Brave New World
If knowledge is power, what does it take to prepare our children’s minds in the new millennium? Meet the teachers of four South Bay institutions of learning. For them, education is more than grades and textbooks … it’s about elevating local students int
Photographed by Haley Harrington
Education and teachers. There is not a metric in mathematics to determine the profound impact they have on our lives. But they are without a doubt among the most relevant common denominators in the “when I grow up I am going to be … ” life equation.
On a curious quest to find exceptional teachers who impact the lives of South Bay students, we ventured to four out-of-the-mainstream campuses—from the Beach Cities to the Peninsula. In these halls of learning, kids and teens with unique interests, special talents and a thirst for knowledge find mentors who not only foster their gifts but change the overall dymnamic of their young lives.
On our journey, we encountered students and teachers at a pajama day at the Montessori School, a Chinese language cooking class at Savoir Faire Language Insitute, the Experium Science Lab and Fusion Academy’s music studio. Here are their stories.
Upon being greeted at Fusion Academy by a “director of first impressions” and glancing at a school brochure boldly emblazoned with “We didn’t just break the mold in education, we shattered it, crushed it, and revolutionized it,” it was evident that extraordinary things occur behind these walls.
What began in San Diego in 1989 as a tutoring center has grown to 15 private school campuses in California and New York, offering one-to-one (one teacher, one student, one classroom) personalized learning for grades six through 12. Whether enrolled in a full-time or part-time tutoring program, Fusion’s teaching approach celebrates the uniqueness of each student.
Natalia Flemming, a 12th-grade student at the Hermosa Beach campus of Fusion Academy and Learning Center, is taking creative writing, government and SAT English classes, with one-on-one instruction by Irina Davidovich. According to Clarissa Vasquez, director of communications and outreach, the two have been a perfect pairing.
“Irina has been a great role model for Natalia. She is a teacher who is very respectful, good-natured and epitomizes balance. Natalia was experiencing a lot of social distractions at school before she was enrolled at Fusion. Now she is thriving with a sense of independence.”
While sharing about her own personal learning experiences, Natalia is quick to express her appreciation for Fusion’s hands-on approach to education and her fondness for creative writing. “I like that you can express yourself in different ways and create your own stories,” she says. “Someday I want to write a book about people judging each other. I think it is important that people acknowledge that.”
WONDER AND DISCOVERY
The brand new Experium Science Lab’s fluorescent brightness and typical laboratory simplicity create an immediate sense of alertness and curiosity. The school boasts college-level equipment and offers advanced classes such as physiology, microbiology, genetics and forensics, while creating excitement about science. The development of critical thinking, encouraging experimentation and awakening a child’s innate sense of discovery are mainstays of Experium’s curriculum.
“Finding Experium saved my house!” says Florence DiStasio, mother to young Isabella. “She was taking it apart, mixing potions and collecting bugs. I even found fly eggs she was hatching.” What would be cause for major angst for most mothers was music to the ears of marine biologist and Discovery Lab director Becky Flegel, who with a proud smile shares that Isabella reminds her of herself as a child.
The ever-curious 7-year-old now dons her very own lab coat at Experium and enthusiastically does experiments alongside real scientists and laboratory equipment. She insists on arriving early and, when not enthralled with her science projects, she shadows the instructors, absorbing every bit of knowledge that she possibly can.
“Our job here in the Discovery Lab is to get kids to open their eyes to the world and take things they learn here home,” shares Becky. “She learns by what she sees. If she just memorizes facts, how can she apply them to the real world?”
According to Experium’s Kristine Kobe. “There is nothing more rewarding for us than when kids say that they didn’t used to like science until they started coming here.”
Building on a child’s strengths is at the core of the Montessori style of education. Dr. Maria Montessori, who founded her unique, hands-on approach to education said, “Free the child’s potential, and you will transform him into the world.” Her unprecedented teaching method has been embraced globally and is influencing children locally. The Palos Verdes, Redondo Beach and Manhattan campuses utilize the same teaching methodology that Dr. Montessori started in 1907.
Sarah Ng recently graduated from fifth grade at the Peninsula Montessori School, which she attended since she was 2½ years old. According to her teachers, gentle-spirited Sarah is mature beyond her years and has an insatiable desire to learn. “She was such a joy to have in class,” says teacher Sue Ann Fountain. “She is so capable and advanced that it was almost like having an assistant teacher in class with me.”
Now in her first year of middle school, Sarah has moved on to a more traditional school environment. Yet she is grounded in the Montessori educational foundation that celebrated her individuality and gave wings to her love for learning.
TALK THIS WAY
French-born Joelle Petit Adkins started Savoir Faire Language Institute in Riviera Village because it reminds her of villages in France where everyone knows each other. The school offers English, French, Mandarin, Japanese, German and Italian classes for children and adults in a relaxed, immersion-teaching approach.
“We believe that successful communication is not found only in textbooks and grammar exercises,” says Joelle. “Successful communication is to be able to comprehend, speak and understand the culture.”
When 5-year-old Enguerin’s father was transferred for business from France to the South Bay early this year, the young boy only spoke French. His mother was determined he never lose his native language, and wanted him to learn English in a fun, non-traditional environment.
“Enguerin was very timid when he started,” says Joelle. “He was struggling with English, and he was soon faced with another language: Chinese. His mother and I thought that we should adjust his schedule to just one new language. But when he heard he was not going to learn Chinese any more, he began to cry.” Given the option to choose between French or Chinese cooking summer camp, he happily chose Chinese so he could be with Miss YunJou.
Joelle hired instructor YunJou Tseng, who is from Taiwan and was educated at the University of Beijing, because of her joyful zest for life that also exemplifies her style of teaching. Enguerin’s family was seeking a fun way for him to learn, and when he is with Miss YunJou, the smile never leaves his face. He is, in fact, having so much fun at Savoir Faire that he is now also learning Spanish.