“The signs are more info graphic in their approach and should help us to better communicate with those who are using Utah Lake,” said Ralph Clegg, Utah County Health Department executive director, in the press release . “We are seeing algal bloom activity each summer, and this gives us a better way to educate people to be aware of what an algal bloom looks like and what to avoid. Our hope is that that signs will be an easy way for those using the lake to see the current algal bloom risk.”

For those who would like updates on Utah Lake, such as when warnings or closures are issued or lifted, sign up for alerts at

CHRIS SAMUELS, Daily Herald 

Blake Barkdull, of Provo, sets up his food truck during a food truck roundup at 111 West 600 South in Provo, Thursday, July 14, 2016. Barkdull and his brother, Brandon, not pictured, have operated their truck for six months and benefit greatly from food truck roundups such as these. 

Find updated schedules of local food trucks traveling throughout Utah Valley each week at