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The City Journals

AMES earns national distinguished school recognition for outstanding academic achievement

Feb 22, 2021 09:45AM ● By Julie Slama

AMES recently was named a National Elementary and Secondary Education Act Distinguished School based on their outstanding academic achievement. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Even though the Academy of Math, Engineering and Science students have been taught virtually since schools were put on soft closure in March 2020 they have something to celebrate.

In early winter, AMES was named as a National Elementary and Secondary Education Act Distinguished School for 2020. They were selected based on their outstanding academic achievement.

“It’s great recognition for our staff and students,” said AMES Principal Brett Wilson. 

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act was passed as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty” to close the skill gap in reading, writing and mathematics between children from low-income households who may attend urban or rural school systems to those in middle or upper class who attend suburban school systems. 

According to the U.S. Department of Education, students from low-income homes are “three times as likely to be low achievers if they attend high-poverty schools as compared to low-poverty schools,” hence establishing Title I schools to help compensate for the inequality in education.

With the ESEA awards, states select two schools for the award and the schools are provided with a $15,000 supplemental Title I award for a team to participate in the national ESEA conference. This year, the conference, which will recognize AMES’ achievement, will be held virtually in early February.

Wilson said that AMES, which serves students with a great diversity in socio-economic classes, ethnicity and geographically in the Salt Lake Valley, has been previously recognized for its academic achievement. 

Since 2016, AMES has been acknowledged in the top four high schools by the U.S. News and World Report. Last year, they ranked third—ahead of every public school in the state.

The annual lists are released each spring and are highly regarded statistically in education. The scores are based on how well each high school’s students perform on year-end tests in math and reading, how many students’ graduate, and how well they are prepared for college.

“We have some stats that are hard to ignore,” Wilson said, adding that as a Title I school, the numbers are even more significant.

For example, AMES graduation rate is 98%. Last year, they graduated 116 out of 117 seniors in a year that the COVID-19 pandemic plagued the spring term. The year before, all 117 seniors graduated.  

In the past five years, 61% of the senior class earned scholarships and this past year 85% of the studentbody enrolled in a University of Utah class. In the past five years, 60% have taken an Advanced Placement test.

In the past five years, AMES students have averaged a 22.4 score on the ACT pre-college entrance exam, surpassing the state average of 20.3.

“We don’t handpick our students. We take kids in a blind lottery across the valley and almost all graduate and take some kind of concurrent class while in high school. That’s the rigor we offer and expect of our students,” he said.

However, the school makes clear their priority is to graduate students, then help them achieve college success. They offer a college forum class, where students have 40 minutes every other week, to learn about college, write essays and help them prepare for their post-graduation life.

“We want to offer opportunities for students to be prepared for college. With our students taking concurrent enrollment classes typically taught by the U professors, and some enrolling in Salt Lake Community College courses, we are providing better insight of a real college-level class and they’re better prepared than many of their peers when they’re at the university,” Wilson said.

It’s also a cost-savings, he added. For example, if a senior graduates AMES with 12 hours of U of U credit and is only paying $10 per credit hour as a high school student, it will only cost the student $120 as opposed to $4,000 once enrolled at the U.  

“Those credits are transferrable to any university or college,” he said. “That’s big for any family, but we usually have some refugee kids in our school, and some, who will be the first in their families who attend college, and that really helps them financially.”

Last year, of those who graduated, 49% were first in the family to attend college, 31% identified themselves as economically disadvantaged and 33% said they were an ethnic minority, he said.

This fall of the 487 AMES students enrolled, 239 were female. Their population included Caucasian, African, Latino, Polynesian or Pacific Islanders, Asian, Hispanic and others who didn’t specify.

“This past year, our students earned more than $7 million in scholarship awards, we had a state Sterling Scholar, seven were MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, Science, Achievement) scholars  and four were National Merit finalists. We have a reputation or a legacy of hard-working students and staff who are giving our students more options,” Wilson said. “We have rigorous classes, but we create a culture of support to lead to our academic success.”