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Shooting Stars: Utopian Academy Honors the Graduates of the Class of 2018

Utopian Academy for the Arts celebrated the academic and artistic accomplishments of its third graduating class recently at a ceremony that praised them as "shooting stars."

S uperintendent Artesius Miller challenged the Class of 2018 to draw on the lessons they learned at Utopian Academy, and the successes they experienced as artists developing their creative minds and become student leaders at their respective high schools.

"Class of 2018, as you prepare to embark on this next journey, I want you to remember everything that we have taught you," Dr. Miller said. "We have had bumps in the road and have been able to persevere through a lot of storms. Many of you have discovered talents that you did not know that you had before you walked through the doors of 6630 Camp Street. We helped to develop dancers, actors, filmmakers, and culinary artists. I hope that you will continue to flourish and use those talents."

On behalf of the Governing Board of Utopian Academy, Dr. Miller awarded diplomas to nearly 70 scholars, including 24 students on the A-B honor roll. Six Utopian scholars graduated with straight A's. They are Crystian Alvarado, Taija Nelson, Julie Nguyen, Jourdyn Peoples, Aliyah Taylor, and Yarman Jester.

The valedictorian of the Class of 2018 was Julie Nguyen, the Student Council President. She will be attending Mundy's Mill High School in August.

Nguyen said her time at Utopian challenged her to overcome shyness and emerge as a leader. It also pushed her academically.

"One of the things that Utopian has taught me is that I am strong and I am most definitely worthy of doing anything," she said in a speech to the Class of 2018. "I wouldn't be standing on this stage without the Utopian teachers who educated me and the Utopian administrators who guided me."

Nguyen added that there were times when juggling classes and leadership activities became overwhelming. "Honestly, I wanted to give up, but I didn't," she said. "I would tell myself, 'In order to achieve my goals, I must stay the course ... and keep pushing forward.' "

The class salutatorian, Aliyah Taylor, will be attending Martha Ellen Stilwell School of the Arts along with seven other members of the Class of 2018. Utopian Academy continued its record as a successful feeder to Stilwell, a milestone that began in 2015 with the first graduating class. Approximately 25 Utopian graduates have matriculated to Stilwell over the years.

"Farewell, Utopian Academy for the Arts," Taylor said at the ceremony. "You will forever be in my memories as the foundation for my passion and success."

The eighth grade graduation also highlighted the talents of the scholars receiving their diplomas. Students performed songs, dance routines and shared a video message.

Three students were recognized for being accepted to the Atlanta Ballet's Ailey Camp for young performers. The camp is led by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Six other Utopian scholars were recognized for being selected to participate in Steve & Marjorie Harvey Foundation's 2018 Boys' Mentoring Camp.

Yarman Jester and Aliyah Taylor received the prestigious Miller Award, named in honor of the school founder and CEO, for their dedication as scholars who exhibit leadership, community involvement, and academic excellence.

"We will miss having you as students of Utopian Academy, but we are so excited about seeing you continue to succeed in high school and college," Dr. Miller said.
Benefit Raises $12,000 for Utopian Academy
A benefit to support Utopian Academy for the Arts was held at the Gathering Spot in April. More than $12,000 was raised to support teaching and learning.

The event honored staff and community supporters, including Ed Richardson, founder and managing partner at Atlanta Metro Studios, and Ebonne Craft, dean of arts at Utopian Academy.
Utopian Academy Welcomes
 Partners In Education

More than a dozen community partners of Utopian Academy for the Arts attended the charter school's annual Partners In Education Day, a VIP celebration that allows Utopian to publicly thank the organizations and individuals who support teaching and learning at the school.

The audience included state education leaders, business owners, and metro Atlanta charter school administrators. Dr. Morcease Beasley, Superintendent of Clayton County Schools was also in attendance.

The dignitaries were welcomed by student ambassadors, served refreshments, and led to the school cafeteria for a special performance. The annual event showcases the talents of culinary arts, visual arts, acting, media arts, music, and dance students.

"We appreciate your presence and are so grateful for your support," UAFA Board Chair Joshua Menifee said before the show. "It takes a village to raise a child, and you are a part of that village. It takes government to help us out. It takes parents to help us out. It takes the business community
to help us do what we want to do. Most of you have been here since our inception and understand how important this school is."

Utopian Academy's new principal Dr. Ron Boykins also greeted the special guests and shared good
news about student progress. He said early state exam scores show that strategies are working to improve achievement.

"I appreciate the opportunity that Dr. Miller and the board gave me when they asked me to join the team," Dr. Boykins said. "I'm excited about where we are. I'm not saying that we are perfect or have achieved those high standards that we are setting for ourselves. But, we are working to refine what we do and look at every area of the school and answer one basic questions: How do we get better?"

The principal said he is working with teachers, scholars, parents, and administrators to answer that question.

Utopian "Partners" in attendance said they were impressed with the progress of the school.

Jeremy Stratton, CEO of the Clayton Chamber of Commerce said that the organization has been a partner of Utopian's for two years. "It's always great when you have opportunity to integrate math and reading with the arts," he said. "Its an excellent opportunity to prepare for the future."

Stratton added that the film program offered at Utopian is a "natural fit" in a booming industry that will "give kids a leg up for the future."

Laura Bollman, managing director of the State Charter Schools Foundation of Georgia agreed.
"The first time that I came, I knew that Utopian was a special place," she said. "I'm glad that the academics are turning up to where they are. The kids deserve that."
Utopian Academy Makes The Grade:
Scholars Soar on State Exams

Utopian Academy scholars made historic double-digit gains on the Georgia Milestones Exams after the implementation of new academic standards at the school.

According to administrators, preliminary results showed that 85 percent of eighth graders passed the state exam in math, which is 21 percent more than the previous year. Seventh graders had a 74 percent passing rate in math, which was 25 percentage points more than in 2017.

The double-digit gains continued for eighth graders in English/ language arts, social studies and science, which saw gains of 29 percent, 38 percent, and 35 percent respectively .

"These are strong numbers that let us know that we are headed in the right direction," said Superintendent Artesius Miller. "We have had 30 to 40 percent growth in many areas. We are so proud of every single person-- our staff and faculty members who have dedicated themselves and have devoted their time and energy; our board members who have made sacrifices to give the school what it needs to be able to have these results; our parents for pushing their kids to work hard; and our scholars for putting forth their best efforts."

The improved test scores are a direct result of the changes in the academic program at Utopian Academy. At the beginning of the school year, students were offered enrichment opportunities, tutoring, and intervention when they struggled to grasp concepts. Students took online assessments to measure their progress, including practice tests.

Significant change continued in the weeks before the exam when the board hired a new academic leader to be principal of Utopian. Dr. Ron Boykins came to Utopian in March.

"One of the first things that I wanted to do is to give the teachers an opportunity to take the Milestones Exam," Dr. Boykins said. "In a lot of
places, the teachers give the test, but they don't
take it. We gave our teachers a chance to take it."

Then we asked ourselves, 'When you look at what is going on in the classrooms, are we preparing our students for success?' The consistent response around the room was that it was not."

Dr. Boykins then had a discussion with faculty about changing the structure of classes to make lessons more engaging and using student data to drive instruction. Other programs were enhanced.

For example, Dr. Boykins enforced the standards for writing across the curriculum to make sure that they were the same in all classes.

"Before a student could bounce a ball. belt out notes, or do anything in drama, the first thing that they had to do was to write against the standards that were consistent across the school," the principal said.

More changes will be implemented in the upcoming academic year to continue the school's new record of student success on the Milestones.

"There are a lot of things we are doing that are good, but we want to drill down to show that it didn't just sound good, that it is effective," Dr. Boykins said.
Two Educators Share Teachers of the Year Title
Two Utopian Academy educators were recognized for their outstanding accomplishments in the classroom as educators and leaders. They share the distinction of being named "Teachers of the Year."

Keana Millar , an English Language Arts teacher at Utopian Academy, was recognized for her focus on improving the writing and language skills of her scholars. Millar has a bachelor's degree from Valdosta State University.

Crystal DeVaughn , dance instructor at Utopian Academy, was recognized for expanding the artistry of the dance program and choreographing award-winning routines. Utopian Academy's Dance Team has won several dance competitions and recently performed at an Atlanta Hawks basketball game.
Come visit Utopian Academy at a new location in August. This month, we will begin our move to our new school at 2750 Forest Parkway in Ellenwood. Thank you for making this a fantastic school year!
Utopian Academy for the Arts | 6630 Camp Street Riverdale, GA 30274
770-892-1644 | utopianacademy.com
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