What began 20 years ago as a small group of educators recognizing a need for a pathway for university-bound students within the home-school community has grown to one of the largest high school charter schools in El Dorado County.
Charter University Prep began as Placerville Academic School in 1999, offering 16 college-prep classes to high school students and expanded to offer classes to junior high school students the following year. In 2003 Placerville Academic School joined the El Dorado County Office of Education, moved into a new campus and became known as Charter Smith Flat. In 2010 Michael Harris, who has been principal since the school’s formation, moved the school to the Charles Brown campus and the program has been known as CUP since.
At the Charles Brown campus a second high school program, Charter Connections Academy, was added. Together, the schools offer more than 100 courses to 300-plus students in a two-class-a-week college model. CUP caters to students interested in pursuing a four-year college degree after high school, while CCA caters to students interested in post-high school career technical training to lead to a career. Both programs are tailored to individual students, versus a one-size-fits-all model.
“Our goal has always been to prepare each student for the next step in life, not just a diploma,” Harris said. “CUP achieves that for more academically inclined students. Our students have attended some of the top universities in the world.”
When a visitor enters the office they see college banners from myriad of schools that represent a small portion of those attended.
“Every student has a different path and we help them find the right path for who they want to be,” said Harris. “At CCA students receive hands-on experience participating in career exploration classes, ROP and Folsom Lake College Career Technical Classes so that when they graduate they have a much more adult understanding and preparation for their next step in life.”
CCA and CUP emphasize what is referred to by the staff as “Adulting 101” classes. Students take courses that focus on financial planning and what is involved when living outside the parent’s home. Students learn the concepts of social-emotional learning and what “growing up” entails. Even students taking calculus find the personal finance class one of the most worthwhile courses in their schedule.
CUP students can also follow a multicultural education track. In 2015 the high schools began offering classes focused in Japanese studies, including courses in language, art history and Japanese Taiko drumming – which fulfills fine art requirements. CUP is one of the only high schools on the West Coast to offer this course as an elective. Every other year juniors and seniors have the opportunity to visit Japan and interact with Ueda Nishi, the school’s sister school in Nagano.
After decades of dedicated service, Harris will retire at the end of this school year.
“The rewarding part of this job has been to see the growth in our students, to be able to provide a place where students want to come to school and parents trust us to be partners with them,” Harris said.
“It has been awesome to work alongside some of the best educators who truly care about their students and who know what they are doing,” he continued. “Teaching in this program requires the teacher to not only know their material backward and forward but to connect and care about their students. In the 20 years, we have existed, we have never advertised. We operate solely on word-of-mouth and always fill up because the students want to be here. I cannot be more proud of the incredible students and staff I have worked with.”
For additional information about CUP, which is currently enrolling seventh-grade students, visit cuprep.edcoe.org or call (530) 622-8594.