A unique educational approach offers students a completely individualized private school experience.
- Written byLaura L. Watts
- Photographed byShane O’Donnell
- AboveMusic teacher Elliot Boult and ninth-grade student
Hudsyn Toppenberg collaborate in Fusion’s
recording studio/music class.
It’s an unfortunate fact that oftentimes public school students throughout the United States slip through the cracks due to overcrowded classrooms. Overwhelmed teachers are unable to target education to meet each student’s individual needs. Distractions prevent students from fully mastering their curriculum, and they often feel left behind.
A nationwide private school is changing that plight with its distinctive educational model: one student and one teacher per classroom for the entire class period. Fusion Academy was founded in 1989 as an after-school tutoring program and began offering a full-time curriculum in 2001. Today Fusion is a fully accredited middle and high school with more than 60 campuses nationwide. Students can take classes in person, online or a combination of both—on a full-time basis or to supplement their current schooling with part-time options like classes for credit and tutoring.
The South Bay has two Fusion Academy locations: Hermosa Beach, which opened in 2011 as Fusion’s seventh campus nationwide and is led by head of school Vosgan Mekhitarian, and Palos Verdes, which opened in March of this year. Hojjat Sandi, head of school of the Palos Verdes campus, is passionate about Fusion’s educational model and the ability to reach students of all skills, experiences and abilities.
“I can truly say that I’ve never worked in a school environment that was wholeheartedly student-centered,” he shares. “Having come from a public school background, I know that teachers have to teach to the middle and pace the curriculum to the majority rather than addressing the specific learning needs of individual learners. That’s just the way it is when you’re managing 30+ students in a classroom.”
“To have love for the student in front of you and to see them as an individual with the capacity to learn is what will allow them to be a motivated learner.”
Conversely, at Fusion Academy instructors regularly personalize the curriculum to meet each child’s strengths, interests and learning style. Teachers get to know their students, acting as mentors as they help them reach their social, emotional and academic goals.
“There is no classroom environment or educational model that I’ve been a part of that engages the student and customizes the learning in such a meaningful way as Fusion’s one-to-one instruction,” says Hojjat, who began his career with Fusion Academy in 2010 and served as head of school at the Warner Center campus from 2015 to 2019.
Homework hassles are nonexistent for Fusion Academy students, as coursework is completed during school hours in the Homework Café. Whether students attend in person or virtually, the Homework Café is also a place for community building: socializing with peers, participating in events and engaging in clubs.
While the shift to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted education profoundly across the nation, Fusion Academy’s transition to virtual school was basically seamless because of its one-to-one learning environment. There are far fewer distractions when the classroom consists of just one student and one teacher—whether in person or online. For students of traditional public and private schools who experienced a gap in education due to the move to virtual schooling last year, Fusion’s part-time offerings can fill in those foundational holes and support learning loss across all content areas.
Individualization is the name of the game at Fusion, and it’s incorporated into every part of the educational experience. The school’s ultimate goal is to help students discover and pursue their own unique path and thrive in whatever their next steps are—whether transitioning back to another school or graduating with Fusion Academy and pursuing postsecondary options.
“This philosophy goes back to the core of our mission which is: Love, Motivate, Teach,” Hojjat says. “To have love for the student in front of you and to see them as an individual with the capacity to learn is what will allow them to be a motivated learner. When students feel that level of care and attention, they have the space to be motivated—and that’s when real teaching can begin.”
Hojjat and his team are excited to build a new educational community at the Fusion Palos Verdes campus. He says, “Whether students are at or above grade level or come to us having had struggles in school for various reasons, at Fusion we see them change their understanding of themselves and the future they have the power to create.”