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Utopian Academy For The Arts| Georgia Approved Charter Middle School » Discovery Channel Series Host Visits Utopian Academy

Discovery Channel Series Host Visits Utopian Academy

Adam Savage, co-host of the Emmy-nominated Discovery Channel series “MythBusters,” and his crew recently visited Utopian Academy for the Arts to share television and film industry insight with students.

Savage stopped at Utopian Academy during his 32-city national tour for MythBusters, which uses explosive experiments, stunts, and humor to make scientific discovery a thrill ride for viewers. He was in Atlanta for one night to perform at The Fox Theatre with his co-host Jamie Hyneman.

“One of the things that I wanted to do a couple of times on this tour is to talk to kids about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics),” he said.

Savage said he was excited about the focus on arts, math and technology that he saw at Utopian Academy.

“It’s really inspiring to see what you have built and the ways in which you are seeking to inspire kids and show them what’s possible,” Savage said to Artesius Miller, executive director of Utopian Academy. “That’s really the most important thing- to give kids an understanding of what’s out in front them. You are showing kids how to be themselves. That is what education should be.”

Savage filmed video of his visit to Utopian Academy for his web series. The video, which features Miller, teachers and students has gone viral with more than 1.5 million viewers.

“Utopian is a unique school in part because Artesius [Miller] has found teachers who are cultivating new methods of instruction to reach students,” Savage said to his web viewers on the video.“Artesius [Miller] moved mountains to open this academy and is deeply committed to making creative arts an essential part of the Utopian education.”

A focus on the arts was essential for the curriculum at Utopian, Miller told Savage. Utopian offers music, dance, visual arts, broadcast arts and culinary arts

“At the time that I was working to start Utopian, the arts were being taken out of the local public school system in Clayton County,” Miller told Savage. “Research shows that studying the arts helps to keep students engaged in their lessons in communities with demographics that are similar to our school. I wanted to make sure that we re-instill the arts into our curriculum.”

At Utopian Academy, scholars have the freedom to creatively express themselves as they complete homework and projects in their core subjects. Book reviews are expressed through videos. Essays become scripts. Students learning about a period in history also try the dances of the age.

Teachers are also free to use their artistic talents to help reach students.

Founder of Make Music Count, Marcus Blackwell, who was also featured in the Savage video, was praised for his innovative approach to algebra. He has developed a method that ties math to music in a curriculum that he calls “Making Music Count.” Blackwell said that he began thinking of the concept as a child because he was “intimidated” by math.

“A lot of the time while I was growing up, I was told that I wasn’t supposed to be good at math, but I loved math,” Blackwell said. Still, the formulas of higher-level math sometimes confused him. “It intimidated me. What made sense to me was playing the piano. I had been playing the piano since I was five. I played classical, jazz and gospel music. It has always been an interest of mine to see how math and music connect.”

Blackwell continued to work on is idea while he was studying education at Morehouse College. His keyboard-based math curriculum is now used in several metro area schools. Students solve math equations to learn how to play the melodies behind some of their favorite songs on the radio by artists including Beyonce’, 2 Chainz and Nicki Minaj.

“We look at the piano as a number line and give every music definition a math definition,” he explained.

Savage also took time to talk to students and staff about the production work that makes his online and live show appear seamless. Savage has a vast background in the entertainment industry. He has worked as a theater set designer, prop master, art director and producer. He also is an experienced machine artist and robot builder. Savage has worked as a prop builder and art director for major commercials for Sega, Coca-Cola, Nike, Burger King and Chevrolet. His work on a Coca-Cola commercial earned him a Clio Award nomination.

After an 18-month stint as head of research and development for a start-up toy company, Savage joined George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic, where he worked on “Star Wars: Episodes 1 and 2,” “Galaxy Quest,” “Space Cowboys,” “A.I.,” “Terminator 3,” “The Mummy,” and was model-shop supervisor for the two “Matrix” sequels.

“It was phenomenal to sit and talk to Adam Savage about a show that I love,” said Lauren Lawson, broadcast and video production teacher at Utopian Academy. “MythBusters has been on the air for 15 years. It was a great opportunity for students to see the work that goes into a live taping.”

Miller said giving students the opportunity to meet celebrities in the business and the crews who work on their shows helps kids to see that the lessons taught at school can lead to exciting careers.

“We prepare our students for success in high school, college and careers by providing them with academic rigor and hands-on learning in the arts, “ Miller said. “We also expose students to professionals in the industry so that they can begin to network and see what their future could be like if they stay on the right path.”

Brandon Thomas, an eighth grader at Utopian Academy, said he wants a successful career like Savage. “I want to work in front of and behind the camera. This was a good experience for me.”

To see the video of Savage’s visit to Utopian Academy, use the link below:


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    August 31, 2015August 31, 2015
    RIVERDALE - When 300 students at Utopian Academy for the Arts reported to classes last week, there was no sign on the lawn letting them know that they had reached the right place. The name of the school had been removed by order of the City of Riverdale.This week the sign is still bare.The City of Riverdale has prohibited Utopian from using its school sign to welcome visitors or identify the building until administrators secure a business license. School officials, however, maintain that Utopian is a public school so a business license is not necessary. The debate has caused the school to accrue fines in the hundreds of dollars for violating city code. Administrators say the fees and threats are just another attempt to “bully” Utopian into pulling out of Riverdale.“They don’t want people to know that a school exists at 6630 Camp Street,” said Artesius Miller, executive director of Utopian. “They have stripped us naked and said basically ‘You all will not have anything so that people will know that you are even here’.”Similar tactics last year resulted in delaying the opening of school for more than a week. A Clayton County fire marshal denied administrators, teachers, and students the right to access the building saying that Utopian needed a last minute inspection among other things to occupy the premises. Utopian lost 80 students after its delayed opening.Utopian’s rocky start inspired legislation to protect state-approved public charter schools from similar stall tactics. The "Utopian Academy for the Arts Act," which went into effect in July, prohibits local governments from requiring public charter schools approved and inspected by officials with the state Department of Education to be forced to obtain any other licenses from local government entities to operate their school.The law does not protect a charter school’s signage, however.In the weeks before classes began this school year, a City of Riverdale code enforcement officer left a violation notice on Utopian’s door warning administrators to take action immediately: “Remove banner until permit is issued and apply for a business license.” Miller said that a member of the Clayton County School board advised him that other county schools in Riverdale are not required to have a sign permit or a business license. “Every time that we have attempted to have some type of signage, we were told that we needed a permit or we were being fined because we are not affiliated with the Board of Education in Clayton County,” he said. [columns] [column half][pullquote left]

    Where Is Utopian Academy for the Arts? City Prohibits School From Using Sign[/pullquote][/column] [column half]

    “It got really nasty,” Miller said of a recent surprise visit from code enforcement before school began."

    Miller said that he has received calls and notes from the city warning that Utopian has accrued fees in the hundreds of dollars for violating city business license and sign codes. “It got really nasty,” Miller said of a recent surprise visit from code enforcement before school began. “The guy came and tossed the [fee list] in the face” of a school supporter.Miller took video footage of the visit that shows a code enforcement officer telling him and a school supporter that an inspection of the school’s signage was necessary because “the Georgia Department of Education does not look for stuff like this on buildings.”For the second year in a row, Miller turned to the State Charter Schools Commission for reinforcement. Miller got a letter explaining to the city that schools authorized by the commission are indeed public schools, not businesses.“Utopian Academy for the Arts is a public charter school authorized by the SCSC- a state level authorizing entity under the authority of the state Board of Education,” wrote Gregg Stevens, general counsel for the commission.“Accordingly, Utopian Academy for the Arts should at all times be treated like a public school with the privileges, rights, and obligations afforded thereto …” Utopian opened in August 2014. It was denied the right to exist by the Clayton County School board in 2011, 2012, and 2013 when the district rejected its charter application. The local denial was over-ruled by the state in October 2013. The state Charter Schools Commission granted Utopian Academy the authority to serve kids for five years as a state charter school. It was the first charter school to win approval from the new commission.[/column] [/columns] State Rep. Valencia Stovall, who supported the opening of Utopian in Clayton and co-sponsored the new law protecting charter schools from harassment, said it was “disheartening” to learn that Utopian is still having trouble with local government.“They should be treated as any other public school opening in the city,” Stovall said. “Instead, they have been hit from both sides from the City of Riverdale and the Clayton County School Board.” Stovall said that in addition to racking up fines from the city, Clayton Schools is exercising its right to charge Utopian much higher rent than the building’s earlier tenant. Utopian pays $3,000 a month to use the building compared to the Riverdale Development Authority, which had a lease allowing it to pay $1 annually for 20 years.School leaders say they refused to be forced out of Riverdale by local leaders who see them as competition. “Being in this fight for so long has been a tedious journey for me not only as a board member, but also a parent,” said Sharon Daniel, who chairs Utopian’s governing board. “We will not give up. We will educate the City of Riverdale.Utopian is a public school. We have a right to be here.” CLICK HERE FOR THIS RELEASE IN A DOWNLOADABLE FORMAT