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The City Journals

Students express appreciation as AISU charter school closes

Jun 18, 2019 02:58PM ● By Julie Slama

For the past five years, AISU served as a public charter school, giving students a home in what was once the 49th Street Galleria and Utah Fun Dome. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Sophomore Jose Vazquez recently returned from a school trip to Amsterdam, Vienna, Salzburg, Munich and other places in Germany and Austria, where he practiced speaking German. 

Jose was able to go on the trip partially because he is a good student: he carries a 4.0 GPA, first in his class. 

He is an active member of the school’s Hope Squad, soccer team, DECA, athletic council and helped bring debate to his school. 

In the fall, he planned to be junior class secretary – that was, until his school, AISU, announced it would close its doors in June.

“I’ve had so many emotions,” Jose said. “I was excited for my future here. I had so much ambition and goals and then, the news came all of a sudden. I’m sad about leaving. I did cry a bit.”

While many students, families and faculty knew the Utah State Charter School Board put AISU, or American International School of Utah, on warning status in December 2018, as it was posted at the school, they also were told it was not a penultimate step toward school closure.

It stated in the posted Jan. 23 memo by AISU Executive Director Tasi Young, “We fully believe we will be able to work with them and meet all of the goals they have required as part of warning status.”

The memo also dispelled the rumors that “AISU is not $1.1 million in debt, and its current financial obligations are part of a larger financial long-term plan that the Board of Directors is governing closely.”

However, the school’s board of directors voted unanimously May 8 to close the kindergarten through 12th-grade public charter school, acknowledging growing concerns about its financial viability. 

The decision impacted about 1,300 students, including scores of international students and more than 170 employees.

Humanities teacher Khristian Owens said it was hard to accept the news and still harder for faculty to find a teaching position at the end of a school year when many area openings have already been filled.

“This has been our home and for kids, some who have been at a couple of schools, it’s a big blow,” she said. “We’re a school like no other. We don’t have cliques; we support each other.” 

Some faculty, who wish to remain anonymous, pointed out the financial situation was the result of former leaders, not the current administration and there are teachers who are being impacted who weren’t at the school when AISU first started.

Before leaving, students and faculty wrote their favorite memories to get a “Piece of AISU” so everyone could have a part of the school that was closing, wherever they went. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

 

Parent-Teacher Organization Secretary Natalee Lance said the school closure news was “very heart-breaking.”

“My sister told me about this school and it’s been a perfect fit for my kids,” she said. “It’s given them more opportunities, more freedom to learn. It’s an inclusive school, with very little bullying.”

While making arrangements for her children to attend schools in Granite School District, she admits being a “little worried, especially for my youngest who is a little autistic.”

“Here, teachers work with students to have them thrive, from my shyest becoming student body president to helping each learn the best way they can,” she said.

Graduates Brittany and Brendon Cox returned to AISU to walk around one last time and to pick up another copy of their respective yearbooks. Brittany was in the first graduating class in 2015, her brother followed two years later.

“The school was always trying to help students improve,” Brittany said. “AISU had a good, safe atmosphere where faculty were willing to listen, adapt and work with you to help you learn.”

The faculty is something Jose said he will miss when he attends Taylorsville High in the fall.

“I have so many memories and so many teachers have made a positive impact on me,” he said. “I’m one of 25 students across the country of the 2,500 who applied to be a member of the Harvard Youth Advisory Board, and that is because I learned about this opportunity from (humanities teacher) McKinlee (Covey). She and my art teacher, Trevor Huish, who is the Hope Squad adviser, have had such positive influences on me. She has helped me be a better writer and has taught me German and also she has taught me to see different perspectives. Trevor has the biggest heart and is the nicest person I know and is incredibly funny.”

On the school’s second to last day, it wasn’t just cleaning desks and clearing out of the school that once was the 49th Street Galleria and the Utah Fun Dome. Instead outside there was a huge carnival hosted by the school’s PTO and inside, there was the Celebration of Learning, where students showcased what they learned during their intensive classes.

These intensives ranged from learning Japanese culture and language to photographing and making a statement about the homeless. Students learned songwriting, created artwork, demonstrated knitting skills that tied into history, programmed robots and even made a pinball machine in a manufacturing class.

Sixth-grader Gracie Tebben, who plans to attend Bonneville Junior High in the fall, said she performed songs from musicals as part of her intensive course. 

Her classmate, Justin Conder, said that intensives was one thing he will miss by not attending AISU.

“Basically, it’s a break from the trimester which allows us to do activities and learn about other subject matter that may be fun or not regularly offered,” he said, adding that he learned some Chinese language skills.

Student body sophomore class representative Arissa Cooper enrolled in the AISU Legacy intensive course, where she and her classmates decided to cut 990 four-inch by four-inch wood pieces, which they screened a print of the school logo before painting them. After students shared a special memory, they could take the squares with them. 

“We wanted everyone to have a memory of the school, so we remain connected even when we leave,” she said. “I’m a little nervous to go to Bingham High, but AISU has helped me come out of my shell and given me confidence.”