Getting accepted and into college is a team effort. Most high school students have advisers available, computers and printers always on hand and college representatives and teachers there to offer advice. However, not all of these resources are available in parts of Salt Lake City. The Our Communities Aspiring, Succeeding, Achieving (Our CASA) initiative, a joint effort by the University of Utah, University Neighborhood Partners (UNP), Google Fiber and Salt Lake City School District, aims to end this discrepancy. They not only want to make a college education possible, but also hope to motivate students to achieve this goal.

Our CASA seeks to bridge the resource and sometimes academic gap in a unique way. The initiative has established school and community sites in different locations in the west side of Salt Lake City. Each center features attributes that are tailored to fit its specific community’s needs, but all work with the same goal in mind.

West High School, the oldest high school in Utah, has worked with the CASA program for close to a year and has seen a lot of success.

“There’s a lot of demand for the facility and programs,” said Paul Sagers, principal of West High School. “Our students are doing research there, working on college applications, holding student group meetings. The PTA uses the space for trainings, the school community council uses it. We have made sure that all students feel like they can use the CASA space.”

Sagers went on to highlight the importance of the program’s name. Developed by students at West High, the phrase “Our CASA” is not only an acronym, but also translates from Spanish to mean “Our House.

“It’s thoughtful and inclusive,” Sagers said. “There’s a pride connotation, but it also says that we’re family, we live under the same roof.”

The newest CASA installment opened Feb. 27 at the U’s Glendale Mountain View Community Learning Center. Partially funded by Google Fiber, the facility has computers and other appliances to help improve digital and technological literacy. Counseling support and college representatives are also available at the center. Our CASA will open three additional spaces this year including locations at Northwest Middle School and Backman Elementary.

The U has been involved in the Our CASA program since its inception. The first location was established at the Salt Lake Center for Science Education when a graduate student from the U collaborated with the community to create a “College Lounge,” which developed into today’s Our CASA initiative. Now, Our CASA has spread across the west side of Salt Lake City. Based on the success the program has had, it will only continue to expand and improve, opening new facilities for different communities.

j.mumford@dailyutahchronicle.com

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