Jacob Simmons is charting a bright future through an exploration of the past. Since middle school, the Brighton High senior has been bringing pivotal moments in history to life through movie making, producing documentaries that have earned him national prizes and praise.
A repeat winner of state History Day contests, Simmons has, more than once, represented Utah at National State History Day competitions. In 2018, the Cottonwood Heights resident was among 15 American students chosen to participate in the prestigious Normandy Institute, a year-long course of study that pairs budding historians with college professors. Now, the 18-year-old can claim “Coca-Cola Scholar” among his accolades.
Simmons joins 150 high school seniors nationally to be named to the 32nd class of Coca-Cola Scholars, one of the country’s most prestigious academic awards. Fewer than 1/6th of 1 percent of all applicants are picked for the honor, which comes with a $20,000 college scholarship. The winners are chosen for their scholarly achievements and “leading positive change in their communities and around the world.” Simmons says he is humbled to be recognized alongside a group of people with such diverse accomplishments. To borrow a Coke tagline, his curiosity, or intellectual thirst, "knows no season." Indeed, by offering a fresh take on the classics, it could be said, he is making history.
Simmons’ documentaries seek to illuminate the present through the lens of the past, often focusing on historical moments and figures that connect with his own heritage. One of his films explores the Jewish community of St. Eustatius, an important trading port during the American Revolution. Another journeys to the postwar Middle East and Israel’s polarizing leader Yitzhak Rabin.
Simmons’ profile of Justice Louis D. Brandeis garnered the attention of the Brandeis School of Law in Kentucky. Most recently, he surveyed the promise and perils of science through the life of Fritz Haber, the Nobel Prize-winning, German chemist who developed chemical fertilizers that helped feed the world while also pioneering wartime weapons, such as poison gas.
With at least two scholarship offers on the table, Simmons hasn't decided where he'll be enrolling in college. While history was "a passion proeject" to help him exercise his curiosity, he'll most likely major in politics and engineering with an emphasis on energy and Middle Eastern affairs. He would also like to continue playing competitive tennis.
As a documentarian, he is “keeping it real,” and we’re thinking “life tastes [pretty] good” for him about now.
For Hillcrest High senior Laura Wan, the question of which school she would choose to attend began as early as kindergarten, when her parents steered her to an advanced learner’s program at Canyons District’s Peruvian Park Elementary.
After completing the SALTA program in elementary school, she chose Midvale Middle for its Middle Years Program, and then Hillcrest for its International Baccalaureate (IB) program.
Although her path was unique, Wan is not alone in her quest for a uniquely tailored educational experience. She is one of the more than 20 percent — or one in five — of CSD’s 34,000 students who are enrolled in the school of their choosing, or a school other than the one assigned to them by geographic boundaries. Of those students, nearly 1,200 come from outside the District, each brought by different reasons and to take advantage of different opportunities.
In honor of National School Choice Week, Jan. 26-Feb. 1, we asked Canyons District students and parents what school choice means to them. For some, it means having access to the breadth of electives and extra-curricular activities that only large, traditional schools can provide. For others, it means having the freedom to commit to a particular focus.
“I think the IB program has been beneficial for me, and the community that we created here, because we are a bunch of similarly motivated students working toward the same goal,” said Wan, who has already received a presidential scholarship offer from the University of Utah.
Public schools fill the unique role of serving all children while also extending learning opportunities to students that are best suited to their individual interests and needs. Signature programs, such as the Step2theU partnership through which students can earn two semesters of college while enrolled at Alta High, or dual language immersion programs offered in Chinese, French and Spanish, are a big draw for many families.
“We wanted our kids to have every advantage in today’s global economy,” said Brandy Duckworth who chose to have her now-third-grade child transfer to study Mandarin at Draper Elementary. “I think it’s a fantastic program. This is a great way to learn another language and culture.”
The dual immersion program, where students spend a good portion of their instructional days learning a world language, is driving innovation not only at the K-12 level, but in higher education. Colleges are having to redesign introductory language courses to accommodate the more sophisticated speaking and writing skills of immersion graduates.
Another example of innovation is CSD’s Supplemental Hours of Kindergarten Instruction program, which is now accepting applications for spots at 20 elementary schools. Kindergarteners who opt in to the four-year-old, tuition-based program can receive nearly four additional hours of instruction every school day.
Convenience can factor into schooling decisions. Jordan High draws more students from outside the District than any other high school in Canyons due to its reputation and proximity to a public TRAX line. At Canyons Virtual High School, which serves thousands of students throughout the state, choice means having access to remote, online learning opportunities. With its small class sizes, Diamond Ridge High is the school of choice for students looking for an alternative high school experience.
Every school has its special strengths and traditions. From the nationally recognized Model UN team at Brighton High to the robotics club at Alta High School, there’s something to capture the purpose and passion of every student.
Frankie Otis was drawn to attend Hillcrest High after he saw a performance by the school’s acclaimed theater department. As an incoming freshman to the school, he quickly found friends in his acting classes. He has participated in 10 different productions, coached his peers, acted as a lead in ensemble pieces, joined the theater presidency, and taken multiple classes that have helped him set a goal of someday becoming a professional stage actor.
“Theater allows me to explore my creativity and surrounds me with the most expressive people I’ve ever met,” Otis said. “I found friendship and acceptance and confidence through theater. (Coming to Hillcrest) was one of the biggest choices I’ve ever made in my life, to this point, but it’s one of the best choices I’ve ever made.”
Talk about having the world at your feet. The Brighton Bengals’ Model United Nations Team, long-ranked as one of the best in the country, took first place as a distinguished delegation in Research and Preparation at the 2019 National High School Model United Nations conference in New York City.
Brighton High was the only Utah school to compete in the mock proceedings of the United Nations (UN). Student delegates were assigned a country to represent in one of the UN’s numerous committees with pre-set topics to debate. They researched the background of their country, their country's position on the topics at hand, and prepared notes on possible solutions to the problems faced. Students then convened in the General Assembly to debate with the other UN member states, represented by 3,500 students from 30 countries.
Much like the real UN, the goal is to identify creative solutions to vexing foreign relations problems. In so doing, the students flex their academic skills, and practice patience and persistence. They learn to speak well, but also to listen.
As former United-Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon once explained to conference participants, the experience trains students to be open-minded and flexible. “To analyze all the positions, even those you oppose. To propose constructive solutions that will benefit all parties. Developing these diplomatic skills will help you as you prepare for leadership in the future. Such skills have never been more important.”
Next up for the Bengals: The Model UN Team will be competing at the state conference on April 16 where the team has a good chance of earning another first-place trophy, says their advisor Jim Hodges.
The famed Battle of the Ax, one of Utah’s longest-standing high school sports rivalries, is celebrating its 50th anniversary to coincide with the 50th year of Brighton High.
It was the 1969 opening of Brighton, in fact, that led to the creation of the Bengals’ annual wrestling competition against Hillcrest High. Brighton was built to accommodate growth in the southeastern portion of Salt Lake County, and stood to inherit some of Hillcrest's students. Bengal wrestling coach Don Neff and Hillcrest coach Tex Casto came up with the traveling trophy as a way to build school pride while preserving a united spirit of community through sportsmanship.
This year’s event takes place on Wednesday, Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. at Brighton. It will be the last time that the competition will be held at the current Brighton campus—or the current Hillcrest campus, for that matter—because both schools are being completely rebuilt. Coaches Casto and Neff are expected to be honored at the event alongside former student wrestlers.
"In 50 years, a lot has changed. Computers fit in a pocket and phones no longer need a cord. Entertainment is on demand, and cars drive themselves," notes this Deseret News story about the competition's golden jubilee. "The one thing that has not changed is how two communities feel about a rivalry started 50 years ago by a couple of guys hoping to promote the sport of wrestling."
Denmark isn’t a socialist utopia where everything is free, as Bernie Sanders is wont to describe it. Nor is it an example of the pitfalls of socialism as portrayed in a recent White House report that compared Denmark’s standard of living to that of Venezuela.
In fact, the Nordic country isn’t socialist at all, Denmark’s Ambassador to the United States Lars Gert Lose explained to a group of Brighton High students on Friday. “We are a social-democratic country.”
It’s a nuance that may be tough to describe on a bumper sticker, or in 140 characters or less, but it wasn’t lost on the Model UN and Advanced Placement students who gathered in Brighton’s auditorium to hear Lose speak. The Ambassador’s appearance was arranged by social studies teacher Jim Hodges through Brigham Young University’s Kennedy Center. The Kennedy Center sponsors several ambassadorial visits each year, and arranges to have the dignitaries meet with as many student groups as possible.
At Brighton, Lose spoke of life as a diplomat and of Denmark’s long and valued ties to the United States. The two countries may not agree on everything, he said, but “there’s much more that binds us together than separates us.”
Denmark’s diplomatic relationship with America dates back to 1801 due, in part, to historically large Danish migration to this country. Economically, the two countries are important to one another. “The U.S. is the third largest market for Danish companies, bigger than France or the UK,” Lose said. And the two regions share common foreign security philosophies with their investments in military defense.
Culturally and politically the two countries may sometimes seem worlds apart, but the distinctions aren’t as black-and-white as is commonly thought. Among the surprising facts that Lose shared:
Denmark has a democratic political system and free and open-market economy, but also could be described as a welfare state due to its government-funded health care, higher education, and robust social supports.
The country is part of the European Union but has its own currency
The vast majority of Danes are affiliated with trade unions because the government doesn’t regulate employment standards, such as setting a minimum wage. Liberal employment regulations also make it easier to hire and fire workers who can always fall back on the country’s safety net, creating more job mobility. But unemployment is low, and currently at about 3.6 percent, and productivity high.
Lose described his homeland as a “very pragmatic and compromising country” with nine political parties in Parliament that have had to learn to work together in order to get work done.
Of course, the Danes devote nearly half their wages to income tax. Social supports “come at a price,” Lose said, “but it’s true that we have a great quality of life.”
Denmark’s foreign policy priorities include the fight against terror and climate change. The country began innovating in the area of renewable energy in the 1970s in response to an oil crisis. Renewable energy sources now meet half of the country’s energy needs, Lose said.
The country also would like to see free-trade alliances and agreements preserved. There’s nothing wrong with Trump Administration’s America-first stance, Lose said. “We have a Denmark-first policy as well.” Lose also agreed that the World Trade Organization has allowed China to compete unfairly.
But Lose questioned the logic of “blowing up” fair-trade rules and structures in an effort to improve them. “That won’t play well in the long-term. Look at Utah. I think 25 percent of all jobs here are dependent on global trade,” he said. “The point is how you pursue America’s interests. Playing a zero-sum game and having to win every single time, makes it difficult to find compromise.”