South Mountain High School will start the school year with a new concept in learning, with specialized programs to prepare students for career fields like aerospace science, nursing, and legal services.
Administrators are trying to attract new students, after losing hundreds to nearby charter schools. There are more than 20 charter schools in the South Mountain area.
This summer SMHS started a massive, $30-million renovation project as they transform the one large school into four academies. South Mountain High School is located at 7th Street near Southern Avenue.
"Now seeing the boxes and all the construction everywhere, it makes it real," English teacher Fernando Sanchez said.
The school buildings are being renovated to house the four specialized programs for science and technology, public and social service, aerospace and engineering, and media, arts and design.
Students will take their core academic classes with the other kids in their academy.
The programs break the big high school into smaller communities where students share similar interests. At the same time, South Mountain has athletics and extracurricular activities available to all students.
"Big school advantage, small school experience," South Mountain Principal Brian Guliford said.
Guliford said he's modeling the academy concept from a school in Nashville, Tennessee, and he's not aware of any other Arizona school with a similar program.
Teacher Bryan Willingham said the goal is for the students to "create a connection to the school" and have a "positive reason for [the students] to get up and go to school every day."
Incoming sophomore Evonte Sudduth chooses to attend South Mountain High School even though it's a 90-minute bus ride from his house.
"My dream is to be a pilot, so having an aviation program is like essential to what I'm trying to do," Suddeth said.
Classes start August 6, and administrators say there's still time to enroll students.