North Salt Lake • Before Caleb Candland enrolled at Spectrum Academy five years ago, his mother, Michelle, didn’t know what his future would hold.
She wondered whether Caleb, who has autism, would graduate high school, attend college or even live away from home. But now, she said, he’s a junior at Spectrum with a future gleaming with ambitions of studying mechanical engineering in college, exploring the world and living his best life.
“Knowing that he has developed goals and wants to be productive in meeting them is amazing,” Michelle Candland said. The mother credits the North Salt Lake charter school with helping “kids like Caleb set and meet goals that help them live the life they want.”
Formed in 2006 by parents frustrated with a lack of educational options for students with autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder, Spectrum Academy was Utah’s first charter school devoted exclusively to kids with Asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning autism.
Today, Spectrum shows definite signs of thriving.
Next year, the academy will open a new high school building, letting it add 400 students in kindergarten through 12th grade and helping to winnow the school’s more than 800-pupil waiting list.
School officials, students and family members gathered Wednesday for a groundbreaking ceremony for the new building, which will open across the street from its primary and secondary schools in North Salt Lake. The charter school also has a campus in Pleasant Grove, serving a combined student population of about 1,100 students from preschool through about age 22.
An hour later, Spectrum supporters also celebrated the opening of a new campus nearby on Redwood Road.
The new high school will house a CREATE Center, which stands for Career Readiness, Educational Advancement, Training and Employment. The center will provide training and classes to help students prepare for higher education or vocations, with help from several community partners who work with Spectrum students.
Although Spectrum already has a CREATE program, Rachel Colledge, principal of Spectrum’s secondary school, said having a dedicated space in a bigger building will allow the program to grow.
“We kind of started off as the little school engine that could,” Colledge said, “and now we are seeing students succeed in ways we always hoped for them.”
Spectrum students, faculty and supporters also celebrated on Wednesday over the new campus devoted to its Spectrum Transition and Academic Resource School, or STARS for short.
The new building, which opened in August, focuses on students in need of communications and life skills development. Amelia Thelin, whose 11-year-old son, Oliver, is a student at the new STARS campus, said she is impressed with the attention and care teachers have given her son.
“What’s important to me is he gets instruction to have a successful life,” Thelin said, “and I believe this is the best place for that.”
The new STARS building houses about 80 students these days, with class sizes as small as seven and as large as 14 students.
Principal Christina Guevara said the STARS campus will enhance Spectrum’s programs for giving students functional life skills in a space that works to their advantage.