IVINS — Tuacahn High School for the Arts will open its doors to returning students Tuesday morning after having been closed since the state’s soft closure on March 13.
Tuacahn High was Utah’s first charter school and is designated as a subsidiary of Tuacahn Center for the Arts. In addition to its stunning location, backdropped by Padre Canyon, Tuacahn High offers a performing arts studio, music studio, visual arts studio and a media arts studio in addition to the core classes.
While a large portion of students come from Washington County or nearby counties, Rebekah Uyleman, who will be a senior this year, told St. George News she came all the way from the Bay area in California just to attend the “high school in the canyon.”
“My grandparents lived here, so I came to the amphitheater shows,” she said. “I would always walk past this and think, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s a high school in a canyon?'”
Shortly after being so taken with the school and environment, her family packed up and she arrived “the night before school started,” she said.
Now entering her senior year, Uyleman said wearing a mask isn’t a big deal; she’ll do whatever it takes to go back to school.
“I’ll wear a mask – I’d wear a hazmat suit if I had to,” she said with a laugh.
Her enthusiasm for being in school is not just about being in school; it’s about the community and passion she has found at Tuacahn. With the small class sizes and incredible teachers, she said she feels like she is around people who really care about her future.
While Tuacahn is most known for its arts focus, principal Drew Williams told St. George News that when he first took the job, he heard various people both inside and outside of the school saying that arts students would never score high on academic tests or performances for subjects like math and English.
As a professional musician of 25-30 years, Williams said the fact that kids were hearing this narrative as soon as they arrived was “insane.
“We turned that around.”
Aubrey Johnson, the director of instruction at Tuacahn, told St. George News that in order to develop their academics, they partnered with Harvard University and took a team of instructors out to the university to learn techniques that would both inspire and challenge students to think deeper.
From there, they implemented an ACT prep course during third quarter in the recent school year. Johnson, with the help of a company in Utah County, worked to integrate both the ACT and school’s curriculum into a course that met the students’ needs.
Despite the impacts of COVID-19, at the end of last school year in spring, Johnson said, “each grade level scored about 4 1/2 points higher than the October score.”
“And then our official results came out, and we were the highest in Washington County.”
Autumn Best, who will also be a high school senior this year, said that while the ACT prep course was challenging, it allowed her the time to dedicate to improving her score.
“As a performer and someone who does a lot of extracurriculars, I wouldn’t have had time to do ACT prep at all,” she said. “I could just come to school knowing that that was what I was going to be focusing on, and I didn’t have to make time for it after school.”
Best, who is also the assemblies coordinator, said she has been working all summer with other council members to create the program for “Hype City,” which will be in compliance with COVID-19 regulations.
“The first day of school we just focus on building school community and school culture,” she said, “which really helps us start the year out on a good foot and really build that family bond with the new students and reconnect with others after the long summer.”
The first day will be held outside in the amphitheater with students wearing masks and sitting 6 feet apart. When it comes to masks, Best agreed with Uyleman.
“Wearing a mask doesn’t mean you can’t still have a good time. You can still be happy and smile.”
In term of reopening, Williams said they have been working closely with the Washington County School District to establish consistency for all students in the area. As such, similar to the district, Tuacahn High will have in-person classes Monday through Friday. On Friday students will be let out early.
In relation to the latest state guideline for modified quarantine, Williams said if a student, teacher or staff member is exposed to a person who tests positive for COVID-19, he or she will have to remain symptom-free for 72 hours before returning back to school.
In the case of a potential shutdown or for students who are under quarantine and can’t come to school, teachers have prepared a virtual schedule that coincides with the in-person schedule.
Tuacahn High is also adapting to the new norm by creating different ways for students to showcase their work.
“It’s actually brought our arts teachers closer together because now they’re working together to create something schoolwide that’s amazing,” Williams said. “Rather than having an individual dance concert or individual performance, now we’re saying, ‘How do we pull all these resources together and create content that makes people happy during a pandemic?'”
This type of integration is something they plan to carry into the new norm, especially in terms of addressing issues like inequity in schools in order to provide a better education for all.
“I don’t want to go back to the way it was,” Williams said. “I think we’re really smart and creative people. We were forced to pivot because of the pandemic, but the pandemic didn’t really create the problems; it showed the problems.”
As far as how the pandemic will affect things more specific to the Tuacahn home and family, Williams said he think it will “change the way we look at art forever.”
“And that’s a good thing.”
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