ENOCH — The 2023-24 school year has been good for Gateway Preparatory Academy, the K-8 public charter school in Enoch. In December, the school was awarded a $1.5 million School Safety and Support Grant from the Utah State Board of Education.

In this file photo, students attend Gateway Preparatory Academy’s “International Day” celebration, Enoch, Utah, Oct. 29, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

In January, the Utah State Charter School Board approved Gateway’s large expansion application for a phased enrollment increase of 2,000 students.

The School Safety and Support Grant is part of the $72 million allocated to the USBE under H.B. 61, “School Safety Requirements,” which was passed during the 2023 Utah Legislature with the intent of enhancing basic physical safety and security in Utah schools.

“We are excited to have received the funding for this grant,” Gateway Director Dave Armour said. “When we saw the opportunity to receive funding to improve the safety of our school, we had to try and take advantage of it. We live in a time when school safety is being discussed on what feels like a daily basis. We feel like this funding will go a long way to improving our school safety. One of our primary goals as a school administration is for our students and families to feel as safe as they can be when they step through our doors.”

Given the broad scope of the “basic physical safety and security,” Armour said the grant will be used for a wide variety of applications at Gateway.

“We have already been able to use the funds to upgrade our camera system and door security,” he said. “In addition, we have purchased new first aid kits for every classroom, new AEDs (automatic external defibrillator) and new signage for the building, including for the carpool lane. These upgrades have made the campus safer, and we are looking forward to using the rest of the funding on future projects.”

People approach Gateway Preparatory Academy in this file photo, Enoch, Utah, Oct. 29, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

School officials believe the additions to the campus will continue to pave the way for the growth Gateway has been experiencing over the past few years. Iron County in general has large population growth, a fact that served as the impetus for Gateway to apply with the State Charter School Board for the enrollment expansion in order to meet the increasing demand for quality education.

As part of the school’s application to the USCSB, Gateway acknowledged that “educational preferences have evolved, with a growing emphasis on vocational and technical education, online learning, and alternative schooling models.” Currently, Gateway already has a thriving hybrid and distance education model that allows students to receive a variety of curricula that address their individual needs in an environment that benefits their learning and prepares them for the next steps in their education.

“Our hybrid/distance education students represent 24% of our school’s population,” Armour said. “In our research, we have found parents of hybrid students are looking for a way to choose the curriculum while still having some of the same amenities and access to support our on-site students have.”

Amy Gibson, Gateway’s Assistant Director of Growth and Development, said that Gateway can offer programming to the student population “that they can’t get anywhere else in the county.”

In this file photo, people attend Gateway Preparatory Academy’s “International Day” celebration, Enoch, Utah, Oct. 29, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“Elementary online students from the local district do not have an opportunity to participate in on-campus activities,” she said. “We offer all of our students the chance to take music, art, and drama classes — and even go on field trips — in conjunction with our on-site population. We also provide special education and intervention services on-site or remotely according to parent preference.”

Gibson said parents appreciate that students can participate in the school lunch program, and they are given a “teacher of record” to act as the liaison between their home schooling and online options while also having the benefits of being a part of a school community.

With the state’s acceptance of the expansion application, Gateway is seeking to expand these types of opportunities for Iron County families. Gibson said the school will be taking a planned phased approach, starting with 500 students for the first year and continuing to grow each year.

However, beyond the expansion of the hybrid and distance education programming, school officials also still have their sights set on the growth of the physical campus. In November 2021, the school announced the acquisition of 10 acres of land adjoining the current campus. Since that time, various improvements have been made to the property — including a new playground area — and groundwork has been completed for an outdoor classroom/amphitheater.

In this file photo, children enter Gateway Academy in Enoch, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Gateway Academy, Cedar City News

Armour said plans are also still in the works for a new middle school building, as well as the Andy Burt Memorial Field House, named after Gateway’s former director, who died in October 2021.

“Gateway has gone through some difficult times the past few years, not the least of which being the passing of a great friend to Southern Utah,” Armour said.“But we believe we’ve seen greater staff unity through this adversity, and since the start of this school year, it feels like Gateway is back on track and starting an exciting new chapter. With our expansion plans, we are hoping to cement the legacy of our former director while also building upon it. And with our new strategic plan, growth in our testing scores, the safety grant, and the higher enrollment cap, the future is looking bright.”

Gateway Preparatory Academy is now enrolling students for the 2024-25 school year. For more information, visit the school website.