June 8, 2001

Pilot Fifth Avenue Academy Meets Individualized, Special Education Needs for Students

Most traditional schools and even special education classrooms cannot always provide the highly specialized instruction required by some students in the special education program. To serve this very small group of students, districts often turn to independent, non-public schools—at a cost of about $27,000 annually per student. Districts only recuperate a fraction of that cost from the state.

Fifth Avenue Academy students, Danielle Galvez and Lemar Alphus, learn state-of-the-art technology skills.

The Sweetwater Union High School District, however, has developed a program that is not only meeting the academic needs of this population of students—the district is doing it at a substantial savings.

The Fifth Avenue Academy, currently completing its second year of operation, serves 27 students in highly individualized classroom settings supported by a high-tech environment.

With nine students per class and the help of an instructional aide, the Fifth Avenue Academy teachers are able to work one-on-one with students and help them with core academic subjects aligned to state standards. The student day—which runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3:10 p.m.—is divided in half. In the morning, students study academics, with afternoon instruction focused on elective classes and physical education.

Twice a week, students travel to the Chula Vista High School campus to take PE classes with students in general education. Two other days, students are enrolled in nine-week elective courses that range from art classes to web page design.

All the while, teachers continue helping students build skills that will promote success in general education settings.

Student Lemar Alphus, a senior graduating from the Academy, says the new school feels just like a big family. "The academy allows kids to learn at their own pace, in their own way," said Lemar.

Alphus was one of the original 12 students when the Fifth Avenue site opened and recently won recognition at the school's first awards ceremony. "Everyday I've learned something new," Lemar said. "It's been the best school experience of my life."

"The Fifth Avenue Academy is providing a learning environment tailor-made for students' needs," said Angie Hawkins, Director of Special Support Services, which oversees the academy. "And it gives our district a cost-effective alternative to independent school services."

The Fifth Avenue Academy program helps save the district $351,000 annually. Because Sweetwater is able to leverage resources, total costs per student are roughly $14,000, compared to a much higher rate—paid by district general funds—for services at an independent, non-public school, district officials said.

The Fifth Avenue Academy is located on the Sweetwater district office site at 1130 Fifth Ave., Chula Vista.

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