One on One at Fusion Academy

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A new private school has opened on the Upper East Side, and it has the rare ability to assert that there is nothing else quite like it offered in Manhattan. The newest campus location of Fusion Academy, temporarily located at 49 E. 52nd Street, just started classes this week. What makes it different from other private schools is class size-each class consists of one teacher and one student. The one-to-one ratio is the key to Fusion's education model, which is designed to reach students that the regular systems, even those in prestigious and well-regarded schools, can leave out. "Everything that we do is driven by that individual student we're seeing in that given hour," said Francisco Ayala, the Manhattan campus's head of school. He said that students get a chance to socialize and learn to work together in the areas they call the homework cafes, but that classes are always limited to just the one student and teacher. "There's a lot of interaction and small group work," he said. "Ultimately, we are always keeping an eye on them." The educational model was designed by the school's founder, Michelle Rose Gilman, who began in 1989 with six students who came from psychiatric hospitals and needed close attention and individually tailored educations. Ayala said that he always thought he'd stick with teaching at public schools, but his frustration over state-mandated limitations when he taught in Connecticut led him to explore other options. Ultimately, after moving to California to teach at a charter school, he found the model that Gilman had developed offered him the most freedom in reaching students. He helped open Fusion's Pasadena campus in 2011 and recently moved to New York to start this newest venture. The Manhattan school is starting small, with just nine students currently enrolled, but Ayala said that they can accept students at any time during the school year. The maximum capacity for any Fusion campus is 60. There are many tried-and-true traditional private school options available to New York City parents who can pay the steep tuition rates, and Fusion isn't necessarily competing with them. Tuition rates are similar-Fusion charges $3,960 per course per semester, so, for example, a student taking four courses a semester would be charged $31,680-to those at other private schools like The Dalton School ($38,710 a year). But Ayala said that half of their current class is made up of students who were referred by other local private schools. "These private schools see that we can really support their students effectively," he said. Sometimes students will attend Fusion for a year or two and then transition back into a more traditional school. Ayala said that they generally see three categories of students-gifted students who aren't being challenged enough in their regular schools, students with a broad spectrum of learning disabilities, and students with serious anxiety issues who have trouble in a traditional school setting. While the classes are more akin to private tutoring sessions, other aspects of Fusion mirror what parents might expect from a pricy private education. Each campus boasts a yoga studio, a graphic design program, art studios and state-of-the-art recording studios where students can learn to mix their own music. "There are quite a variety of different options in terms of the music program," including instruction in instruments like guitar, drums, bass, piano and vocals, said Ayala. "It's been a focus that our founder really implemented at the outset of the school. She wanted the students to have opportunities to express themselves creatively and get real-world skills." The entire campus comes together for lunch hour every day, and Fridays are open for group science labs, student clubs and field trips. "We use the lunchtime and those Fridays to really round out the community aspect," Ayala said. The school will continue to hold open houses throughout the year for curious students and parents, and also offers tutoring for students who aren't enrolled full-time.

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