Salt Lake Community College officially opens its new Center for Arts and Media (CAM) at their South City Campus Nov. 7. Students, staff and faculty have been working and attending classes while construction has been wrapping up, but Salt Lake City School District’s (SLCSD) visionary high school, Innovations Early College High School, which was part of the remodel and renovation, is in its second school year in their new location at the south end of the campus.
“We opened our doors easily 15-16 months prior to this one [CAM] opening up,” says Kenneth Grover, director of high schools for SLCSD and principal of Innovations. “We used to be, which now is knocked down – for six to seven years – back here on the backside next to the LDS [Institute]. There used to be a building there: that was our building.”
The high school has open access to the college allowing the flow of ideas and information. Innovations’ students can freely come and go between their high school and the college.
“We’re connected,” says Grover. “Students are flowing to the college. They can go down there and take a class. We buy the class, they take it. The barriers are removed.”
Innovations’ students take core classes at the high school, but are also encouraged to take SLCC classes alongside traditional college students, allowing them to create the learning environment of their choice. According to Grover, the goal is to have 100 percent of Innovations’ students graduating with more than a high school diploma.
“That is the goal. We’ve only been in operation for a year and a half. So, our last year’s ninth graders – that’s my expectation – that they’ll have an associate’s degree,” says Grover. “Some of them won’t get there, but a lot of them will. The associate’s degree is my threshold of expectation, not a high school diploma.”
With graduation expectations set high and the opportunity of free access to college classes at SLCC, Grover asserts that the school is the most rigorous high school in the state.
“[We have] a 100 percent expectation of graduation: that’s about 25 percent higher than any other high school in the country and, so far, we’re hitting those marks,” says Grover. “It’s not easy. It’s probably the most rigorous high school in the state by far.”
Concerns and fears over the possibility of difficulty arising between minors and college-going adults cropped up during the creation phase of the high school. But Grover notes that there is a great sense of cooperation as high school and college students become educated about Innovations and its purpose for being at the campus. College students and others may visit Innovations, but as is the practice in other K-12 schools, visitors must check in with the office first and receive permission.
“So, why is it you can’t come in here? Well, because we have minors. And you can come, anybody is welcome, they just need to check in and get a visitor’s pass,” says Grover.
Grover is pleased with the smooth transition so far.
“But that’s been one of the great surprises … Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of all community college people are great, 99.9 percent of all my kids are great, but there are just a few that need to stay here and adults need to stay there,” says Grover. “We’ve just refused to allow fear to dictate what we think is good practice.”
With Innovations being located on the South City Campus, an opportunity is there for college students to get involved and get paid. Grover says he is always looking for good tutors and anyone can apply by inquiring at the office.
“Always looking for tutors, any subject,” says Grover. “They get paid $10.50 an hour.”
According to Grover, the idea to build Innovations began after a particular meeting with colleagues where the conversation became more about retiring and less about how to better help students. Grover decided to ask then-current students about their school experiences.
“This is what really hit me, when I’m 65, I did not want to sit around and look back and think, ‘I could’ve done something, but I was too afraid, I wasn’t willing to take risks,’” says Grover. “So I just said, ‘Well, I’m not going to sit back and do that. I’m going to start working to create a situation where we can create a school that kids want.’”
Grover and his team set about surveying high school students, asking them to share their experience of school. One of the biggest challenges teens cited was sitting through four, hour-and-a-half-long classes every day.
“Most every student, without any exception, was to some degree … they said it was boring. And this was [from] students on the low end of learning to the high end of learning,” says Grover. “So, the idea really came from students. I embraced it and then started really pushing how it could look different. So, we set this up really around students.”
Pulling the school together was a challenge, not only because of the unique nature of Innovations, but because of the many groups involved, including SLCC.
“This school was not easy to put up. We’re talking 2004 or 2005 when I started working with President Bioteau,” says Grover. “This is about a vision and a dream. Sometimes my dream and vision didn’t align with hers or the college. This is a whole different kind of school.”
Despite any challenges or road blocks along the way, Grover says Innovations is working and he is pleased with the outcomes thus far.
“The school is working just fine. The relationship with the college is working because students can take classes there. Does having the students on a higher-ed campus inspire some of them to … well, inspire them to realize they can do it? Yes. It works,” says Grover.