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The City Journals

World of learning at Utah International School

Oct 31, 2016 02:42PM ● By Aspen Perry

Painting on the walls in the hallway outside the library. (Aspen Perry/City Journals)

By Aspen Perry|[email protected]

South Salt Lake, Utah - The Utah International Charter School (UI) opened in August of 2013 serving as the much-needed answer for secondary students in the wake the Newcomer Academy closure. UI offers challenging curriculum in a collaborative environment that celebrates culture for a student population of  mainly refugees and immigrants, though native English speakers are welcome too. 

Many students arrive in the United States when they are older making the task of learning English while completing high school incredibly difficult. Modeled after international schools in New York and California, the goal of UI is to prepare students to graduate from high school, so they will feel confident to start college or enter the job market. 

When Principal Angela Rowland, first learned of UI she knew it was a school she wanted to be involved in. 

“I’ve always liked working with other cultures,” Rowland said. 

Rowland was hired in 2012 giving her one year to meet with refugee leaders, get to know the community, and attend extended training at an International Network Charter in Oakland, Calif.

In the first year UI served 104 seventh- to 10th-grade students. In its fourth year, UI has 215 students enrolled and offers curriculum for seventh to 12th grade. 

The dedication UI holds to education, culture, and self-expression is evident throughout the halls, which are adorned with student artwork and murals. 

In Liz Bunker’s art classroom, students are busy working on sketches.

“It’s a more low-key day, compared to some of our other more creative projects,” Bunker said. 

The low-key artwork of today is evident given the paint splattered tables, walls, and paper mache creations residing in her class and in the library.

Traveling down the hall into Usha Narra’s physics class, students are finishing group experiments and are eager to talk about their experiments. 

Throughout each classroom students are engaged in collaborative learning groups specifically designed to build their confidence with language, global literacy, and critical thinking skills. 

“We pride ourselves on not watering down the curriculum, we just make it accessible,” Rowland said. 

Outside of the classroom UI holds events common to those of traditional schools: dances, talent shows, soccer, and basketball games. In addition there are field trips to Timpanogos Cave and students participate in Poetry Out Loud regional competitions. 

In September 2015, UI celebrated their first graduate, with eight more students following in the spring of 2016. The graduates of 2016 were honored with murals that now reside on the outside of the school, designed and painted by the 2016 summer schools art students led by Bunker and Clyde Ashby.  

In the coming year they will have over 40 graduates, the majority of those 40 only having been at UI for two or three years. 

Though graduating at UI is not the only way to measure the program’s success, as many students who do not graduate from UI will graduate from another local school in their community. 

“Some students want to stay here with others who share their culture, for other students this school is where they need to start before they make it to the big time,” Rowland said. 

Rowland explained that for some the “big time” means going to a school with a football team, for others it means being able to successfully assimilate into a school with a larger student population. 

Regardless if students remain with UI or move on to another school, students and teachers agree UI is an extraordinary school filled with students eager to reach their dreams. 

“Because of this school, I want to finish my high school, go to college, and learn something and become something,” said student Francine Kavira on the UI YouTube video. 

Kavira is scheduled to graduate with the class of 2017.