Education

One-on-one private school opens near Dadeland for students in grades 6 to 12

Master Teacher Amee Hall works with a student in the Homework Cafe at Fusion Academy in Dadeland.
Master Teacher Amee Hall works with a student in the Homework Cafe at Fusion Academy in Dadeland. Fusion Academy

An unusual one-on-one classroom method has opened near Dadeland Mall: one teacher, one student.

Fusion Academy on Feb. 5 opened its first Miami-area school — its 43rd in the United States, including Boca Raton — catering to students from 6th to 12th grades.

“In South Florida, we know it is crucial to invest in innovative teaching methods to help us measure how each student can better excel in their academic lives,” Head of School Maria Cardenas said in a news release. “Fusion Academy allows students the unique opportunity to excel at their own pace and receive the personalized attention that fosters academic success.”

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Head of School Maria Cardenas at Fusion Academy in Kendall. NICHOLAS POBLETE For the Miami Herald

Cardenas later told the Miami Herald that the goal of Fusion Academy is to get students to where they need to be, academically and emotionally, through personalized programs.

“On the emotional side of it, we can catch things and notice things so much earlier,” she said. “If I have 15 or 30 students, it’s going to be really hard for me to notice when one person is having a bad day. Here we know right away and we can say ‘Hey, what’s going on?”’

On average, students take 60 credits a year, with 230 credits necessary to graduate, Cardenas said. A semester at Fusion consists of 30 class sessions for middle-school and honors students, while high school students must complete 25 class sessions.

Cardenas said students spend an average of seven hours a day at Fusion: three one-hour classes, an hour for lunch and three one-hour homework cafe sessions, so they don’t have to take any assignments home.

Over 250 classes are available at Fusion, including mandatory wellness classes and life-skills classes. Students are encouraged to use the recording studio and art studio to express their creativity.

Fusion, open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, has 10 classrooms open on its first floor. A second floor, with 15 classrooms, is closed until more students enroll. There are currently 13 students.

Teachers are free to decorate their classrooms to their liking, with the intention of creating a home-like environment to make students more comfortable.

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Master Teacher Amee Hall in her classroom, decorated with Doctor Who frames, at Fusion Academy. NICHOLAS POBLETE For the Miami Herald

Teacher Amee Hall, one of 11 teachers at Fusion, decorated her classroom with Doctor Who posters and quirky science frames. Hall, the school’s master teacher, is in charge of working with other teachers to ensure they have the resources needed to give their students the attention required. She has worked for the company for two years and transferred to Miami from The Woodlands, Texas, branch.

“I never taught at a traditional school, but after applying and going out for those kinds of jobs, you’re very much told what to teach and when to teach it,” she said. “Here I am allowed to be creative. I love the connections I have with my students, which I know wouldn’t happen in a more traditional setting.”

Ashley Herman, 18, is the only senior at Fusion. The public school environment was too big and hectic for her, she said. After studying at the academy, Herman said she wouldn’t want to go back to a public school.

“I like that, here, it’s very individualized and tailored to the student,” she said. “The one-on-one is centered around me. It’s easier to focus and pay attention without so many external distractions.”

Fusion Academy began more than 25 years ago in San Diego, California. Miami native Michelle Rose Gilman founded Fusion because she was frustrated with the status quo in traditional schools, according to a news release.

Tuition at Fusion Academy can range from $40,000 to $50,000 a year, depending on the number of credits a student takes. Currently, Fusion does not offer scholarships, but Cardenas says they are working to pair up with the McKay Scholarship Program in the near future.

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A recording studio at Fusion Academy in Kendall. NICHOLAS POBLETE For the Miami Herald

Despite not having many students, Cardenas said that the academy is still able to provide them with activities such as field trips, prom and graduation.

Fusion Academy accepts full-time students, as well as part-time students. Those students who are part of a public or private school can take courses at Fusion if they are falling behind, or want to move at a quicker pace.

Fusion accepts all students, though youths with learning disabilities benefit from the minimal distractions offered on campus, Cardenas said.

She is in charge of upholding the Fusion culture, which Cardenas said means to support her teachers and help students feel happy and safe.

“Everything is relationship based. It is not a tutoring environment, we really go the extra mile to build a relationship with students,” she said. “That’s the teachers’ first job when a student comes to them. Make connections, meet them at their levels and then help them meet the objectives of the course, tailoring to their interests, abilities, strengths and weaknesses.”

The Kendall school is located on 9130 S. Dadeland Blvd., Suite 102. For more information, visit www.fusionacademy.com.

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