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Utopian Scholars Welcome Ludacris
Hollywood actor and Grammy Award-winning music star Ludacris visited Utopian Academy for the Arts recently to present a $5,000 donation to the school and 200 tickets to an Atlanta Braves' baseball game.

Ludacris and his foundation have been avid supporters of Utopian Academy for more than four years. The superstar first came to Utopian to celebrate the start of the school year in 2014 after seeing news coverage about the school's struggles to open. At the time, Utopian's first week of school had been blocked by the City of Riverdale, which insisted that Utopian was a business. City officials mandated that Utopian apply for a business license to operate. Utopian leaders had to fight to prove that the school is not a business, but a free, traditional public charter school that operates like free traditional schools funded by the government.

Ludacris said that he was thrilled to see the growth in Utopian since his last visit. He later shared some insight into his career success and gave students a motivational talk about working hard to achieve their personal goals.

"I began when I was nine years old, and I was rapping for my friends," Ludacris said. "They wanted to hear more. Your school and your community are your first fan base.

"I practiced because ... practice makes perfect," he said. "I overcame a lot of obstacles. If it was easy,
everybody would be doing it. Sometimes, you
have to persevere and understand that if you get
knocked down, you have to keep getting up. Those that are rewarded are the ones who want it the most."

Utopian scholars performed songs, a dance routine, and a dramatic monologue. Following the show, Ludacris gave the school his gifts - oversized checks for $5,000 and Braves' tickets.

"This is a complete surprise to everybody," he said. "You guys are doing so well, first and foremost, we want to give you 200 tickets to the Atlanta Braves' game. The second gift is, we came here today to present Utopian with a check for $5,000."

Ludacris' gesture was met with cheering and a standing ovation by students, staff, and faculty.

Superintendent Artesius Miller said later that he appreciates the continued support offered over the years by Ludacris and his foundation. Ludacris has provided everything from holiday meals to toys for students. "Community partners like Ludacris who support the mission and work of our school are very important to Utopian Academy," Dr. Miller said. "I want to thank Ludacris for his generosity, and I look forward to working with him as we move to our new location and expand our school."
Utopian Academy Hosts Black History Program
More than 100 parents and supporters of Utopian Academy for the Arts attended the school's annual Black History Dinner Theater performance recently at Riverdale Town Center.

The annual event allows students studying culinary arts, visual arts, acting, media arts, music, and dance to showcase their talents. This year's show highlighted the work of a new teacher at Utopian, Juan Ponder, the school's media arts instructor. Ponder wrote the script for the play "Let's Get A Party Started," which was featured in the show. The play follows a group of civic-minded students whose flyer promoting a new political party gets mistaken for a house party advertisement.

"Unfortunately for them, there is a mix up in the language on the flyer that causes them to have to diffuse a house party and get their point across," Ponder explained. "It is about how young people view their voice in politics today."

Nearly 30 students participated in the play.
Utopian scholar Parris Ford, a sixth-grade dancer and cheerleader, landed the lead role. She was beaming with pride after the production.

"At first, I felt nervous when I was thinking about my blocking and lines, but then I realized it wasn't a big deal, so I was excited," she said. "It felt good hearing the applause."

To prepare for their roles, students studied the civil rights movement to learn more about the history of community mobilization. Students also researched the history of the Black Panther Party and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Ponder co-directed the play and also wrote the fall musical "A Cinderella Story - A Twist In Time," an updated version of the classic tale that had Prince Charming, a rapper, searching for love on a reality show.

Television star Tonia Jackson, a veteran actress who recently appeared in a True Colors Theater Company Production and has a recurring role on Oprah Winfrey’s hit church drama “Greenleaf,” also co-directed Utopian's dinner theater performance.
Musical arts instructor Jerel Jefferson directed the music performances for the show. Dance instructor Crystal DeVaughn provided choreography. "All the fine arts teachers put their hands in the pot to make a great show," DeVaughn said.

"The students this year seem to have grown a lot more in dance," she added. "I am really proud of that."

Jackson said she worked with the actors over the last three weeks on fine-tuning their performance and drawing on history to help them bring their characters to life.

"I think the students learned that there are other leaders besides Martin Luther King that they have never heard of, and all kinds of language from the past that they can use," Jackson said. "The world is going to be theirs. They need to know what they are inheriting. In the civil rights movement, the young people were leaders."

While actors performed onstage, culinary arts students like Kynnidy Johnson served a three-course meal to guests. Johnson smiled broadly as she delivered plates of baked chicken and macaroni and cheese to tables. The most challenging task of the night, she said, was communicating with the student chefs to get orders in and out.

"Food has always been my field," she said. "When I was younger, I loved playing with the pots and pans. It's what we do in my family."

After the show, Utopian's Dean of Arts Ebonne Craft thanked parents for supporting the production and allowing their children to rehearse after school for three months."I appreciate and love you for coming out," Craft said.

The school's next production is a dance recital in April. There is a film festival in May.

Board Chair Joshua Menifee, who sat at a table in front, raved about the talent of the students at Utopian. "I think Utopian is preparing these young people to win Oscars, Tonys, Emmys, and Grammys," he said. "These kids are incredible. There is only so much that we can really teach. A lot of this, in my opinion, is God-given talent. But these kids are using the resources and training we are able to provide them and are surpassing our expectations in the arts. We are in awe of what they are able to do. "
Utopian Academy Makes History As
Participant At Clayton School Choice Fair

Utopian Academy for the Arts made history in February as the first state charter school invited to recruit new students at Clayton County's School Choice Fair.

The neighborly invitation to market Utopian Academy to Clayton County families is symbolic of the significant change in relations between Utopian and the local school district.

Clayton County Schools rejected Utopian's petition to open as a charter school three times, which forced the school to then seek approval by the State Charter Schools Commission. Dr. Morcease J. Beasley, Superintendent of Clayton County Public Schools, was not leading the district when Utopian was denied the right to open.

Intrigued by news reports of Utopian Academy's success, Beasley toured Utopian in the fall to establish a new partnership between the charter school and the district. He met scholars and learned more about the academic offerings and arts programs that have helped to make scholars successful in high school.

Clayton County families also got the opportunity to learn more about Utopian at the School Choice Fair. Utopian Superintendent Artesius Miller and Utopian parents, scholars, and teachers worked the crowd and distributed flyers to those who stopped at the the school's information booth. Miller said Utopian's presence at the fair was an important milestone.

"This means that our prayers have been answered," Miller said. "Under the leadership of the new superintendent of Clayton County, the olive branch that we have extended to the school system over the years has been accepted, and we are excited that we now have a new educational partner for our students and our school. This is the first of many more exciting opportunities to come."
Seventh grader Richard Stewart was also excited. He stopped parents in the middle of the room to pitch a Utopian education to them.

"I like the arts," he said to a mother passing by. "I want to be an actor. I have been in two plays at Utopian.

"Utopian can offer students a great education that is different from what they can get at their neighborhood school," he added. "It has teachers who care and can help you with math and language arts. It also brings celebrities to school that can help students learn more about their future career in the arts."

Tisha Staples walked over to the Utopian table after talking with Stewart. She said her son, Daniel Staples, is going to middle school in 2019, and she wanted to explore her options at the fair. "I wanted to get a jumpstart," she said. "He is a very talented young man. I want to mirror his strength in academics with the arts as well."
Testing 1,2,3: Scholars Ready For Milestones

Utopian Academy Dance Team
Performs For Atlanta Hawks
The award-winning Dance Team at Utopian Academy for the Arts recently took center stage at an Atlanta Hawks professional basketball game.

Their time in the national spotlight came after an invitation to perform by the team's business office.

"We were chosen after being seen at a school basketball game," said Crystal DeVaughn, dance instructor and team organizer. This is DeVaughn's second year at Utopian. "Someone who works at the Hawks saw us and gave us an opportunity to participate in a fan experience."

The team performed a routine that incorporated several dance styles, including ballet, modern, and hip hop.

"They did a fantastic job," she said. "They were very excited. It was their first time being in front of that many people. It was a really good experience for them."

Seventh grader Essence Hunt, who wants to be an international dancer, enjoyed her time at center court. "I liked dancing in front of over 30,000 people and seeing Stephen Curry."
Utopian Academy for the Arts | 6630 Camp Street Riverdale, GA 30274
770-892-1644 | utopianacademy.com
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