There’s a new kind of private school that just opened in Dallas with a nearly unheard student-teacher ratio: 1-to-1. Fusion Academy’s cost is nearly unheard of, too.
With full-time tuition of $36,000 a year, Fusion Academy’s day school is unrealistic for most. But people have been paying it for 12 years -- first in California, then New York, New Jersey and now Texas.
Fusion founder Michelle Gilman says her students hang out at each end of the bell curve. They’re either so crazy smart they’re bored in regular school, or they have huge academic or emotional challenges. She remembers, early in her career, more than 20 years ago, when she was tutoring kids two hours a day, four days a week -- in her sessions, they seemed to be learning.
“And then they would go to school and crash and burn,” Gilman says. “So really we looked at each other and said: 'It’s not them.' It’s the traditional model of education that’s requiring them to fit into a square peg. And the kids we worked with -- they were not square kids.”
So Gilman came up with a different model: 1-to-1, where teachers can address problems immediately. With client encouragement, she launched Fusion Academy in California, nurtured it, and now there are 23 schools for grades 6 through 12. She says this model costs money but she doesn’t apologize for it. Tuition’s on par with some of the nation’s private colleges.
Keith Schildt, in California, says you get what you pay for, and Fusion’s been worth it. His high-functioning autistic son, Luke, just started his junior year in Fusion’s Mission Viejo campus. Schildt figures some Texas parents might understand.
“The public school system is sort of based on a one-size-fits all model, and it works for some percentage of the students," Schildt says. "Maybe to continue that sort of industrial analogy, some kids become sort of like what would be in a factory-setting. You know, if the part doesn’t fit, they become scrap and they’re sort of written off.”
Schildt says his local public school is decent, but he wanted something more individualized for Luke by the eighth grade. So he tried Fusion’s music class, just for a test. Fusion’s Cory Mathews, now in Dallas, was his teacher in Mission Viejo. They worked on a Neil Young cover, because Luke’s a fan.
“So in this instance, I did the things he couldn’t,” says Mathews, listening to the session he helped Luke create. “I performed the guitar and some of those things. He was able to act as an engineer at that time. And then he wanted to sing, so I said: 'Let’s do it.'”
“Music opened him upand got him out of his shell a little," says Luke’s dad, Keith. "And to be able to stand in front of a mic and sing. I don’t know if I could do that."
Here’s what Luke’s dad, a college professor, and mom could do. They enrolled their son full-time, took out a second mortgage, and raided the college fund. Luke’s math scores took off. The high schooler still faces challenges in English. But Luke’s seen benefits compared to his old school.
“It was much smaller, and I could actually get much more of an education,” Luke says.
David Hunt, Dallas’ Fusion director, says this school won’t work for every child. But after 14 years with Dallas’ private Shelton School, created for children with learning differences and disorders, he likes this system.
“The kid has to answer every question,” Hunt said. “You can’t hide, you can’t duck your head, avert your eyes. You have to be able to answer. And the teacher has to answer their questions. So this back and forth conversation will take the curriculum and what they’re doing to another level I haven’t seen before.”
Few likely ever will.
Fusion’s Dallas enrollment stands at seven, with eight teachers. A Plano school just opened, too.