The Classical Academies Uses Personalized Learning to Help Students Soar

November 16, 2015

  • Print
The Classical Academies started when parents wanted a place for their kids to learn and grow, and where they could be meaningfully involved in their children's education. In the year 1999, Cameron and Barbara Curry and 200 other parents, joined Joan Peace to help open Escondido's first charter school.

With the help of a community of enthusiastic parents and teachers, The Classical Academies now serves more than 4,000 students in seven San Diego North County campuses comprised of transitional kindergarten through 12th grade. *Cameron Curry, who started as an involved parent, is now the Executive Director of The Classical Academies.

"The great thing is that the school has never been about us," said Curry. "It's about the community. We've created a legacy that reaches so many kids and parents can raise their kids in the environment they want."

The key to the schools' success is parent involvement. Not simply volunteering in the classrooms; but being an active participant in their student's learning. The Classical Academies operates as a hybrid of a homeschool and on-campus teaching model. Students receive a traditional classroom experience, with credential teachers and group projects; but at the same time, parents are able to participate as teachers as well.

"Our belief is parents are the primary educators of kids," said Curry. "We are here to provide options and programming to support that. As a parent, I helped my kids learn to walk and tie their shoes. I can certainly teach them algebra too."

Personalized Learning

Parents and teachers work together to create a personalized learning plan so everyone can succeed. The school looks at every student and focus on where they are academically, and then a learning plan is created based on that student. For example, if a third grader is reading at sixth grade level, that student will receive reading instruction at his level.

The Classical Academies' personalized learning approach - coupled with parent involvement in education - results in students who are excited to learn and creates a culture of acceptance.

"I've never seen a group of teenagers so accepting of other teenagers, said Debbie Lieber, Classical Academy High School Assistant Principal. "There are kids here that are different, quirky, and eccentric, and the student body loves and accepts them. I know many students who were bullied elsewhere for being overweight and gay. When they came here, they found an acceptance they never experienced before."

Joleen Schanzenbach is a parent whose kids have all been educated with The Classical Academies. She has seen first-hand this culture of acceptance and how it has helped her children become more confident learners.

"Our kids needed something different," said Schanzenbach. "They were really struggling in the traditional public school setting. Many students at other schools were not kind, and my own kids experienced bullying. We tried every kind of school until we landed at Classical."

"The environment was so welcoming and teachers encouraged their gifts. The kids there want to learn, and help each other learn. It was a big change from where we were."

Mo Johnson echoes Schanzenbach's sentiments about The Classical Academies. All three of her children (Avalon, Sydney and Triton) have attended the schools. Her oldest, Avalon, graduated in 2015 and now attends California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. She initially chose Classical Academies because the traditional school model was not a fit for her family.

"Avalon was an early reader and already doing double-digit math at a very young age," said Johnson. "Our local kindergarten would not have been a good fit for her. [A friend] suggested that I homeschool her. At first I didn't feel like I was a qualified teacher, but The Classical Academy provided PIE (Parent Information Nights) nights where I learned how to teach more effectively, how children learn differently, and how to read four different ways with my kids. It was amazing starting out and having such support helping me and guiding me."

Avalon ended up starting the high school's first surf team as freshman and was captain all four years of high school. She was also senior class president and won the Caiman Award as a senior.

A Culture of Arts

The Classical Academies have a strong culture of integrating arts in education, specifically using visual and performing arts as pathways to learning. This approach differs from traditional arts education by including arts in learning and core curriculum, rather than an additional subject to learn.

Examples of this arts integration include the creation of art based on literature, historical events and themes, and cultural events. Students use writing prompts that encourage the exploration of the relationship between historical events and art include identifying what influences the Cold War had on American art and literature after 1950.

In addition to the integrated art approach, The Classical Academies has a strong music education department, and is known throughout North County for its large musical theater program with performance opportunities for students. The program integrates voice, acting and dance. The performing arts programs offer a creative and experiential approach for students to think, communicate and achieve while engaging and enriching the broader community. The musical theater programs are available for the younger grades through high school, with full season productions held at the renowned California Center for the Arts, Escondido.

Whether it's integrated arts, personalized learning, a culture of acceptance or parent involvement, students attending The Classical Academies are thriving and excited to learn.

"My kids are excited to go to school," said Johnson. "It's crazy that Avalon's favorite class was AP calculus and Sidney's is AP language! Their love for challenging learning is definitely from the amazing teachers and the school."

*Cameron Curry also serves on the California Charter Schools Association Board of Directors.