LOS ANGELES—When it comes to education there are a variety of schools available to parents for their kids, but not all schools accommodate the needs of every individual student. TREE Academy for the Creative Arts, New Technology and Social Justice in Los Angeles provides a learning experience so unique, so innovative that it can change lives. Tree Academy specializes in a paradigm transforming approach that is designed for high achievers, as well as students who have lost interest in school with the same old educational models from the past.
The school makes it a focus to highlight the passions and talents of its students that allow them to reach their fullest potential through self-discovery, academic achievement and emphatic service. Canyon News had the pleasure of speaking with Darryl Sollerh, co-founder of TREE Academy with Paul Cummins. Cummins co-founded Crossroads School in 1971 and has transformed it into one of the most successful educational systems in Los Angeles. He also co-founded New Roads School, a national model for innovative, independent schools. Cummins has pioneered a number of groundbreaking programs in Los Angeles in support of children at risk in the education arena.
Sollerh shared with Canyon News that his love of teaching is a result of him wanting to share his experiences and inspire the love of something to others. He indicated that after college, Paul recruited him after he received an award. The birth of TREE was the opportunity for both men to develop a school from the bottom up, with no rules in play. The school is preparing students for the future and connecting people to society. The campus has a specialized tutorial program for kids who are struggling.
“I’ve experienced lots of things in the classroom during my career,” Sollerh said. Small class size and [a] focus on the individual are important elements to enhancing the traditional model of education that no longer works. TREE teaches its students in two-group settings per week and then there is individual instruction with a teacher, where the student receives one-on-one support, where they receive an additional 5-6 hours per week based on the student’s needs. Sollerh indicated to Canyon News it’s important to understand how people learn; rather it’s visual, verbal, written or hands-on, everyone learns differently so utilizing one model doesn’t work.
When Canyon News asked about the notion of homework, Sollerh explained that at the campus the structure of the day includes a “learning lab” where students have 4 to 6 hours to do homework. Homework is also tailored to the individual student, allowing teachers to customize assignments that most effectively advance each student’s progress, rather than the “one size fits all” approach of traditional schools.
“It takes an adult to point out to the student/child that they’re good at something,” Sollerh said. He added, “Some students don’t understand a particular skill they have until it is highlighted to them.” When discussing the current state of education in California, Sollerh indicated the importance of investing in education and focusing on small schools and not focusing on the demand of running a bureaucracy because more than 300 students is too much. He added that there has to be a shift in consciousness to change the current model of education. “There is a fear of stepping out of the norm,” said Sollerh.
“We meet all of the requirements expected of us,” said Sollerh. “Our kids are happy and want to come to school. Parents write emails about kids not wanting to be late to school, there is excitement,” he added. When asked about the issue of technology by Canyon News Sollerh indicated that if used well it can be an “incredible resource.” He noted that at TREE none of the teachers are facilitators of software. Their focus is “humanizing and the socializing of the teacher with the student” which is a key relationship. Technology is a tool and a resource. Sollerh said that “computers are isolating and alienating.”
When it comes to electives, TREE offers a variety of electives to students including architecture, coding, community service, creative writing, culinary science, graphic design, journalism, robotics and team sports to name a few. When asked by Canyon News which elective is most popular with students Sollerh responded they all are. He noted all the electives resonate with the students and that there is equal distribution across the board.
At TREE, the school strives to “un-silo” subjects, emphasizing the connections between them. In their Sustainable World Studies course, modern agriculture is linked to global climate change, as well as to nutrition and Culinary Science – all so that students can make wiser, more informed choices, not only for the planet, but for their own bodies as well. Community service is an important facet at TREE, where students are required to complete community service as part of the school’s curriculum, with a large number of students surpassing the requirements expected.
When asked about the future of TREE Academy in 10 years, Sollerh noted the goal was to create as many TREES first in Los Angeles and spread their innovative message when it comes to education. Cummins has published four books on education, including, “Proceed With Passion: Engaging Students in Meaningful Education” (2004), and “Confessions of a Headmaster” (2015). Sollerh has over 25 years of experience working with students and families from diverse backgrounds in Los Angeles. He is also a multi-award winning fiction writer, and co- author of two parenting guides, “Stop Yelling, Start Listening – Understanding Your Middle School Child” (2016), and “How To Be The Loving, Wise Parent You Want To Be… Even With Your Teenager!” (2016).
TREE Academy is located at 5555 W. Olympic Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90036. The school will host its open house event on Sunday, May 6 at 1 p.m. where openings are still available for students in 6th thru 11th grade. For additional details regarding registration visit their website at www.TreeAcademy.org or call (424) 204-5165.