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Winter Issue

February 2021

We are UNIQUE. We are UTOPIAN.


























ALUM CREDITS TENACITY TO UAFA START: EARNS PERFECT ACT SCORE, IVY LEAGUE SCHOLARSHIP Eric Mai, the valedictorian of Utopian Academy for the Arts Middle School Class of 2017, says he found his stride at Utopian Academy. Mai came to UAFA Middle as a shy preteen who was more comfortable reading alone than talking aloud. But he left as a well-rounded scholar with a new sense of confidence and creativity. After his UAFA graduation, Mai earned a scholarship to a private high school in Atlanta and recently achieved a perfect ACT score. CONTINUED TO PAGE 2



Q: Where are you attending high school? Which college offered you a full ride? A: I am a senior at Cristo Rey High School in Atlanta, and an alumnus of Utopian Academy for the Arts. I received a full scholarship to Yale University. Q: Why did you choose to attend Utopian Academy? A: I was supposed to go to my zoned middle school, but my mom was a teacher. She found Utopian Academy for the Arts,


a charter school with a unique arts program, and she thought that it would fit me a lot more than my zoned school. Attending Utopian was a new and challenging experience for me, but I think it was great to be put in a situation where people were different from me. I learned how to interact with people from other cultures and made some friendships that will last a lifetime. My experience played a big part into making me the person I am today and shaping

my world views regarding race. Q: Which art did you focus on ? A: I took Music Theory in sixth grade and band in seventh and eighth grade. I never considered myself a very artistic person; I lacked the creativity that other kids seemed to have, but I felt that at Utopian Academy, I was in an environment where, even though I wasn't going to be the next Mozart, I could still have fun and do my best. The encouragement that I received


continued while I was in high school. I'd like to thank Dr. Miller for his support. Q: Did UAFA prepare you for high school? A: It helped me to focus. We did performances in a high-stress environment—a room full of people. You had to know what to do and make sure you were hitting the right notes with your instrument at the right time. It helped me to get used to working under pressure.

"We, the Governing Board of Utopian Academy, are so thankful to you for doing your best and excelling in the areas that you have ... Parents, we celebrate you as well. We know that these children could not have made the remarkable strides that they have if it weren't for your support." Johanna Clark UAFA Governing Board Member

In a moving tribute to academic excellence, 80 high achievers at UAFA Middle School recently received a special recognition in honor of their successful start to the school year. They were awarded with medals from their proud parents for earning As and Bs. Seventeen scholars also were inducted into the National Junior Beta Club, an organization dedicated to developing the leadership potential of students in grades 4-8. The Beta Club promotes the ideals of leadership, service, character, and academic achievement. The inductees will be able to transfer their membership into the Senior Beta Club as they matriculate into high school. Nationally, the Beta Club has more than 500,000 active members, and has awarded more than $6 million in scholarships since 1991. UAFA Governing Board members were impressed with the honorees.

The 17 Beta Club inductees are: Raylin Akbar, Mikayla Brown, Jordan Howze, Destiny Johnson, Janae Kanu, Syyianna McDowell, Alandria Smith, Megan Stafford, Stephanie Ballayan, Jordyn Carter, and Hope White. The founding members are: Kolade Agoro, Elizah Fikes, Michah Kelly, Nyeem Burgie, and Mateen Muhammad.


UAFA Elementary School has announced that it will add a new grade level in the upcoming academic year. The school, which has a current enrollment of 140 scholars in grades K-1, will serve second graders in August. UAFA Elementary Principal Dr. Selina Walton said the school will add one new grade level each year until it serves children in grades K-5. The gradual expansion, Walton says, will allow the school to grow slowly so that it can recruit top talent for its classrooms and add innovative academic and arts programs. During the 202122 school year, for example, UAFA Elementary is expanding its classes to include drama taught by an actor with the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, the school's newest partner. Trilith Studios, a Fayetteville movie studio, will support the story arts program. UAFA Superintendent Dr. Artesius Miller helped to make the new classes possible through his collaborations with the Atlanta arts community, including the Georgia Film Academy and several other educational partners. Dance classes will continue to be led by a ballerina from Atlanta Ballet, UAFA Elementary's inaugural arts partner. A new dance team will be launched in the fall. It will perform at UAFA Elementary basketball games. Artistic expression is encouraged in all subjects. Scholars use their creativity to demonstrate academic knowledge and skills in math, reading, science, language arts, and social studies. Teachers assess student progress using the i-Ready diagnostic educational platform, which provides data that allows the instructors to tailor lessons to meet student needs. "Our first year has gone great," Walton said. "Although we are in a new normal; we have made the best of this situation. We have worked together as a team and school family, with our parents, scholars, faculty, and staff to move full speed ahead."

UAFA Elementary can accommodate 54 new scholars. Walton said that seats are going fast. Walton is hosting Virtual Open House sessions for families interested in learning more about the school. The sessions will be held on Zoom at 5 p.m. on March 4 and 18. To register, click here. The enrollment deadline is March 31.

'Meet a teacher DARIUS REDMAN

PHYSICAL ED/ART TEACHER Why I chose UAFA Elementary: I like the arts aspect of the school. I think it gives students the freedom to figure out who they are at an earlier age so that they can begin to pursue what they really want to do in life. Education: I have been a teacher for four years. I have bachelor's degrees in sociology and human development from Virginia Tech. Why I teach: I want to make a difference in kids' lives and provide them with mentorship. My online strategy: I always have a lot of energy, which they appreciate. They are not going to let me be more energetic than them. It makes it very engaging. I get them working out at home. Sometimes, we go on scavenger hunts. They may have to crawl around the house and show me a fruit, for example. I ask them about their weekends and other questions so we can build a deeper relationship beyond the class subject. We also dance during breaks. Hobbies: I am a rap artist who creates music videos.

asked Boykins. "This won't be a traditional computer class. It will be a place where scholars will be free to create as they study animation and learn more about careers in the field. It is a next-level dive into technology. Our focus on the arts at Utopian Academy is much deeper than just singing and dancing. We are creating scholar artists who can dance and sing. Our kids don't have to sacrifice one for the other. "


REDEFINING INSTRUCTION FOR "SCHOLAR ARTISTS" UAFA Middle School is expanding the definition of an arts-centered education. Principal Ron Boykins said that he strives to produce scholar artists who are creative thinkers and talented performers. With that in mind, UAFA is constantly seeking new opportunities and partnerships to help its scholars in grades 6-8 continue to develop academically. Starting next fall, UAFA will elevate its computer coding program, taking it from a class to a new arts discipline. The computer division will also add 3-D animation to its offerings. Scholars will not only learn how to build websites and apps, they will also learn to create animation for games, and eventually, for films. "Who would think of putting computers with the arts,"

Due to the outreach of UAFA Superintendent Dr. Artesius Miller, next academic year media arts classes will be working more closely with Trilith Studios, formerly Pinewood, to complement what they are learning in class about film production, editing, and storyboarding. Boykins said that thanks to UAFA Middle's teaching artists, classes have a firm foundation in media arts and film. "The students can go into a studio and appreciate what's going on and understand the terminology," he said. "It won't be just another field trip." The academic curriculum next school year will also offer more opportunities for accelerated classes. Students grow at least one-and-a-half grade levels in academic knowledge and skills at UAFA Middle. "We are getting there with a large percentage of our students," Boykins said. UAFA Middle uses the i-Ready online assessment tool to evaluate student comprehension and to develop individualized learning and diagnostic plans. Classes are virtually engaging and sometimes include cameos from celebrities. "It's distance learning on steroids," Boykins said. Virtual Open House sessions for fall enrollment are being held on Zoom at 6:30 p.m. on March 4 and 18. To register, click here. Enrollment deadline is March 31.


Award-winning filmmaker, UAFA Teacher

UAFA Middle's Mike Morris Has Two Films Streaming On Amazon, and More!

Mike Morris, the Atlanta Black Film Festival's Filmmaker of the Year, has movies on Amazon and Fandango. His films, "The Other Side," which he directed, and "A New Year, a New Us," which he co-produced, helped shoot, and did audio for are being watched by audiences around the world, yet he remains rooted in the classroom.

Q: Why do you work as a teaching artist at Utopian? A: I have been working as the Media Arts instructor for four years. I am dedicated to education because of the low number of Black male teachers nationally. When I was a kid, my dad put a camera in my hands at age 11. That is exactly the age some of these students are when they

come to us. I want to be able to do that for our students. Q: What are some of the film projects that you worked on? A: I have worked on a number of independent short and featurelength films and reality shows, including a “Shot of Love," "American Idol," "Tool Academy", and "Jersey Shore." I have pitched

TV show ideas in Hollywood ... and did a concert for Big Sean. I have my own production company, Visual Tellers.

a camera as a teenager in high school. I was way ahead of all of my peers because I knew how to use the technology. These Utopian students are Q: How does exposure leaps and bounds to film classes benefit ahead, too. They learn students? every aspect of film. A: It's a game changer. That will make them Being exposed to the more competitive for camera so young jobs because Atlanta is allowed me to gain a film mecca and they necessary skills so that will have real world I was comfortable with experience.



Javicia Leslie, the first African-American woman to play Batwoman on TV, visited a virtual class of actors and filmmakers at UAFA Middle School recently to share her journey to stardom. Leslie, who graduated from Hampton University, told scholars to be successful they must believe in themselves and make sure that they put in the hard work necessary to grow their craft and understand the business. As an actor, she has both stage and screen experience. Leslie moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career after college. She landed her TV debut role in the Lifetime movie "Swim at Your Own Risk" in 2016. Two years later, she co-starred in "God Friended Me" on CBS and BET's "The Family Business." Last year, she was chosen for the title role as Batwoman on CW. Leslie told students that they would face rejection as actors andfilmmakers, but not to let a "no" keep them from progressing.


"Learning to get beyond the word no was one of the biggest obstacles," she told the class. But Leslie made good use of her down time by working out, reading, practicing her craft, and developing a plan to make her own way. "Everyone wants to jump into film and television, but we live in this beautiful world that has this digital space," Leslie said. "When you look at Eisa Ray and Lena Waithe, they started in a digital community. I started on a show called Chef Julian on a YouTube network. That was my first acting gig." Leslie encouraged students to collaborate so that they, too, could make their own opportunities by creating shows inspired by their unique voices. "To truly build your own resume and your reel, you want to create your own content," she said. "In this industry, you cannot wait for someone to give you your opportunities."

UAFA ELEMENTARY CHOSEN AS PILOT FOR LUDACRIS' KIDNATION UAFA Elementary School has been chosen to help pilot a new online platform launched nationally by Grammy Awarding-winning artist Ludacris. "KidNation," a curriculum enrichment tool, teaches academic lessons online in an entertaining way with music and videos. The educational platform is a program of the Ludacris Foundation, which is mission-driven to "inspire youth to live their dreams through programs and partnerships which create experiences that help them envision new possibilities for their lives." UAFA Elementary School Principal Dr. Selina Walton said that her teachers are already incorporating "KidNation" videos and other content into the classroom to keep virtual lessons in health, physical education, science, and math lively. "It is a wonderful program," Walton said. "We feel special to be chosen for the pilot project. It speaks to our uniqueness. We have industry leaders who are asking us to help give feedback to their new and upcoming programs."


PARTNERSHIPS The Alpha Rho Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha at Morehouse College recently volunteered in virtual classrooms at UAFA Middle to assist with lessons and encourage scholars to excel online. The fraternity is committed to service, leadership, and brotherhood. Members visited coding and music, among other UAFA Middle School classes.

PARENTS UAFA Middle School's Class of 2021 will graduate at Charles Drew High School's Southern Crescent Stadium at 6231 Garden Walk Boulevard in Riverdale. The ceremony will be held in May before the last day of school. Each family will receive four tickets. More info to come.

LEADERSHIP The UAFA Charter School Network is planning to open a new performing arts high school in Clayton County in Fall 2022. UAFA High will offer rigorous academic and arts classes, including some courses that lead to professional certificates in coding and the film industry.


Scholars who are serious about the arts find their community at UAFA Middle. Drive-in talent showcases held in the parking lot allowed our young creatives to share their skills with audiences during the pandemic. UAFA Elementary has also sponsored socially-distant activities that helped students and families to bond.


Release your child's inner lion ! 2750 Forest Parkway Ellenwood, GA 30294 (470) 446-1070 To donate to Utopian Academy Charter School Network, send checks payable to UAFA, attention Superintendent Dr. Artesius Miller. Use the address listed above.

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