Washington County charter schools offer alternatives, engage individual students; school distinctions

ST. GEORGE — When it comes to charter schools in Washington County, they are unified in their mission of offering options for free public education that differ from the traditional public schools. However, much beyond that shared goal, there are a variety of routes the different charter schools take to bring about those means.

Read more: Primer on public charter schools in Utah

From incorporating the arts into academics to focusing on technology and character traits, Washington County charter schools offer children and parents choices in mapping out their education, with options ranging from starting their kindergarten years at Valley Academy in Hurricane to wrapping up their senior year at Tuacahn High School for the Performing Arts in Ivins. The following will provide snapshots of six different charter schools in Washington County.

TuacahnTuacahn High School for the Performing Arts

Located at the mouth of Padre Canyon in Ivins, Tuacahn High School for the Performing Arts is the oldest charter in Utah. From its humble beginnings in 1999 with just 86 students, the no-audition, tuition-free performing arts high school has since grown to over 400 students from all parts of the country who wish to not only study a wide variety of academic subjects but also advance their passion for the arts.

The Tuacahn website invites potential students, parents and faculty to imagine a school where performance is more than just an extracurricular activity.

Imagine a school where on any given day, you might find dancers choreographing in the halls, musicians playing at lunch or in between classes, actors practicing their lines, singers filling the school with song, or artists gazing, brush in hand, at the majesty of towering red cliffs just outside the windows

Since opening its doors, Tuacahn High School for the Performing Arts has seen over 85 percent of every graduating class go on to higher education. The school has won numerous awards and accolades, including the 2010 Utah Charter High School of the Year award.

VistaVista School

While not necessarily a “feeder school” for Tuacahn, Vista School’s location just around the corner from the performing arts high school makes it a great option for area students from kindergarten to eighth grade who are interested in the performing arts. Vista incorporates instruction in visual and performing arts into its daily instruction, as well as after-school programs offered at a fraction of the cost of private instruction.

From Vista’s website:

Vista broadens students’ academic experiences by providing them with opportunities to explore elective coursework in visual and performing arts and technology. Our students look forward to coming to school because offerings match their interests, which benefit all aspects of their academic experience including academic achievement and attitude.

While Vista School’s focus is on visual and performing arts, it doesn’t neglect academics. Whereas some schools don’t start specialized math, science, technology and history instruction until sixth grade, Vista starts in first grade. Instead of spending the entire day in the same classroom, students travel to different classrooms to receive instruction from highly qualified, passionate instructors who have the latitude provided by charter school to pursue alternative instructional materials and methods that will yield the best results.

While charter schools aren’t held to the same boundaries as other public schools, given the fact that they also aren’t given transportation funding, location can be a big consideration when parents are considering a school.

Read more: Charter schools face transportation dilemma; local schools consider busing options


Valley Academy

Fortunately for Washington County students living on the east side of I-15 who have an interest in the performing arts and technology, Valley Academy in Hurricane offers a similar focus as that of Vista School – a little closer to home. Valley Academy operates on four pillars of success: academics, technology, performing arts and social emotional learning.

On the Valley Academy website, under the original reasons for opening the school, the first two points express the beliefs held by many charter school founders regarding the right to school choice. However, specific to their mission and focus, they also list the following:

  • The arts should be a part of the learning process, not only during the school day, but also before and after school.
  • Technology is the way of the future and our students should be able to learn skills in school that will help them in future jobs and in daily life.

Now in its fourth year, Valley Academy is currently only serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade. However, with a charter allowing for instruction up to 12th grade and approximately 20 more acres of property with which to accommodate that and other areas of growth, Valley Academy is looking to the future with plans for expansion. Valley Academy has its own buses for busing students to and from school.

Maria MontessoriDixie Montessori

Based on the Montessori Method developed by Dr. Maria Montessori in the early 20th century, Dixie Montessori Academy offers a free public education experience to students from kindergarten to seventh grade. The Dixie Montessori Academy vision is “to awaken within each child his or her unique potential that will enable them to make a valuable contribution to society.”

The Montessori philosophy places emphasis on educating the “whole child.” According to their website:

Maria Montessori recognized that children have an innate desire to learn and, given the proper environment, will thrive intellectually, socially, emotionally and physically.  This ‘prepared environment,’ as Dr. Montessori termed it, includes not only the classroom with its materials and authentically trained teachers, but also a social setting and atmosphere where children can reach their fullest potential.

Learning in a Montessori classroom is highly individualized. Rather than being forced to simply learn by rote, Montessori students set the pace for the attainment of knowledge, often incorporating hands-on activities. Vertical instruction allows children in a three-year age span to receive instruction together and offers modeling for younger students and mentoring opportunities for older students.

GWAGeorge Washington Academy

The school motto of George Washington Academy, a charter school serving over 1,000 kindergarten to eighth-grade students in Southern Utah, is “Building a Strong Foundation.” The school uses a sequential curriculum known as “Core Knowledge,” which builds upon previous years’ information, avoiding heavy repetition and gaps. While the majority of instruction time focuses on math and language arts, the Core Knowledge lesson plans also include time for art, music, social studies, science and physical education.

According to the George Washington Academy website:

This program stresses the importance of background knowledge and functional literacy in promoting effective national communication. We seek to establish in our school a traditional reference point of literate culture that enables our students to express themselves in academic and non-academic settings.

As part of developing the “whole student,” George Washington Academy has created a Character Education program that includes a different character trait each month. The traits chosen mirror the school’s guiding values, which are reinforced daily, and at the end of the month, a student from each class who demonstrated the previous month’s trait is honored in an assembly as Student of the Month. Faculty and staff members are also recognized.

sg_academy_logo_6colors copySt. George Academy

As the newest addition to the Washington County charter high schools, St. George Academy — slated to open in the fall of 2016 — is taking on the challenges of preparing students to successfully meet the intellectual challenges of higher education and to become well-educated citizens in an increasingly complex world.

According to the St. George Academy website:

High academic achievement is no longer enough to gain entry into today’s post high-school institutions.  Students looking to enroll in colleges and universities must demonstrate that they are active and responsible citizens of an interdependent world. Involvement in athletics, community service, clubs, organizations, etc. are all key components of this endeavor. … St. George Academy students will be expected to enter the college or university ready to not only survive but thrive.

St. George Academy intends to offer a curriculum that is “anything but common” and includes instruction that transform students into lifelong learners with habits necessary to succeed at high education settings. Being in its infancy, St. George Academy administration and faculty are excited to be offering students the opportunity to help build the school’s identity and directly influence its future.


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