Creatively Exploring Complex Issues Through Multiple Lenses

What is the purpose of education in today’s ever-changing global world? What are the big concepts and overarching skills we want High Point graduates to embrace? Among these big concepts, the research points to the paramount importance of teaching students how to think and how to analyze issues through multiple lenses and perspectives.  How to realize that there is not one “right” answer but rather a range of possibilities. High Point embraces the notion that creativity is just as important as knowledge and that complex issues cannot be understood by a singular approach or point of view.

In this spirit, during the past summer, High Point explored options to generate excitement and camaraderie around the challenge of deeper mathematical problem solving. A team of elementary teachers (Sarah Nguyen, Stephanie Kyle, Rob Woodward, and Julia Woodward) and parents (Tanya Potts and Nathan Lee) united around this vision and launched High Point’s first-ever Math Club. We hired a highly regarded math consultant, Cathy Hoyt, to guide High Point in this pursuit.  Cathy Hoyt designs math curriculum for publishing companies and has been coaching and preparing students for math tournaments for over a decade.

HPA MathClub LogoAt first, we thought the Math Club would generate modest interest at best. To our pleasant surprise and perhaps even astonishment, over forty 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students eagerly signed up for the Math Club during the fall of 2017. Under the guidance of our 6th grade teachers, Mrs. Nguyen and Ms. Kyle, these students meet as a group during their lunch period every Tuesday.

The primary purpose of the Math Club is to inspire students to love math. Math is so much more than crunching numbers and computing. Math is about developing a sophisticated approach to a wide array of problem-solving strategies and applying that learning to real-world experiences. Students are building grit and resilience as they tackle complex math problems that cannot be solved in thirty seconds or even several minutes. Through trial and error and thinking outside the box, students utilize creative strategies to finally crack the code and devise a process that allows them to arrive at the correct destination.

On April 23rd, 2018, High Point will host its first-ever Math Tournament. Held at High Point, the Math Tournament will be the culminating event of this year’s Math Club. The goal of the Math Tournament is for students to apply mathematical  concepts and problem-solving strategies and to develop a deeper sense of excitement and teamwork around mathematical problem-solving. The Math Tournament will consist of both individual and team events. The competition will develop the minds of our “mathletes” with each team working collaboratively to create a plan to complete complex problems in an efficient and strategic manner.


Our students are the best gauge for the success of our new Math Club. When we asked our students about participating in Math Club, this is what they said:

“It is very educational and enriching. Math Club teaches multiple interesting and helpful ways to solve problems.” – Kelton Lin, 6th grade

“I like Math Club because it helps me in class! I struggle with problem-solving and Math Club has made me improve and increase my confidence.”  – Kayley Bao, 6th grade

“You learn a lot. There are different ways to solve problems. Also, you’re taught shortcuts that you probably didn’t know, which makes it easier to solve. I’m excited about the Math Club competition that’s coming up!”     – Sergey Barseghyan, 6th grade


The Math Club started because parents and students had an interest in exploring math on a deeper level with opportunities to tackle Math Olympiad problems, work cooperatively in groups, share math strategies, play math games, and complete math puzzles. Sarah Nguyen, Stephanie Kyle, Rob Woodward, and Julia Woodward love making math accessible and exciting for students and led the fall session for 4th-6th graders. Sarah Nguyen and Stephanie Kyle are leading the spring session and will see our Mathletes through the spring competition. Sarah Nguyen believes that, “Parents want their children to not only be successful at understanding how to use a standard algorithm but also understand how to approach difficult problems, use various problem-solving strategies, get some cool tips and tricks under their belts, and ENJOY math!”  Sarah Nguyen wants to teach students to have grit and determination and challenge themselves to take on problems that they have never seen before.

NHD BearIn addition to Math Club, another exciting opportunity for our students to observe and evaluate circumstances through multiple lenses is by participating in National History Day. Eighth grade students who choose to embark on a National History Day project enroll in a year-long class under the guidance of our history teacher, Mr. Gint Valiulis. Participation in National History Day does not follow a script, but rather encourages students to chart their own path as they research a historical topic of interest.

Opportunities for participants to learn, explore, think critically, collaborate, research, and express themselves creatively are endless. With most students working in small groups, they present a research project in one of the following formats: Documentary, Exhibit, Paper (individual project), Performance, or Website. Each year, National History Day selects a theme for students to use as a lens to guide their research as they delve into historical content and develop unique viewpoints and understanding of the events covered in their projects. This year’s theme is Conflict and Compromise.

Eighth grade student, Henry Atkinson, selected the research topic of the Armenian Genocide because of personal interests and family ties, and Jonah Lessuk partnered with Henry because Jonah was looking to learn about a topic that was completely new to him. Both students agreed that making a website was the best vehicle for their presentation. With the theme being Conflict and Compromise, the partners took a deeper look into what caused the Armenian Genocide, the instabilities in the area, the changes in the leadership at the time, and how the events could have been avoided.

Lessuk_Atkinson_2Atkinson and Lessuk discovered that “if a few leaders had made different choices, been more reasonable, and were not blinded by hatred, the Armenian Genocide could have been avoided.” An upsetting discovery for the boys is that “the Turkish government has not admitted to any wrongdoing and has not been held accountable.  Unfortunately, similar events in other areas are still happening today.”

Japanesewebsite_28th grade students, Wyatt Hall, Aaron Liem, and Jiashu Wang created a website on Japanese Internment in World War II. According to Liem, this group began the project “thinking we were going to focus on how horrible the conditions of the camp were, but our research led us to focus on how the Japanese American Citizens League (“JACL”) fought for Japanese American redemption after the internment ended.” The students were pleased to learn that the JACL persuaded Congress to distribute retributions.” Wang discovered the following about working in a group, “Had I done this project alone, I would not have been able to delve as deeply into the topic. As a group,  we were able to focus and accomplish a great deal.” Hall expressed that he, “hopes to represent High Point proudly at the History Day competition.”

Renee_Anya_1Eighth Grade students, Renee Deramerian and Anya Millard, competed in the Junior Group Performance category with a musical format where they rewrote clever lyrics to existing tunes to fit their research topic of the Hollywood Blacklist. Both students knew nothing about the Hollywood Blacklist and were fascinated by the topic that began in nearby Hollywood, California. When asked to share a snip it of their lyric rewrites, Deramerian and Millard broke into song to the tune of Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, “No one thinks like Trumbo, no one writes like Trumbo, no one types scripts off in bathtubs late at night like Trumbo.” A big surprise to Deramerian and Millard was that “half of the people who were blacklisted were not actually communist. One actor was blacklisted because he played Joseph Stalin in a film. He was not himself a communist.” Deramerian very much enjoyed working with Anya and said, “We became close friends through the experience, which was something I was not expecting.” The newfound closeness will continue to bloom as the two girls head to Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy next year.

IMG_7334On Saturday, March 18th, 8th grade HPA students competed at History Day with their research projects. The following students qualified to advance to the state competition in May: Evan Nahra for his website on the Fall of the Aztec Empire, and Henry Atkinson and Jonah Lessuk, for their website on the Armenian website.  Congratulations to Eamon Binns, Hayden Crawford, and Megan Barrett who received medals for their projects. High Point is very proud of all students who presented such interesting research topics!

By encouraging our students to evaluate all subject matter through multiple lenses, High Point is growing inquisitive, dynamic thinkers who will push themselves and others to ask insightful questions and examine solutions thoughtfully. As Alan Blinder once wrote, “Life is not a multiple-choice test; it is an open book essay exam.”  High Point is setting up our students for success in life!




Building “HPA Families” Within our Larger Family

By Gary Stern

New character and community-building programs support our SEL (Social Emotional Learning) curriculum for 2017-18

This year, our focus on character and community-building has soared to new heights with the establishment first of the EAGLE PRIDE program and, now, with the successful launch of HPA FAMILIES. Eagle Pride was designed to reinforce the qualities of Positive Attitude, Respect, Integrity, Determination, and Excellence in our students—young people in whom we already have immense pride, but who we wish to send out into the world with the strongest moral compass possible. This past summer, HPA teachers also came together and worked to create a comprehensive SEL curriculum that goes hand-in-hand with HPA Families.

The driving mission behind our new HPA Families initiative is to foster a deep sense of community across both the students and faculty. In HPA Families, we strive to provide a secure environment for students of all ages, in which they are freely encouraged to talk about their similarities as well as their differences. The many “families” we are creating are each comprised of an 8th grader at the head, with a 7th grader for support, and one “family member” from each grade, K-6.


In addition to providing a safe, welcoming environment where HPA students can get to know each other, express themselves freely, feel protected and mentored, and learn shared values, the family structure provides very real leadership opportunities for each 8th grade student at the “head” of his or her group. Then too, the new Eagle Pride character development program introduces and reinforces a common language for the school community. HPA Families not only introduce these character traits to all family members, but each trait is then modeled and reinforced by the students themselves. We believe that our family program will not only strengthen each student’s security and confidence at High Point, in the larger community, and at home, but will play an integral role in building students’ readiness for their eventual participation in and contribution to a global society.

Many thanks to those faculty and staff members behind the SEL and Eagle Pride programs: Ashley Shaw, Julia Woodward, Tami Millard, Terri Gier, Becky Lievense, and Michelle Smith. Michelle was instrumental in launching HPA Families with coordination assistance from Kris Haines. Thank you to all!

Recent activity. Families meet on the last Friday of each month. This past month, the Eagle Pride trait of Respect was introduced, with each 8th grader leading a lesson for his or her family. Families discussed what Respect is and what it looks like at school, in the community, and at home. Families went on to celebrate Veteran’s Day, honoring veterans within the HPA community and discussing the importance of respecting those who have served our country and made so many sacrifices to keep us all safe.

Eighth grader Eamon Binns already sees many benefits in the HPA Family he heads up. “With all grades participating in our family, by the end of the year we will know each other well,” he says, adding that the depth of interaction between grades was something that was missing prior to the Families program. “In the beginning, a lot of the kids in my group were shy—especially the younger ones. It’s good to get them accustomed to interacting with kids older than they are, and with authority figures. And it’s a good thing that we’re impressing Eagle Pride early.”

Developing leaders. Yet it’s not only the younger grades that benefit from the Families programs, Eamon says. “The program builds leadership skills for 8th graders. In many high schools, we will be able to start our own clubs, and this program will help teach us how to be leaders before then.” He adds that an Eagle Pride Positive Attitude toward others is so important. “Kids want to feel good going through school. They have a lot of school work. They want to feel welcome and not always have to worry about social acceptance or dwell on things others may have said to them. Being kind to each other reduces that stress. Eagle Pride Respect helps teachers too, when we understand that not interrupting in the classroom helps our teachers to teach more effectively.” As for Eagle Pride Integrity, says Eamon, “Be honest! It will help us all through life.

Anya Millard admits that before she served as the 8th grade head of an HPA Family, “I didn’t know anyone in younger grades! The program has helped me get to know the younger students; I can get to know how their experience in the younger grades here is the same as mine was, or different.” Anya wishes she had had an HPA Family when she was a younger HPA student. “We had reading buddies, and there were older kids I looked up to, but the person I really valued graduated when I was in second grade, and I had no student mentor after that. It makes me feel good, now, to be that person for someone else. It’s a good mentor feeling! I get to be in the role someone once filled for me.

According to HPA family leader Isabelle Hopf, “My involvement in this program has allowed me insight into how to relate to younger children. Since I started working with my ‘family,’ I have gained a greater appreciation for making the children feel included and cared for, and I have seen a greater level of comfort from the children when they come to our monthly meetings. These activities provide students with more information about sensitive topics and encourage them to discuss anything they want with a sense of being in a safe zone.”

Malena Garcia adds, “I didn’t expect the maturity of the students! They were so polite, never interrupted me, and were always smiling. We all discuss what is going on, and how we can improve.” What’s more, says the group leader, “my seventh grader and I are definitely learning leadership skills.

And Alec Sanchez-Nigolian believes that “HPA Families are great for the school environment. We are building a strong community.” Alex also feels that in learning to work with younger children, he has become a better leader. “I just have a lot of fun with my ‘family.’ They love jokes and love to talk with one another. It’s really cool to see a student from every grade be friends. I truly care about my ‘family.’

While 8th grade family leaders stress the importance of working on Eagle Pride projects with their families, and all encourage their family members to discuss topics related to Positive Attitude, Respect, Integrity, Determination, and Excellence, they point to two additional aspects that are also essential to the success of the Families project. Isabelle Hopf may have said it best when she remarked, “This program instills a sense of camaraderie and connection. From my own experience coming to a new school and not knowing anyone, what made my time better was having others befriend me. My experience has been amazing, and I would love future eighth graders to feel the way I do when I lead my meeting each month.”



Jumpstart Your Child’s New School Year: 4 Smart Tips

By Gary Stern

As the magic of summer sets and rich experiences become treasured memories, children prepare to embark upon a new school year. As parents, we sometimes forget that, for our children, the new school year is an opportunity for new beginnings. It’s not solely an opportunity to benefit from summer reflections and dream new dreams, it’s also a time for your child to establish new goals, move toward new aspirations, and recommit to the journey toward his or her personal best.

So, here’s how you can take full advantage of such an ideal opportunity to help your K-8 student sail through the year ahead with plenty of success and positive reinforcement.

Tip #1: Embrace a “growth” mindset and a “strength-centered” approach.

This means that what you do to jumpstart your child’s year, you do with an eye to establishing meaningful goals to address areas for future growth and improvement. For instance, if your eight-year-old was struggling with math the previous year, seize the opportunity to focus on helping to build his math skills and math confidence. At the same time, embracing a strength-centered” approach means that you can also work purposefully to augment your child’s already evident strengths and talents (such as reading and comprehension). This dual approach ensures that you enhance the quality and success of the opportunities a new school year offers your individual child. In tandem with your child’s teachers, you embark upon a clearly delineated process to build upon your child’s strengths, reflect upon what contributes to the success of these strengths and, at the same time, apply these principles of success to address additional areas for future growth and improvement.

Tip #2: Develop one or two specific goals to pursue and monitor throughout the school year. Instead of taking things as they come and waiting for teacher conferences to find out what you and your child need to be working on, why not begin your child’s year by proactively developing one or two specific goals that you and your child’s teacher will monitor, going forward? These goals can center on strengthening certain academic skills or concepts, or might focus on enhancing organizational, study, and time-management skills. The goals could revolve around further developing leadership skills, interpersonal communication, public speaking, or more vigorously pursuing passions in athletics, technology, the arts, community service, and countless other possibilities. The important thing is to initiate this goal-setting process early on, with ongoing feedback from your child’s teacher. Here again, focusing on a “growth” mindset and a “strength-centered” approach will make all the difference.

Tip #3: Students, teachers, and parents work together as a team, to achieve the goals. Create a team-oriented approach to fulfill the goals that you and your child’s school have determined. Importantly, make sure that you empower your child to lead the team forward as the team captain, or you will set up a scenario for resistance, as opposed to one that encourages self-determination and empowerment. Of course, take the time to develop action steps designed to achieve the goals that have been set; then, consistently monitor this process. And don’t rush things: Keep in mind the enduring Chinese proverb that “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Tip #4: Take the time to plan, or it won’t happen. Remember the sage words of Benjamin Franklin: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” For your child to reach new heights in the new school year, there is simply no substitute for taking the time to formulate a workable, realistic plan and then commit to it.

A new school year. A new beginning. A fresh start! Leverage this special moment in time to clarify goals and priorities and continue to support and foster your child’s magical journey of ongoing growth and development.

What Makes High Point Special: The Students Speak

By Gary Stern

If you were to ask me, “What Makes High Point So Special?” I could certainly go on for hours, extolling a unique and nurturing culture that awakens the joy of learning in its students through outstanding teaching and curriculum, plus thoughtful strategic planning and implementation. A culture that achieves this through a broad and deep focus on academic excellence, diversity, and character building—and with the help of an HPA community that is so profoundly a family, alumni parents continue to serve the school long after their children have graduated.

But that’s just my take. Admittedly, I am a huge fan, since it is all of these aspects among others which drew me to High Point Academy in the first place.


Yet, most importantly, how do our students feel about their experience here, after their years at High Point? What would they tell other youngsters who may be enrolling here? To the parents of children who are seeking an independent school education in the San Gabriel Valley, what personal experience stories would they relate? What insight could they offer even to newcomers to California, who may have preconceived notions about a Southern California independent school education?

Our HPA “veterans”—our 8th graders—reveal their unique insights.

“I don’t say that it’s private school that is special; it’s High Point,” explains 8th grader Joelle Souma. “High Point has shaped us to be the people we are,” she says, putting character first.

DSC_0107And according to Joelle’s classmate Donya Jadvar, from her own earliest kindergarten memories onward, High Point has been a safe, special, and caring place in which to grow up. “One of my favorite memories is when I lost my first tooth in Mrs. Vernon’s kindergarten class.” Donya recalls. “I was scared and started crying. But Mrs. Vernon comforted me and told me to put the tooth under my pillow that night. She said I was about to get a surprise from the Tooth Fairy. Then she walked me down to the office, gave me a little bag for my tooth and a candy surprise from the Tooth Fairy.” The special little ritual was not only nurturing, it was a formative experience for Donya, resonating even years later. “But all the teachers at High Point are like this,” she insists. “All of my teachers have always been there for me.”

“What High Point does for us is show us that everyone—no matter what their background or culture is—can be a good person,” says Joelle. “We may be different in our own ways, but in many ways we are just like each other. Everyone here accepts and likes us for who we are.”

In fact, while some families new to the Pasadena area may assume that independent schooling comes with a more culturally homogenous environment than a public school education, Joelle’s most special memories, she says, have everything to do with her diverse HPA friendships. “I always learn something new from my friends here, and their different cultures. Because everyone here is different and there’s a lot of diversity, I get to know a little bit of everything!”

Her educational experience, she adds, has been unlike the experiences of her friends at other schools. “Kids at other schools say that each class is completely the same. My education here has been special because I honestly think [High Point teachers] have a different way of teaching. Every class is completely unique.”

Joelle’s BFF Sofia Christodoulelis agrees. “The teaching at High Point is really different. My friends from some other schools in Pasadena say, ‘Oh, can you help me with this?’ And I feel so smart and it’s just great! I think it’s because each teacher at High Point shapes how they teach to fit with you and how you learn. That really helps.”

Adds Sofia, “The learning is challenging, but since they care so much, it becomes easier. You feel more confident if your teachers are confident in you. That really helps me. Even though at the moment, things may be a little difficult, soon you’ll be in excellent shape and become a better person with self-motivation. It’s hard work and I really have to think.

Eighth graders Kabir Nagrecha and Adam Lewczuk both agree that it has been the willingness of High Point teachers to always go the extra mile that has made such a difference in their educational experience, and in their ability to move forward toward an excellent high school experience, as well. According to Kabir, currently a candidate for the Early Entrance Program at Cal State LA and a former pupil in the accelerated academic program at Crosfields School, England, “Our math teacher, Mr. Millard, helped me move into Algebra II and pre-Calculus, making it possible for me to pursue my advanced mathematics education.” (Kyron Millard is also the Jr. High Director.)

Adam recounts a similar experience with Mr. Millard: “He stepped in and made it possible for me to pursue Geometry at La Salle High School over the summer, when the school absolutely doesn’t do that for 7th graders going into 8th. I never asked him to do that for me; he saw that I had the potential to move into advanced math, and wanted to make sure I had all the opportunities I needed to succeed.” Adam went on to study Algebra II and additional higher math in 8th grade. (Adam has since received a Presidential Merit Scholarship to attend La Salle High School in the fall. He is one of eight High Point graduates who will receive such scholarships for attendance at the school.)

Donya Jadvar and her classmate Maddy Kwei, both of whom will matriculate to Polytechnic High School come autumn, had similar experiences with a number of High Point teachers during their years at the academy (including Mr. Millard and history teacher Gint Valiulis, who coordinates and orchestrates History Day, a favorite High Point Jr. High event; this year five High Point 8th grade students advanced to the state finals for History Day in Sacramento).

“The teachers here are really there for you, just like our parents are,” says Donya. “They truly care about you and push you to do your best, so I’ve always excelled here. And High Point is known for having a great 7th and 8th grade,” she adds. Junior High English teacher Colleen Zeiss, for instance, was always there for her, she confides. “She noticed that I was having trouble with sentence structure and told me I could come in for as many lunchtimes as I needed to. That meant a lot to me. She noticed it; she brought it up; she took her break times to help me with it. Mrs. Zeiss has such a love for English!” Donya exclaims, adding that this kind of dedication is “very common” among the teachers at High Point.

Maddy feels the same way about science teacher Krista Huezo. Though Maddy is a world traveler who loves languages and is in her seventh year of French at High Point, through her science studies she has also discovered the joy of hands-on experimentation and the intrigue of proving hypotheses. “Mrs. Huezo loves science so much, and I am sure that is one of the reasons I do, too.” Maddy relates that she came to High Point looking for a new academic challenge “and High Point gave me that challenge and took my academics to an entirely new level.”

According to Adam, the language program at High Point—with its highly qualified instructors—has been a major contributor to the excellence of his education. “Spanish was so important to me,” he notes, “at my previous school, Spanish didn’t exist in the early grades. At High Point, the instruction is excellent even in the early grades.”

When it comes to learning at High Point, what is also striking is how many 8th graders express, word-for-word, I learned so much from my friends here. “Everyone wants to help everyone else, and the student body is so diverse. I have learned so much about different cultures,” Donya explains. “We have International Day which is just so enriching, and we’ve all bonded by sharing our cultures. Over the years, we have become a family.”

“It doesn’t matter who you are or what your background is,” Maddy agrees. “My friends have taught me so much and I think the diversity is what has helped to make our friendships so special.”

Kabir credits the climate of “healthy competition among friends” as central to the environment of excellence at High Point. “Although everyone wants to achieve and do better and better, it’s still friendly competition,” he maintains, explaining that the desire to take achievement to higher and higher levels brings out the best in everyone, as friends help friends to learn. Both Joelle and Maddy describe memories of what could have been embarrassing moments in front of their classmates when “they didn’t laugh at me, they laughed with me; they were supportive of my mistake” which made all the difference. “High Point is so accepting of who you are,” says Maddy.

As our graduating High Point Eagles move on to their new schools in 2017-2018, we asked them if they had any parting words for the friends with whom they have shared so many fond memories, and the school at which they experienced so much personal and academic growth. Joelle Souma summed it up well when she spoke for all: “I will miss you SO much!!”

Children Need Their Parents Now, More Than Ever

By Gary Stern

As I look in the mirror and witness the natural aging process, more and more I find myself turning into my parents. Not just my physical resemblance to both my father and my mother but, more importantly, my character, values, passions and interests. In the mirror of life, I can clearly see how my parents shaped who I am as a person.

Recently, I have pondered the experiences that helped turn me into my parents (in a good way, of course!): My love of education and children came from my mother. She was a middle school home economics teacher and, for many years, a professor of child development at Los Angeles Valley College. I remember the family dinner table conversations where my mother would share her daily stories at school. She was passionate. She loved what she did. She was making a profound impact on the world. She was changing lives and the world for the better, one student at a time. So, professionally, I decided to follow my mother’s career path rather than use my law degree to practice law. As the saying goes, imitation is the greatest form of flattery.

And my father lives within me in my love of sports and the stock market. My father and I sat in the nose-bleed seats at Dodger Stadium and cheered for the Lakers during their magical championship run in the 1980s; such times together cemented my lifelong love of sports. Then too, my father read the Wall Street Journal every day, and our finance-related discussions that followed stimulated my interest in investments and the magic of compound interest.

Both of my parents were working professionals. Both worked hard and dedicated long hours to their professional pursuits. They instilled within me an insatiable work ethic, a desire to always try my best, and the grit to never give up no matter the obstacles.

But as hard as my parents worked, they always carved out precious time to be with me. My mother prioritized the importance of the entire family eating dinner together each night. Our family dinner table conversations were an invaluable venue in which stories were shared and values were passed from one generation to the next. I also have beautiful memories of my parents reading bedtime stories to me. These magical moments taught me not only to love learning, but deepened the emotional bond between my parents and me. Yet, as busy as my parents’ schedules were, they always found a way to attend my special events and activities and share in my successes and challenges. My award ceremonies, my Cub Scout meetings, the religious training for my Bar Mitzvah—my parents were always there, and it meant everything to me.

Today, it is harder for parents to be there for their children. Not just physically there, but fully present and engaged, both emotionally and psychologically. As a parent of two high schoolers, I completely understand: The world moves faster today. Technology has changed the world and has changed all of us in the process; we are expected to be “on,” 24/7. Although we may be home with our families, we are constantly tempted to remain connected to our devices instead of connected to one another. Our children face that same temptation. But we cannot allow technology to raise our children, instead of us.

So, what can we, as parents in the digital age, do to really and truly be there for our children? To avoid distractions and be fully present? Intuitively, we know it is the right thing to do. We know that, as parents, we are our children’s first teachers and their most profound role models and mentors. Here are a few suggestions:

Always prioritize eating dinner together as a family. The dinner should be device-free and full of rich conversation and communication that will encourage story sharing and impart timeless customs, traditions, and values to your children.

Take time to read to your children every night, if possible. As your children get older, encourage your children to read to you, if they wish. There is no better time to bond and share a mutual love of reading.

Juggle your busy schedules so that you can attend your children’s special events. Then, do your very best to disengage from your devices and immerse yourself in the magic of the event itself.

Carve out a device-free time in your home that is dedicated exclusively to communication among family members.

Encourage your children to participate in extracurricular activities and summer programs in which they have a genuine interest: athletics, art, theater, music, etc. But choose quality of activity over quantity of signups. In this way, you will empower your children to focus on pursuing their passions and avoid over-scheduling them for activities in which they have little or no interest.

Remain in ongoing communication with your children’s teachers and school. Remember: Your children spend more time at school than at home, and teachers have important insights about their students.

To put it simply, children need their parents now, as never before. Today’s ever-changing world is increasingly complicated and complex. Children are inundated with information from multiple sources and in ways we never could have imagined during our own childhoods. In the hustle and bustle of the modern world, our parental love, nurturance, and guidance are more essential than ever, if we hope to raise our children with the customs, tradition, values, and passions that will form the foundation for their future happiness and, ultimately, personal and professional success.

America: The Story of All of Us

By Mr. Gary Stern, Head of School.

Spring is a time of rebirth, reawakening, renewal. This year, I am needing spring more than in years past. I feel the need to reflect more deeply. I feel the need to process everything happening in the world around me. I feel the need to try to make sense of it all.

I am a history buff; always have been. As such, I always try to put things in perspective to connect and understand the past, present, and future.

I was born in 1966, a time of great change and transformation. Civil rights laws had just been enacted. Everyone was given the legal right to vote. Equality of opportunity and, in the eyes of the law, the promise of America seemed to have arrived at last. The American Dream seemed finally to be open to all. And the first moon landing was only three years away: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” What an amazing time to be alive, I thought. Yes, there was pushback. Sure, there were strong differences of opinion. Certainly, change was hard. But Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words appeared to ring true: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

From my sheltered upbringing in a relatively quiet Los Angeles suburb, I embarked upon my high school journey at a boarding school in the beautiful red rock country of Sedona, Arizona. Boarding school took me outside my comfort zone and I learned to appreciate that. As part of my school experience, I lived with an elderly woman in a hogan on a Navajo reservation (a hogan is the traditional Navajo hut of logs and earth). Then I lived with two different families in Mexico, attending church with the family, and school with their children. I became immersed in these cultures. The world opened up to me in ways I could never have imagined possible.

After boarding school, I went off to college at UC Berkeley in the early 1980s. My horizons broadened further as my world became more inclusive. I met my wife, Michelle. She was Catholic and did not share my Jewish faith or my Eastern European roots. Her heritage was African-American, Cherokee, East Indian, and Caucasian. We married in 1990 and in 2001, my wife gave birth to twins. Our children are America: they embrace every part of who they are. They do not identify themselves as exclusively African-American, Jewish or Catholic (we celebrate Christmas and Hanukah). My children are the American Mosaic. They check all the boxes that comprise their birthright.


Recently, my 15-year-old son had an incredible experience retracing the journey of the Freedom Riders during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement in Alabama. Along with a number of high schoolers, he visited the Baptist church in Montgomery where Martin Luther King began his career as a minister. He saw the bus stop in Montgomery where Rosa Parks first boarded a bus and refused to move to the back, as African-Americans had been compelled to for generations. My son met countless individuals and families who had participated in the Civil Rights Movement that challenged America to live up to the true meaning of its creed: That everyone is created equal. That everyone is entitled to life and liberty, and to be treated with dignity and respect. He met Jeff Drew, the son of a couple that had provided refuge to Martin Luther King, Jr. He met Bill Baxley, the lawyer who prosecuted one of the perpetrators of the tragic Sixteenth Street Baptist church bombing. Along the way, he met and spoke with people from all walks of life, in the city and in the countryside.

On his return, what did he conclude? He did not return bitter and angry that his ancestors were subject to systematic prejudice and discrimination. He did not return with hate in his heart. Instead, he said, “Everybody has a story to tell. The deep South is full of deep stories that need to be heard, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to listen to a few of millions.”


His reaction gives me hope that many in the younger generation do not see the world through a black or white lens. They see the human heart. They listen to and embrace everyone’s unique story. They hear and honor the diverse voices of America.

In my adult lifetime, I have never felt there was a more important moment to reflect upon and pay tribute to what makes our cherished country so unique and special. We are a country that believes in the “marketplace of ideas” that provides opportunity for self-expression and the freedom to voice one’s perspective, both individually and collectively. Our unique democratic values afford essential rights, freedoms, and responsibilities that allow individuals to flourish and boldly pursue their dreams and aspirations.

And so I encourage you, as parents, to take advantage of this teachable moment in history and discuss and celebrate with your children our country’s democracy and its commitment to ensuring the individual pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. Our unwavering commitment to democracy, freedom, and equality for all is what has made and continues to make America a beacon of light and liberty. America is not the story of some of us. America is the story of all of us. Take this opportunity to share and celebrate your unique stories with your children. Remind them that America is great because we are diverse. America is great because we are inclusive. Let us celebrate ourselves. Let us celebrate one another. We love and embrace each other for who we are. At High Point—at our very core—we are America. We are the coming together and celebration of our shared stories and traditions and our common embrace of liberty, freedom, and human dignity for all.

Perhaps President Abraham Lincoln best described our great nation and its embrace of democracy for all, when he proclaimed in the final words of his 1863 Gettysburg Address that “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

What Does It Mean To Be An American?

By Mr. Gary Stern, Head of School.

2016 and the first month of 2017 have been a time of great reflection and soul-searching about our great country and what it stands for. More recently, the celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday, the inauguration of a new president, and the upcoming Presidents’ Day holiday continue to provide inspiration for deep contemplation.

Compelling questions abound. For instance: What does it mean to be an American? What are the core values that bind us? What do we teach our children about America and what it means to be an American?

As a parent, a head of school, and an American, I grapple with these questions every day. To make sense of it all, I often find it comforting to think about my own story.


What does it mean to be an American? What are the core values that bind us?

Each of us has a unique and powerful story to tell, so I’ll start by sharing my own.

Mine is the story of Eastern European Jewish immigrants escaping poverty and prejudice. It is the story of my own grandfather and grandmother, arriving at Ellis Island penniless and with little but the clothes on their backs, a commitment to hard work, and the burning desire to pursue something called the American Dream. I vividly remember my grandfather telling me that, as a newly arrived 19-year old immigrant, he believed the streets of America were literally paved with gold and opportunity. I remember my other grandfather telling me about his miraculous, heroic escape from a prisoner-of-war camp in World War I, and how he fled to America aboard a cargo ship.

I am the grandson of impoverished immigrants who believed in the American Dream. They sought a better life, worked tirelessly night and day, and—through vision, faith, family, and hard work—did indeed realize the American Dream. I remember my grandparents’ love of America, and their Horatio Alger stories. “Only in America!” my grandfather would always exclaim. “Only in America!”

America is a nation of immigrants. We are a nation of dreamers. We are a nation bound together around the core values of democracy, equality, and freedom. Our nation is great not because we must speak with one voice but, rather, because we are diverse. Our nation is great because we are inclusive. Our nation is great because we believe in liberty and freedom. We believe in individual initiative and opportunity. Our nation lives and breathes Emma Lazarus’ words, inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free /

Our individual and collective stories define what it means to be an American. What is your family’s story?

What do we teach our children about America and what it means to be an American?

At High Point, the six C’s of 21st century education thrive, and one of those C’s is cross-cultural understanding. Every day, we teach our children that each of our stories is the story of America. In fact, nowhere is this commitment more evident than on International Day, coming up on January 27th, when we celebrate, embrace, and affirm that all cultures and traditions give America its strength.

The truth is, each of our unique journeys defines what it means to be an American. That’s why the first step in developing cross-cultural understanding is to affirm and embrace our own identities and heritage. By doing so, we can then appreciate and understand the identities and rich heritage of our friends and peers. We can then branch out even further and develop an understanding of people and cultures around the globe—an essential 21st century life skill in a transformative, global world.

Through this process, we teach our children the following:

That America is a rich mosaic of cultures, ethnicities, languages, and backgrounds from countries throughout the world. That Americans not only embrace this rich mosaic, they take great pride in their heritage, traditions, and customs, individually and collectively.

We teach our children that Americans share and celebrate our unique stories. And in doing so, we foster the essential 21st century skill of cross-cultural understanding.

We teach our children that Americans are united by common core values: We are kind, friendly, respectful, and honest. We are understanding, we work hard, and we believe in freedom and liberty for all.

We teach our children that Americans do not judge others by what they see on the outside but, in the words of Martin Luther, King, Jr., only by the “content of their character.”

The Importance of an International Community

High Point is a beautiful reflection of America. Our community is a rich mosaic of cultures, ethnicities, languages, and backgrounds. We are bound by cherished values. We are a close-knit family in which everyone is welcomed and embraced. Our students’ commitment to community service and outreach demonstrates, every day, that inclusiveness and appreciation of others’ perspectives, heritage, and history makes us all the best Americans we can be.

Yo-Yo Ma, the French-born American cellist and United Nations Messenger of Peace, may have put it best when he said of America: “Our cultural strength has always been derived from our diversity of understanding and experience.” Happily, our children intuitively appreciate this principle. The future of America is therefore bright, for our children are the future and they understand that, above all else, character counts. When we as parents and educators nurture the very best instincts of our children, our children will lead the way in ensuring that the future represents the very best of America.

2017: Enriching the Best of Who We Are

By Mr. Gary Stern, Head of School

Nothing rings in the cherished holiday spirit like the pure joy and inspiration of hearing the voices of children singing songs of brotherhood, friendship, and classic renditions of winter holiday songs. High Point’s Holiday Show in December brought to life this beautiful range of emotions: We laughed. We cheered. We reminisced. We cried. Our hearts sang along as we came together as one—the High Point Family.


Certainly, there is nothing more precious in life than spending quality time with family; that is the magic of the holiday season. We celebrate who are and where we came from. We deepen our connection with our core values and traditions. And we realize why life is so special: It’s all about family, friends, and togetherness. It means we spread joy and love beyond our homes, and into our communities. During the holidays we appreciate that our lives have a greater purpose than simply tending to ourselves. Our spirit is rekindled; our souls are rejuvenated.

A Time for Personal and Professional Growth

Yet, the New Year is not necessarily about becoming a “brand new” person; it is a time for more subtle new beginnings. Not wholesale changes, but a focus on simple personal and professional growth and self-improvement. In the New Year, we strive to improve ourselves and our work incrementally. We try to be the best of who we are.

It is in this spirit of subtle new beginnings that High Point renews its commitment to its mission: To awaken the joy of learning in every student. To carry on our unwavering dedication to academic excellence and character development.

New Year, New Professional Development Opportunities

Mission inspires action—in our case, collaborative action embodied by the School’s recently adopted 2016-2021 Strategic Plan. One of the central tenets of our Strategic Plan: professional development of our faculty and staff. With this in mind, January 3rd was dedicated to technology training for our faculty, empowering our teachers’ use of technology to enhance curriculum and instruction. Thanks to High Point families’ generous support of the Annual Fund, High Point maintains a:

  • 2:1 iPad program in kindergarten-3rd grade
  • 1:1 laptop program in 4th-8th grades

During the technology training, an Apple- and Google-certified trainer worked with K-3 faculty to enrich curricula via the highly effective incorporation of iPads. Then the trainer demonstrated to upper-grade faculty how to harness the power of laptops to further enhance our curriculum.

Ongoing Daily 5 CAFÉ training with an acclaimed consultant continues to empower K-2nd grade teachers. This professional development inspires teachers to incorporate the most up-to-the-minute reading comprehension, vocabulary, and study skills strategies into the classroom.

High Point is also expanding its work with a renowned math curriculum expert. She is showing teachers how to incorporate more in-depth problem-solving into math instruction and the math program as a whole. Additionally, High Point is providing even greater in-depth training within the Writer’s Workshop. This program is designed to further enhance students’ expository and creative writing skills across a variety of genres.

Serving Community in 2017

Community service and fostering social-emotional learning are important mission-based priorities of the HPA Strategic Plan. In fact, the Eagles have landed in High Point’s new Community Engagement/Service Program! Because the best community engagement is a two-way conduit, the new program not only introduces HPA students to the community, it acquaints the community with the uniqueness of our wonderful students. To this end, this year all kindergarten-6th grade students are participating in developmentally appropriate, local community service projects. These projects will likely become High Point traditions in the best sense of the word. What’s more, 7th and 8th grade students have had the opportunity to plan their own Community Engagement Projects. Finally, our new Community Engagement Blog will feature students’ meaningful experiences in greater depth.


Awakening, Fostering, Enhancing

Though change may be subtle in 2017, it will be no less powerful as High Point deepens its commitment to its mission: Awakening the joy of learning in every student. Fostering academic excellence. Enhancing students’ academic, emotional, and ethical development.

This New Year, our “next steps” renew our dedication to strengthen HPA’s timeless core values for the benefit of each and every student, enabling us all to be the best of who we are, in 2017 and beyond. Here’s to a very special New Year ahead!

About Mr. Gary Stern

Mr. Gary Stern is the Head of School at High Point Academy, a K-8 School nestled in the foothills of the San Gabriel Valley. Mr. Stern’s mission is to implement a 21st century curriculum at High Point, rife with critical and creative thinking opportunities that awakens the joy of learning in students and provides the essential balance of a strong traditional academic program with an innovative eye toward the future.

The 2016 Election: A Prime Opportunity to Help Our Children

img_5826When the 2016 election results surfaced, half of our country was jubilant, the other half quite the opposite. Yet, in the aftermath of the general election—hearing first-hand reactions from family, friends, colleagues, and our faculty and staff at High Point Academy—one thing became clear to me, as an educator: how essential it is to use this moment as a teaching opportunity for our children.

Here then, are some simple ways that you can use our recent US election and its results—thrilling for some, undoubtedly gut-wrenching for others—to positively impact your own children.

1 – Reassure your children that, no matter what, they are safe, loved, and cared for. Make sure to tell them up front, and as often as needed, that you are always there to support them and help them, and their teachers are, too.

2 – Little pitchers have big ears. Familiar with this old adage? It means that though your children may seem to be preoccupied when they are about, they are actually listening to—and hanging on—every word you say. What’s more, they may not be able to assess your true intent. So, think before you speak in the presence of children, especially if your words are negative, disparaging, or angry. Words you may quickly forget could inadvertently cause children to become fearful.

3 – Share open and honest communication with your children, but at an appropriate level. Be mindful that young children ask the questions that will elicit only the information they need. So don’t overshare and overwhelm them! Older children may need more information than younger ones do, to feel secure. Let children’s questions be your guide, and be careful to share the information that they can embrace and understand. 20161108_084117

4 – See adversity as an opportunity to model hope, optimism, and resilience, and communicate that to your children and students. Best-selling pop fantasy writer Sherrilyn Kenyon may have said it best, through her character, Wulf: “Sometimes things have to go wrong, in order to go right.” Take the time to sit down with children and let them know that it’s OK for both grown-ups and children to feel scared, sad, disappointed, or angry at times, when things don’t go “right.” Explain that there will always be challenges in life; times when things go completely wrong and defy our expectations. But tell them, too, that if things always went perfectly, we would learn little in life. It is how we respond to adversity and the challenges we face that ultimately makes us strong and resilient—able to withstand tests and bounce back. It is adversity that, in the end, propels us forward, and gives us our true opportunities for growth. And it is the knowledge that we can handle adversity that builds optimism and hope within us, and makes us see the world as a place where even difficult things will eventually improve.

5 – Share a personal story, if at all possible. It’s always important to discuss things with children on a human, as opposed to abstract, level. And no human is more interesting than mom, dad, or teacher! So make a compelling story out of a time you had to rise above a great disappointment: the school election everyone said you would win (but you lost); the months you spent practicing for a tournament or concert, only to fumble your big moment in humiliation; the time you unsuccessfully applied for your first job. Then share, too, how you used that defeat to come back, stronger, wiser, and better—and achieve your goals or even then some. Explain how you might never be where you are today, if you hadn’t learned to use your “failures” as opportunities to grow and learn.

6 – Show your child that a time of greatest alienation, when we feel most apart from one another, is the precise time for everyone to come together and support each other. Remind them what it feels like when anger turns to hugs, adversaries shake hands, and everyone pitches in to work together. It’s a feeling that anything is possible, where we thought nothing would be.

So, don’t let the momentous times in life—good or bad–slip by without ensuring they help the children you care about. These are the inspirational teaching opportunities we cannot let pass us by.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Investing in Outstanding Teachers

Maybe you’ve heard us use the term “Professional Development”? Possibly it sounded like a dry, technical, educational term to you. But here’s what you didn’t know: It is High Point Academy’s laser focus on professional development that ensures our teachers deliver an exceptional 21st century education to our students.

To put it simply, our emphasis on professional development is the ultimate investment in our faculty—and thus, in your children. Importantly, High Point is investing resources to make this priority a reality and your 2016-2017 Annual Fund donations are instrumental in making it possible for us to offer our faculty powerful professional development and enrichment programs. P1430144.JPG

Strategic Plan Directive

In fact, professional development is a mainstay of our 2016-2021 Strategic Plan. The plan specifically lays out our commitment to enhance professional growth programs for faculty. Yet, these programs are not only designed to promote excellence and innovation in the curriculum. The Strategic Plan also directs that the faculty itself be engaged in the planning of programs which are responsive to teachers’ needs. Toward this end, we meet with our teachers on a continual basis to discuss and monitor their professional goals and ongoing development efforts.

Encouragement and Support

HPA not only supports, but actively and consistently encourages and funds faculty participation in all sorts of professional development activity. That activity includes seminars, conferences, associations, continuing study and certification, plus teaching and leadership opportunities.

On-site Training for Teachers

Our faculty enthusiastically and persistently pursue every opportunity imaginable to enrich and enhance their teaching abilities. They seek out off-campus educational offerings after hours, on weekends, and over the summer.

Yet, High Point Academy has also rigorously pursued and established its own on-campus development offerings for our teaching staff. As mandated by our Strategic Plan, we have empowered our faculty to contract, design, and create professional development offerings that will continue to enrich curriculum and instruction at High Point.

Among the on-site professional development offerings for 2016-2017 are:

  • Daily 5 CAFÉ training – empowers K-2 teachers to incorporate the most up-to-the-minute reading comprehension, vocabulary, and study skills strategies into the classroom.
  • ERB Data Training – An Education Records Bureau representative works with faculty to improve data interpretation of ERB standardized test scores. The training is purposely designed to help teachers use that knowledge to optimize curriculum and instruction.
  • Responsive Classroom Training – HPA teachers well-trained in this specialized character education program share their knowledge and skills with their faculty colleagues. By doing so, they create a deeper sense of community and caring within the classroom and across the larger High Point community.
  • Math Professional Development – High Point has secured a renowned math curriculum expert for this special opportunity. She trains teachers in the many exciting ways they can incorporate in-depth problem-solving into the math curriculum and into math instruction.
  • Apple- and Google-Certified Training – (Coming soon.) An Apple-certified trainer will work with K-3 faculty to enrich curricula via the highly effective incorporation of iPads. A Google-certified trainer will show teachers how to harness the power of laptops to further enhance our tech-empowered curriculum.
  • Writer’s Workshop – High Point continues to provide even greater in-depth training via this prominent program. It is designed to enhance students’ expository and creative writing skills across a variety of genres. This program helps teachers to instill a passion for writing and enable a greater understanding of the writing process itself.

Our Ongoing Dedication to Excellence

Going forward, High Point Academy remains committed to prioritizing the professional development of its faculty. We continually assess our faculty, students, and national/international educational advancements, to ensure our teachers offer your children the best education possible. We are dedicated to nurturing teachers who will lead the charge in 21st century education.

To support our efforts, please click here to make your contribution to the High Point Academy Annual Fund.