8/21/13 – L-R Music teacher Laurie Driskill chats with Aaron Dowd, guitarist, and Gabriel Licudine, pianist, guitarist. Students, parents, faculty and community members gathered Wednesday morning for the grand opening of Ambassador High School, the second non-Catholic, Christian high school in the South Bay. Located in the LA Galaxy training center the school is starting with 25 students. Licudine has been home-schooled his entire academic life and is nervous about attending a school but also excited about his teachers. Dowd came from Torrance High School because his parents were seeking a smaller class size. Photo by Brittany Murray, Daily Breeze
For most brand new schools, access to athletic facilities is a luxury that has to wait a few years.Not so at Ambassador High, which opened Wednesday inside the LA Galaxy Soccer Center in Torrance, becoming the South Bay’s second non-Catholic Christian high school.
Located at 540 Maple Ave., the LA Galaxy Soccer Center is a converted warehouse filled with fields for indoor soccer, a game also known as futsal.This year, the school’s 25 pioneer students — most of them freshmen — will study math, science, English and theology in a conference room while, just outside the room’s window, amateur indoor soccer games occur on fields encased in protective netting.
Ambassador High’s unlikely location is all the more remarkable for the emotional roller coaster of a path that led it here. Not once but twice since 2010, the school was on the verge of finding a location in Redondo Beach, only to have the plug pulled late in the game.“All of those steps were a part in our succeeding today,” said Michael Barker, the school’s headmaster and a former administrator with the Tustin Unified School District. “It was like God had us wait for a reason.”
The school’s approach to academics is about as ambitious as its physical environment is sporty.Mixed in with students’ high school coursework will be classes taught on the makeshift campus by professors from Los Angeles Harbor College. On graduation day, students who opt in to the college-ready program (so far this includes 24 of the 25 pupils) will pick up both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree. This could enable them to enter four-year universities directly as juniors.
The classes themselves will have a Socratic quality, meaning that instead of a teacher standing in front of the classroom lecturing students, pupils and instructors alike will sit around the same table and discuss the lessons of the day.To be sure, there will be lectures, but they will be prerecorded on podcasts that students will watch the night before class — a learning style known as the Harkness Method.
“Kids learn the most when they talk it out — even in math,” Barker said. “We’re basing our school on reciprocal teaching, which is when the students actually take over, and they learn and start to discuss, and teach. … The teacher’s job is to make sure they get the content.”
On occasion, science class will literally take place in outer space. The school is participating in a partnership with the International Space Station, in which astronauts will help Ambassador’s students conduct experiments.
“We’re going to prepare the experiments to be fully automated, so all an astronaut needs to do is plug it in, (and) press a button,” said Jerren Smith, the school’s science teacher. “What’s amazing too is they can send us the information from space.”
Mitch and Bonnie Rachman decided to send their son Kyle to the school largely because he is two years ahead of his grade in math and Barker said accommodating him would be no problem — even though this meant putting him in a class of one.
“And it’s all being built on a Christian education that honors our creator as a creator of math, science, literature, the arts, athletics — who has given us life,” Mitch Rachman said. “We believe that’s a very important part of the curriculum.”
Ambassador High wants to remain small, but not this small. The school, where tuition is $8,500 a year, has set an ultimate goal of serving 200 students. The LA Galaxy Soccer Center has other rooms that could host classes, but that housing situation is temporary.The school comes to Torrance at a time when the South Bay’s only other non-Catholic Christian high school has moved out of the city. In March, the 17-year-old Pacific Lutheran High School announced it would be moving from its digs on the grounds of the South Bay Christian Community Church on Sepulveda Boulevard near Arlington Avenue to the new campus at 2818 Manhattan Beach Blvd. in Gardena.
As for athletics, while Ambassador has no shortage of facility space, finding players could prove more problematic, given its tiny talent pool. But Barker is quick to note that the school is certified to compete in the CIF-SS and will have teams in basketball, cross country, track, volleyball and, naturally, soccer.“We have openings in every sport,” he quipped. “Students can come and be starters.”
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