Arts, Reel schools offer innovative ‘freedom education’ for college, high school students

HURRICANE — A new arts center in Hurricane is looking to open up classes for students at both the college and high school levels but still needs some essentials that any school needs to operate — students, classrooms and money.

The Southern Utah Center for the Arts will house two schools: the Reel School, a two-year filmmaking college, and the Utah High School for the Arts, a private school focused on freedom education.

The high school is billed as a freedom school, not to be confused with the Children’s Defense Fund’s summer programs for children or with the movement to educate African-American students during the civil rights movement.

It was founded in 1992, along with the Reel School, and operated out of Utah Valley for 20 years. The schools moved to Hurricane, however, after encountering issues with building expansion in Utah Valley.

Someone then referred the school planners to Mayor John Bramall, and from there they decided to move the schools to Hurricane.

This freedom school lets students choose what classes they want, the center’s artistic director, Pam Lockwood, said, letting them build an individual curriculum for each student.

“For real learning, this is very important,” she said. “When students are forced into classes — especially right-brainers — they are not learning, only regurgitating.”

While students get to choose their own classes, Lockwood said it’s surprising how many students end up choosing to take core subject classes.

Many students who came in hating math make math the most popular academic class,” she said.

It’s that freedom to choose that makes students interested in their learning, an arts high school alumnus Josh Francis said.

“You choose what you’re passionate about and you … have the freedom to actually go after that,” he said. “Even things like math and English, you take them more in reference to life and what you’re interested in.”

Francis said the school isn’t something only artists can benefit from, as the freedom to build your own curriculum offers space for people with almost any interest.

“I think the groundwork is set up in a way that it allows people to kind of go through things their own way,” he said, “and come out the end a better person because of it.”

Another alumnus, Eric Blood, said the structure of the school taught him self-directed learning.

“Nobody can learn the knowledge for you, you have to do the work,” he said.

Lockwood said they started the school to help students who were getting “lost” in public schools, saying that “54 percent of Utah’s dropouts are gifted and talented.”

The program also allows students to concurrently work toward a Bachelor of Arts through the Reel School.

The Center for the Arts launched a three-day fundraiser through Uberific, which ended midnight Friday. The site, owned by Utah resident Noah Rasheta, is dedicated to donating proceeds from their sales to different causes.

While the center has found a home in the unfinished buildings at 258 and 268 W. State Street in Hurricane, Lockwood said they need about $50,000 to finish the interior.

Students may enroll for the coming school year that is scheduled to start Sept. 9, provided they are able to finish building.

Tuition costs $3,900 for Arts high and $5,900 for Reel school. For students who can’t afford the tuition, however, the school tries to work with them.

“The first criteria for a student to attend is that they want to be at the school,” Lockwood said.

She gave an example of one student who worked to pay his entire tuition by beautifying the grounds at their old location in Utah Valley.

Since the school does not have grade levels or grade students like most schools, they often have to prepare students to instead take standardized tests like the ACT or GED, but Lockwood said none of the students who have wanted to go to college have been unable to go.

She said the school sets up a Board of Professionals and Educators made up of people not on the school’s staff.

In order to graduate from high school, the students must be reviewed by this board, and Lockwood said the board is usually “blown away” by the students.

However, the school is not accredited with the state of Utah.

While the school’s staff did interview students and try to start classes during the 2014-15 academic year, they decided not to take any new students and instead postpone classes for the next year.

“We found that without a permanent facility, it was not feasible to run them until that was settled,” Lockwood said.

They center has, however, hosted classes and community theater plays, including an adaptation of “Robin Hood” this past year.

The center will continue to offer community programs for the general public, and not just focus on the schools housed in the center.

They will also have classes and workshops, and Lockwood said she’s trying to organize a group to enter the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival at the University of Idaho.

Although the fundraiser has ended and she won’t know how much was raised until at least Monday, Lockwood said a group of Boy Scouts has picked the center as a service project and will be trying to get sponsorships.

Those interested in sponsorships or learning more about the school should email esc_arts@hotmail.com, Lockwood said.

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