After seven months of remodeling a long vacant Kmart, REAL Journey Academies opened its new 118,000-square-foot campus, 26655 Highland Ave., welcoming New Vision Middle School students to the first day of school on Wednesday, Aug. 1, and students of the all new Entrepreneur High School on Monday, Aug. 6.

According to REAL Journey Academies Chief of Business Operations Lonnie Yancsurak, the public charter schools sharing the campus were nearing their targeted enrollment as workers finished final preparations leading into the first day of school.

Campus tours helped increase interest and enrollment for the schools in the week before opening day with new students signed up during the tours and more on opening day, Yancsurak said. More than 400 people toured the campus that final week as the furniture was being placed and finishing touches completed.

A rebirth

The 120,000-square-foot building was originally built in the 1990s to be a Kmart. After Kmart vacated the building in 2002 it became the location of homeless encampments and a regular target for vandals.

It was a nuisance property, with tattered tents lining the rear wall and graffiti coating the walls inside and out, that many in the city were happy to see occupied by a new school.

REAL Journey Academies purchased the property for its growing middle school and for the creation of a new entrepreneur focused charter high school.

REAL Journey hired Tovey-Schultz Construction and broke ground on the project Dec. 5, 2017. The purchase and renovation of the property cost approximately $21 million.

According to Project Manager Anna Olvera, it took extensive interior remodeling, electrical and plumbing work to refurbish the “empty shell” into a joint campus ready to serve 1,200 middle and high school students.

“It’s a great site because it’s a large blank canvas,” said Chief of Business Operations Lonnie Yancsurak, when construction started.

“We love that our taking a building that’s been empty for 15 years and creating a vibrant new school parallels what we want to create for our students.”

At more than 300 students enrolled on first day of the 2018-19 school year, New Vision out grew the 2050 E. Pacific Ave. campus it occupied since 2009.

The high school is starting as freshman only and plans to add one grade each year until it is a full 4-year high school.

The goal is to enroll about 200 students in each grade totaling about 1,200 students when combined with the middle school.

“There’s a lot of interior space,” Yancsurak said while walking through the new campus days before the start of the school year. “We’re not going to outgrow it anytime soon.”

“We’re ready for the new year and to get some kids’ energy in here,” he added. “It’s just a building until we fill it with kids.”

The campus

On Wednesday over 300 New Vision middle schoolers were the first to have class in the new facilities.

The campus has 37 classrooms, administrative offices, an industrial-style kitchen, a black box theater and gym with indoor basketball court. The larger high school campus, the only one within Highland city limits, takes up the north side of the building while the middle school is on the south.

The high school employs 18 to 20 teachers plus supporting staff.

The two schools are distinguished within the campus by their differing school colors — green and white for New Vision and orange and gray for Entrepreneur High School.

A school mascot is still to be chosen for the high school.

The high school was designed to prepare students for college life with a large atrium with skylight and live trees central to the campus.

At the far end of the atrium sits one of the campus’ most unique features, a large ramp bleacher giving students a student union-like place to gather, study and relax between classes.

It is wheelchair accessible and furnished with couches and TVs.

The large kitchen and adjoining cafeteria is in the center of the campus in order to service both schools, at different lunch hours.

Yancsurak says the high school plans to add a culinary arts program, which will also use the kitchen.

As of Monday, the gym remained one of last incomplete portions of the campus as the school is waiting for an imported floor to be installed by September.

Safety and security was integral to the floor plan’s design, said Yancsurak, with administrative areas placed around the perimeter of student areas.

The school also employs two security officers.

The campus also uses the latest technology with no projectors, all screens.

Unique offerings

This new type of campus brought to Highland a new type of high school aimed at offering families more quality choices in education and preparing students for unique post graduation options.

According to Executive Director Ray Culberson, hired Aug. 6, students will graduate prepared to launch their own business, in an internship or ready to continue their education in college or vocational schools.

“This is what’s needed the way the economy is going,” said Yancsurak. “Back when I was in school we had vocational schools, but that went away. It became an all-college push, which is great, but why not have options for creating businesses or learning skills for other high-paying jobs?”

Culberson, who is himself an entrepreneur and rental property owner, believes a new generation with strong entrepreneur skills is needed in the Highland and San Bernardino area as students with those skills will boost the economy and community as quality employees prepared for the business world or as creators of new businesses.

In this spirit of taking ownership of ones future the high school’s motto is “Be a boss.”

Culberson came to Entrepreneur High School after 15 years at San Bernardino City Unified School District where, as director of student services, he helped the district raise its graduation rate from 50.2 percent to 89.3 percent.

In addition to the A-G instruction required for graduation, students will take business oriented electives, intern with local businesses, and have the opportunity to play sports and join several on-campus clubs.

Candice McCollum dropped her daughter Ramani off for her first day in eighth grade happy with the new campus and its unique offerings.

“I like the school’s entrepreneurial emphasis and that they’re cultivating future CEOs,” Candice McCollum said. “There’s nothing else like it in the Inland Empire, and I’m encouraging everyone to take a tour.”

The school plans to have a robotics program as well as a video gaming team.

“It’s a bit of a surprise, but research shows gaming helps students socially and academically,” Yanscurak said.

Also supported by research is the high school’s 9 a.m. start time. Later starting times have been shown to benefit secondary school students’ learning.

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