If you Google “schools in La Verne CA,” you’ll find lots of options: the six campuses in Bonita Unified School District, as well as various church-affiliated and other private schools. Curiously, one you will not find listed is one of La Verne’s most highly regarded: Joan Macy School, a nonpublic school for girls in grades 1 through 12, located on the grounds of David & Margaret Youth and Family Services in La Verne.
“We’re the best-kept secret in education,” says Maricela Duran, who taught language arts for six years at Joan Macy School before becoming its director of education in 2003. “Kids come and renew their desire to learn; they think, ‘Wow, here is someone who understands me.’ Graduation becomes attainable.”
Its students are referred from their home school districts – most often Bonita, Pomona, West Covina, Azusa, Charter Oak, and Norwalk La Mirada – when a particular student needs a more intensive, focused, alternative setting. Usually, this is the result of learning difficulties or behavioral issues.
“There is often a lot of resistance from the girls at first, but we’re very consistent with our standards and expectations,” Duran says. “Students surprise themselves when they meet those standards.”
Students are taught in small classes by seasoned special-education teachers, most of whom have been at the school between 15 and 20 years. “Most left public schools and enjoy having freedom to try new things” to engage their students, Duran adds. The student-to-teacher ratio at Joan Macy School is a maximum of 6 to 1, with no more than 12 students per classroom.
One of those teachers is Mary Fankhauser, who has taught English, history, and a variety of electives at Joan Macy School for 14 years. In 2003, she was named a La Verne Teachers of the Year.
“It’s so rewarding to assist students who have had difficulty in the public school setting, and watch that student go from someone who dislikes school to a student who likes to learn,” Fankhauser says. “Many students say our school is the first place they have ever been successful. Our small class sizes allow us to give students individualized help and get to know them as unique young ladies. Every day, I see a teen who was considered ‘at risk’ of failing get excited about her grades, and see progress in earning credits toward her diploma.”
Parents see the difference in their girls, too. Janie R.’s 17-year-old daughter has been a Joan Macy student since 8th grade, when she was referred from her public school in Pomona. The girl has learning and behavioral difficulties stemming from health issues.
“She has some learning disabilities and got off track with thinking that boys were the most important thing,” Janie says. “She had IEPs (individualized education plans) at her home district, but I told the district that I was concerned about her concentration at school. Joan Macy is a smaller school with more one-on-one interaction, so her grades are up and she’s not concentrating on other things.
“The teachers at Joan Macy spend lots of time with her. They really work with her because she’s very introverted. Her teachers know how to deal with her issues,” which include ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism, Janie adds. “In public school, I couldn’t know if she was actually doing the work, or if she was just getting pushed out of the class.”
Because of her disabilities, Janie’s daughter will be able to attend Joan Macy School until age 21 to receive assistance with life skills training, such as how to research a career, write a resume, and get and hold a job. “She wants to become a veterinarian, or at least work with animals as a technician,” Janie says.
For more information on Joan Macy School, call (909) 596-8492 or visit the school’s Website at www.JoanMacySchool.org.