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When cable television pioneer Bill Daniels passed away in 2000, he left behind a legacy.
Through the Daniels Fund, he made it a goal to provide an education to nontraditional students of all kinds, from adults returning to college to disadvantaged youth.
This year, he's made one 10-year-old very happy.
The Salt Lake Arts Academy, one of the oldest charter schools in Salt Lake City, is celebrating its 10th year in operation. As a birthday present, the school received a $102,000 grant from the Daniels Fund to furnish new classrooms, buy state-of-the-art technology and continue to create an enriching alternative experience for students in Salt Lake Valley.
The grant was the largest single donation the school has ever received and represented the full amount the board requested, a testament to what SLArts has accomplished.
"We felt very honored that we received 100 percent of what we asked for," said Amy Wadsworth, the principal of SLArts. "It was a real statement of support in our minds."
Wadsworth was there from the beginning. She started in 2003 when the school leased its first schoolrooms from St. Paul's Episcopal Church downtown. She was there for the relocation to the old Salt Lake library and, later, rooms in a general, uninspiring office building.
Now, with a true brick-and-mortar location supported by a $4.6 million bond, Wadsworth said an important step toward fulfilling the school's goals is in place. Significant to her is SLArts' permanence downtown, creating the opportunity to immerse the students in the life of a thriving city.
"We are going to be wonderful contributors to our downtown community," she said. "We are grooming these young people to know their downtown, to love the arts, and to be supportive of creative and divergent thinking."
The bond helped purchase and renovate the new location of SLArts, but the school must raise the remaining funding for furnishings and equipment from private donations. The Daniels Fund chose SLArts specifically because of its proven success.
When ranked against 169 middle schools in Utah, SLArts was ninth in science, 35th in math and in the top 20 for language arts. An important goal to Bill Daniels was fostering competition in all things, specifically education.
"Parents deserve the right to choose the best education for their children," said Peter Droege, spokesman for the Daniels Fund. "If parents feel that public school isn't doing the job or it's not safe, they deserve the right to choose a different system for their kids."
The grant came at an important time for SLArts, as the charter school is set to expand from 300 students to 380. Despite the more than 25 percent increase in seats, demand remains high. The school conducts a lottery every year and often keeps a waitlist numbering in the hundreds.
"The Salt Lake Arts Academy showed us that parents want a better option," Droege said. "A lot of times we will only give a percentage of a request. This time, the board felt strongly that the school's accomplishments merited the full amount."
At a glance
The Daniels Fund has assets valued at $1.1 billion and has awarded more than $336 million in grants and scholarships since its inception.
The Salt Lake Arts Academy is the only charter school in the state that offers arts-integrated education primarily for middle-school-aged children.
Bill Daniels was an owner of the Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Utah Starzz.