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Ventura County Star (California)
The freshman year in high school for most students, particularly student-athletes, comes fraught with challenges.
There are tougher classes, the physical workload, social pressures.
The staff at Sports Academy in Newbury Park is offering an intriguing if sure-to-be-debated alternative.
The multi-faceted sports training complex that has become the workout home for all levels of aspiring athletes is launching what it calls a one-of-a-kind preparation program for graduating eighth graders.
They've developed the Personal Development Year.
Just like it implies, the program presents another option in lieu of enrolling at high school immediately after finishing up eighth grade. Instead, the student-athlete participates in a nine-month, five-days-a-week program that offers high-level classroom study, elite sports training and instruction in a wide-array of related topics such as nutrition, biomechanics and sports performance.
Program director Adam Sear, a former standout lacrosse player from Australia, believes the program is unlike any curriculum anywhere.
"Maybe IMG back east (Bradenton, Fla.) is something like this, but certainly I know of nothing like this on the West Coast," he said.
He also thinks it offers crucial instruction at a critical age for teens.
"All the data out there suggests that this period, when you're 13-14-15 years old, is such a pivotal time in a youngster's development," said Sears. "So much is going on, from a physical, mental and personal standpoint, that the transition from middle school into high school can be very hard for kids.
"We think we'll give them all the tools they need to be comfortable and be successful when they settle into high school."
The program offers up a veritable "Gap Year," a concept that does have its critics in today's high school landscape.
Parents do have the option of holding back their sons and daughters for one year (or more) for various reasons before entering high school. Many have their children simply repeat eighth grade.
Critics think it creates an unfair advantage in high school athletics because boys and girls who are held back are older, bigger, stronger.
Sear said he's aware of the criticism but insists the Sports Academy program isn't interested in upsetting the equity apple cart.
"Honestly, the sports development is maybe fourth or fifth on our list of priorities in this program," said Sear. "We're more interested in setting up the student for success in the classroom, and giving them every opportunity to be well prepared and well adjusted in their high school life.
"We want to help them to be confident in themselves and more sure of themselves in social situations because everything is different in high school. We're very much interested in helping along their character development."
Sear said the program is as much for the elite student as it is for the elite athlete.
"They are going to get great instruction in English, history, mathematics and other subjects that will set them up to excel in the classroom in high school," he said.
The development year offering is not inexpensive. The one-year fee is $35,000.
But Sear notes that the program opens up all facets of the Sports Academy services to its students, including yoga classes, sports medicine instruction and therapy, mindset development and every sport available in the 96,000-square-foot facility.
"We're also big on personal mentors," he said. "Every student will receive the personal attention and instruction they need."
The program will begin this year in September and continue until June. The curriculum is scheduled for Mondays through Fridays, 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Yep, that's more extensive than a year in high school.
"We've got a lot to get done," Sear said with a grin.
A typical day begins with yoga classes, moves onto physical therapy and athletic development and then breaks for lunch. The afternoons will be devoted to academics and personal mindset development.
Sear also said that class size will be restricted.
"No more than 20-25 in any class, usually a lot less than that," he said. "We're geared up for a lot of one-on-one training."
Sear, who received his degrees from the University of Maryland and Stevenson University in Baltimore, said he's proud of the program.
"I wish they had something like this when I was a kid," he said. "I really got involved in the business of sports because I feel like there's an opportunity to help athletes, particularly young athletes.
"Not everyone is going to be a professional athlete, but everyone can have fun with sports and be the best they can be. We want to help them do just that."
Parents and students interested in the Personal Development Year can contact Sear at the Sports Academy.
Loren Ledin is the Prep Editor for The Star. He can be reached at 805-437-0285 or at email@example.com
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