Students and staff members at Coyote Canyon School have celebrated the Bullhead City elementary school’s twentieth anniversary. And they learned that the school almost wasn’t built.

Retired principal Dr. Carolyn Stewart, who opened Coyote Canyon and stayed for 18 years, was the grand marshal of a student-led parade on campus.

Located on Lakeside Drive just south of Hancock Road, Coyote Canyon currently has 605 students ranging from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. When the school opened for the 1995 school year, it was designed for 600 students – and had 669, an enrollment that Bullhead City Elementary School District officials didn’t expect for 14 more months. But split morning and afternoon kindergarten programs meant that no more than 540 students were at school at the same time in 1995.

“It was exciting and fun,” said first grade teacher Deborah McMahon. “Everything was brand new. It was great!” McMahon, like Dr. Stewart, helped open the school after transferring from nearby Desert Valley School. Except for briefly teaching out of state, she’s been teaching first graders at Coyote Canyon ever since.

“Over the years we’ve done a lot of piloting new programs and curriculum, finding out what’s best for the students,” she noted.

Coyote Canyon was built to alleviate severe overcrowding at Desert Valley School, just one block away, where some classes had to be taught in hallways. At the time the schools were “grade banded,” with Coyote Canyon teaching kindergarten through second grade, and Desert Valley teaching third through sixth. Now, both schools and Bullhead City’s two other elementary schools provide instruction for pre-kindergarten through fifth grades.

In 1993, area voters rejected a bond measure for the new school – not because it wasn’t needed, but because two competing locations on the ballot cancelled out each other. Faced with worsening
overcrowding at Desert Valley, the following year another bond was proposed specifically for what is now the Coyote Canyon location on land leased by the school district from the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management. That bond passed, and construction began.

“We could watch the construction progress every day while we were still at Desert Valley,” Dr. Stewart said. “Coyote Canyon is a good example of the best that can happen in rural schools. We were always fortunate to have outstanding teachers dedicated to helping each student achieve what they were capable of.”

During an assembly for students and parents, current Coyote Canyon principal Buffy Moreno introduced Dr. Stewart and retired Bullhead City Elementary School District superintendent Doug Lutz, who helped plan the new school. She also noted that audience member Grecia Galaviz was a Coyote Canyon student when the school opened. Twenty years later, she is back at Coyote Canyon as a fourth grade teacher and advisor to the Ballet Folklorico extra-curricular group.

“We’re really looking forward to the next 20 years,” Moreno told the students. “Wouldn’t it be great if some of you became teachers like Ms. Galaviz and returned here when you get out of college?”

McMahon said new technology is the main difference between teaching first graders today compared to twenty years ago.

“The students today are waiting to learn and take everything in,” she added. “They’re good kids!”

Today, the Bullhead City Elementary School District has four elementary and two junior high schools. Its lineage dates to 1947 and Bullhead City’s original one-room school, now known as the Lil’ Red School House located at the Colorado River Heritage Center at Bullhead City Community Park. The elementary district now partners in many areas with the Colorado River Union High School District.