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Utah school's unconventional techniques producing big results

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SALT LAKE CITY - A new Utah charter school is raising the bar in public education.

Alianza Academy opened its doors last year with the goal of providing quality education to kids who do not have a lot of educational options. In just a short time, the school is already making a real impact with its unique learning program.

Kathy Moleni enrolled all five of her children at Alianza. She says she was drawn to the charter school because of its hybrid education model.

"I have some kids who get bored with the traditional learning," she said. "I thought it was a great way for them to try something different."

This confidence and this listening to their own creativity has (students) step forward in life.

–Emmy Thompson

The program combines technology and online learning with aesthetic arts education. Take, for example, the dance class where kids work together to choreograph something meaningful.

"This confidence and this listening to their own creativity has them step forward in life," said dance specialist Emmy Thompson.

The teachers at Alianza Academy are referred to as "learning coaches." Rather than lecturing most of the day, they spend a lot of time working with students one on one as they go through online learning exercises.

"I get to work at my own pace and I get to work on what I want to work on," said one student.

Most students come to Alianza one or two years behind in school.

"I've just seen their scores increase because they're not mass learning, they're learning what they need to learn in life," said learning coach Heather Norman.

In just one year, educators found students who fell in this category made remarkable improvement.

"We saw that on average our students made about a year and a half of progress as compared with their peers nationwide," said academic director Matt Thomas.

The school's biggest and arguably most important fans are the students themselves.

"It's good," said 8th grader Trenton McKellar. "There's no bullying. I haven't gotten bullied. I went from an F in science to almost an A in a month."

Parents are pretty happy too.

"I have a child who wanted to go to the BYU game tonight, but when I said he'd need to leave school early he said, 'I don't want to go, I don't want to leave school early.' That's a huge change," said Moleni.

Five hundred kids attend Alianza Academy at campuses in Magna, West Valley and South Salt Lake. The school is hoping to expand to more areas in the coming years.


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Kathryn May


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