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Specialized charter school gives new hope to students



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SALT LAKE CITY -- As part of our KSL Schools project in April, we launched a comprehensive database on Utah high schools. We ranked schools in several areas using a prominent Utah research company. Now we've added Utah's charter schools into the mix.

Yes, they're a force in Utah education. In just more than a decade, charter schools have gone from an experiment to now educating about 5 percent of the state's half million students. And, as you'll see, they also compete in performance.

Ten years ago, Sharoon Samul lived with his family in Pakistan. Today, he has a six-year, full-ride scholarship to wherever he wants to go to college.

"Coming from a third-world country, Pakistan for me, into an opportunity so great that I've been given. I'm blessed for this moment," he said.

Falakesi Ika is starting a new legacy in her family. As she told KSL, "I will be the first in my family to go to college because of the influence of my teachers and advisors."

She has a four-year scholarship, as does Sarah Niitsuma, who just a few years ago didn't have the grades for college.

They all credit their teachers at the Academy of Math, Engineering and Science, a Salt Lake County charter school.

"They pushed me to go into science fairs. I didn't think I would like it. I finally found something I was good at," Niitsuma said.

AMES is one of a growing number of charter high schools in Utah that offer a specialized experience. Here, they focus on math and science, and also on attracting students who might not otherwise attend college.

Principal Dr. Al Church said, "I find these students especially motivated. They see the hope of America, the promise of America. I always use the expression: It's not about I.Q. but I will."

To meet that resolve, AMES offers Saturday school and tutoring during lunch and after school. They also partner faculty with individual students. And that support network seems to work.

Ika said, "AMES is a really great school, it's changed my life. I'm just so thankful for the opportunity I had to come to AMES."

AMES has unseated one of our top-five high schools in the KSL schools rankings. We'll show you the new rankings with charter schools factored in, Monday night at 10.

E-mail: dwimmer@ksl.com

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Nadine Wimmer

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