By Gary Stern
If you were to ask me, “What Makes High Point So Special?” I could certainly go on for hours, extolling a unique and nurturing culture that awakens the joy of learning in its students through outstanding teaching and curriculum, plus thoughtful strategic planning and implementation. A culture that achieves this through a broad and deep focus on academic excellence, diversity, and character building—and with the help of an HPA community that is so profoundly a family, alumni parents continue to serve the school long after their children have graduated.
But that’s just my take. Admittedly, I am a huge fan, since it is all of these aspects among others which drew me to High Point Academy in the first place.
Yet, most importantly, how do our students feel about their experience here, after their years at High Point? What would they tell other youngsters who may be enrolling here? To the parents of children who are seeking an independent school education in the San Gabriel Valley, what personal experience stories would they relate? What insight could they offer even to newcomers to California, who may have preconceived notions about a Southern California independent school education?
Our HPA “veterans”—our 8th graders—reveal their unique insights.
“I don’t say that it’s private school that is special; it’s High Point,” explains 8th grader Joelle Souma. “High Point has shaped us to be the people we are,” she says, putting character first.
And according to Joelle’s classmate Donya Jadvar, from her own earliest kindergarten memories onward, High Point has been a safe, special, and caring place in which to grow up. “One of my favorite memories is when I lost my first tooth in Mrs. Vernon’s kindergarten class.” Donya recalls. “I was scared and started crying. But Mrs. Vernon comforted me and told me to put the tooth under my pillow that night. She said I was about to get a surprise from the Tooth Fairy. Then she walked me down to the office, gave me a little bag for my tooth and a candy surprise from the Tooth Fairy.” The special little ritual was not only nurturing, it was a formative experience for Donya, resonating even years later. “But all the teachers at High Point are like this,” she insists. “All of my teachers have always been there for me.”
“What High Point does for us is show us that everyone—no matter what their background or culture is—can be a good person,” says Joelle. “We may be different in our own ways, but in many ways we are just like each other. Everyone here accepts and likes us for who we are.”
In fact, while some families new to the Pasadena area may assume that independent schooling comes with a more culturally homogenous environment than a public school education, Joelle’s most special memories, she says, have everything to do with her diverse HPA friendships. “I always learn something new from my friends here, and their different cultures. Because everyone here is different and there’s a lot of diversity, I get to know a little bit of everything!”
Her educational experience, she adds, has been unlike the experiences of her friends at other schools. “Kids at other schools say that each class is completely the same. My education here has been special because I honestly think [High Point teachers] have a different way of teaching. Every class is completely unique.”
Joelle’s BFF Sofia Christodoulelis agrees. “The teaching at High Point is really different. My friends from some other schools in Pasadena say, ‘Oh, can you help me with this?’ And I feel so smart and it’s just great! I think it’s because each teacher at High Point shapes how they teach to fit with you and how youlearn. That really helps.”
Adds Sofia, “The learning is challenging, but since they care so much, it becomes easier. You feel more confident if your teachers are confident in you. That really helps me. Even though at the moment, things may be a little difficult, soon you’ll be in excellent shape and become a better person with self-motivation. It’s hard work and I really have to think.
Eighth graders Kabir Nagrecha and Adam Lewczuk both agree that it has been the willingness of High Point teachers to always go the extra mile that has made such a difference in their educational experience, and in their ability to move forward toward an excellent high school experience, as well. According to Kabir, currently a candidate for the Early Entrance Program at Cal State LA and a former pupil in the accelerated academic program at Crosfields School, England, “Our math teacher, Mr. Millard, helped me move into Algebra II and pre-Calculus, making it possible for me to pursue my advanced mathematics education.” (Kyron Millard is also the Jr. High Director.)
As our graduating High Point Eagles move on to their new schools in 2017-2018, we asked them if they had any parting words for the friends with whom they have shared so many fond memories, and the school at which they experienced so much personal and academic growth. Joelle Souma summed it up well when she spoke for all: “I will miss you SO much!!”