Since its founding in 1970, American Heritage School has continued to flourish thanks to dedicated parents and students, capable administrators and teachers, and visionary donors. The school moved to its new (current) campus in 2002 and presently enrolls approximately 1200 students in grades K-12.
The Founding of American Heritage School
When the BYU Training School closed in 1968, Dr. H. Verlan Andersen met with a group of other BYU professors and parents with the intent of establishing a private school. They desired to have their children’s academic learning enhanced and enlightened by principles of morality, religion, liberty and patriotism. Some of the founders included Dr. Nephi Kezerian, Dr. Smith Broadbent, Dr. Eldred Johnson, Dr. Gary Beus, Alan Keith, Wayne Keith, Alan Palmer, Joe Ferguson, and many dedicated spouses such as Shirley Andersen and Velma Keith. In preparation for opening the school, Shirley Andersen, wife of H. Verlan Andersen, and other school founders spent many hours researching curricula and methodologies that were being used in school districts across Utah. Finding a building was also a priority – so Dr. Andersen conveyed to President Ezra Taft Benson the school founders’ interest in locating a building suitable for the school.
President Benson indicated that an old LDS church in Pleasant Grove was for sale and that Dr. Andersen would have to move quickly to get it. Others were interested in the building. Soon thereafter, Dr. Andersen and his wife met with the LDS church officials responsible for the disposition of the building. A contract was signed and the Andersens paid $1,000 down on it. It took most of their savings – and they still had a mortgage to pay on the building – but they were elated to have successfully obtained a location for the school. They knew the Lord had blessed them. The building and property they acquired was the old Pleasant Grove Second Ward Chapel. It had been erected in 1930 and was used as an LDS chapel for almost 50 years. Prior to its construction, the land was occupied by the old Presbyterian Church and its parsonage, which was built in the late 1800s.
The Early Years of American Heritage School
Thus, the doors of American Heritage School were first opened on August 31, 1970, with an enrollment of 85 students. Alan Keith was the first principal. Shirley Andersen, Glenna Peterson, Mabel Barlow, Velma Keith, and Geneve Cornell were among the first teachers making major contributions to the success and stability of the school. The teachers and staff were paid only what was left after the other expenses of the school were paid, and the teachers understood that many times this would mean there would not be enough to meet payroll. But this was not a deterrent for the teachers and founders of American Heritage School. They came with the primary intent of enlightening the children’s hearts and minds and they knew that great personal sacrifice would be required. There were times when teachers would give what little salary they received to those faculty and staff members that needed it more than they did.
A great deal of hard work and dedication went into those early years. At the time, the School had very little money for textbooks. One day, Mrs. Andersen’s sister, who lived in Phoenix, Arizona, informed the School that there were numerous books and textbooks being thrown away and hauled to a dry riverbed not far from her home. The Andersens immediately obtained a trailer and made the trip all the way to Phoenix where they reclaimed the books. To their great delight, many of the books appeared to be new – and there were books for nearly every grade covering many subjects. Over the years, as books were gathered and donated, the school founders often felt that the older textbooks were better than the newer textbooks. Though the covers and spines may have been worn – the lessons from the older textbooks oftentimes retained much of the character and spirit that the school founders felt was being edited out of new and contemporary curricula. Through the years, this spirit of preserving our Christian heritage has endured in many ways at American Heritage School.
Shortly after the School’s opening, David Skousen, an inspired teacher and a talented musician, composed the words and the music to a song entitled “Children of Liberty” that became more than just the official school song. This unique composition resounded in both musical and written form the goals and philosophy of American Heritage School. Sung at regular devotionals for decades, “Children of Liberty” has inspired thousands of students and parents. The plainness of the words and the sincere, majestic quality of the music, express the feelings of the patrons and teachers as they seek to teach the children in light and truth.
The school song, “Children of Liberty,” is sung at assemblies, parent meetings, and student devotional performances.
It reminds students to “learn from the past,” seek “truth, honor, and charity,” and “let your ray glow.
Children of liberty, learn from the past;
Truth, honor, charity, this is our task.
Our fathers gave to us this land unwalled.
To grow and joy therein and serve our God.
Children of liberty, now visions come.
Live your life carefully, obey the Son.
Be to your brothers a measure that’s true.
Give to them willingly God’s love through you.
Children of liberty, day-light is low;
Darkness and storm converge, let your ray glow.
Present and past are yours to live a-new;
Prepare for Christ to come in all you do.