By Kathy Day
Imagine a high school where students check their egos at the door and where students take care of each other. Better yet, imagine a school where students flourish and enjoy learning.
That, says Jill Duoto, is what you’ll find at High Bluff Academy, a fully accredited high school housed in the center of an office park in Carmel Valley.
Duoto, the school’s principal, founded HBA as a tutoring and test prep center in 2002 with her husband, Michael. But as they listened to students and parents seeking a better way of learning, they expanded to offer a college prep, high school curriculum as well as a 13th year — a pre-college year — for students not quite ready to tackle college.
They also continue their specialized tutoring and test classes, through summer school (classes start Aug. 4), after-school and weekend programs.
Meanwhile, HBA’s expansion continues this fall with more electives, from French and Mandarin to computer science classes, and more clubs to meet the individualized needs of its students, who come from the surrounding communities as well as from around the world. Some are students at neighboring schools who come for classes that don’t fit their public school schedules or because they need a flexible schedule to accommodate competitive sports or career aspirations.
All courses meet or exceed University of California and California State University standards, and while standard classes help fill gaps in knowledge, Honors and AP classes challenge the advanced students.
Too often, Duoto said, parents don’t recognize problems their youngsters might be having as they transition to high school, which requires more independence than middle school. Then the youngsters find themselves in a “big intimidating environment” and don’t ask for help or don’t know where to turn.
“They are overwhelmed academically,” she added. “A lot of times, the issues can be social or emotional, such as the drama of jockeying for position in the social hierarchy of a big school.”
Some students, such as those with learning disabilities or ADD, might be overcome by the extra stimulation and distractions of a large school.
But at HBA, where classes are small and teachers know each student, she said, “the feeling of being overwhelmed goes away; there’s a sense of relief.”
That new feeling “boils down to knowing they belong, that people care, that they can learn at their level and their own pace.”
When a student says, “Hey, I need help,” it is there in the form of tutoring that is built into the school day, with after-school homework sessions and small groups.
And with the small student body, teachers and administrators can act quickly to respond to the students’ energy — or lack of same.
Duoto said at the end of the school year when distraction tends to set in, a kayaking outing was planned on short notice and the staff “created additional field trips to keep the kids motivated.”
As the school matures, it has added a community service coordinator to match students’ interests to outside projects, and has given a teacher added responsibility as activities coordinator. The administrators are also enlisting more parent involvement in helping with field trips.
While expanding programs is essential to High Bluff’s future, Duoto said the underlying goal is to see students flourish. “I like seeing kids that are happy going to school.”
The school is at 12707 High Bluff Drive, Suite 150, Carmel Valley; call 858-509-9101; visit www.highbluffacademy.com.
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