This Flexible, Customized Education Model Will Change Your Perception of Private Schools

Parents and educators know that every child is unique. Still, individualized instruction that addresses each student’s uniqueness remains elusive in many traditional schools—public and private.

Brightmont Academy is a private school for grades 6–12 that uses a one-to-one instructional approach exclusively. Since 1999, Brightmont Academy has aspired to fill that void by customizing the educational program for every single student. At our schools, one teacher works with one student throughout each learning session. Our success is measured by each student’s success. Brightmont currently operates 11 campuses in Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota and Washington.

Many families might prefer more traditional models for their children, and they absolutely deserve that option. But by using this one-to-one instruction model, our school is able to overcome two significant factors that continue to handicap many traditional schools with many students: customized academic instruction and flexible scheduling.

Because each program is tailored for the individual student, students achieving their enrollment goals tend to be in the upper 90th percentile. Graduation rates have been at 100 percent in some years, and many Brightmont graduates go on to attend competitive colleges and universities. Success at Brightmont is measured by individual student successes, which often translate into continued success after integrating out of one-to-one instruction and into traditional classroom-based models.

According to our 2016 parent satisfaction survey, all were satisfied (46.2% extremely, 46.2% very, 7.7% moderately, 0% slightly, 0% not at all) with a similar distribution for “quality of teachers” and “confidence that the director understood the needs of their children.”

Most compelling is the direct feedback from students.

  • 93 percent said Brightmont is a safe and caring place.
  • 86.2 percent said Brightmont teachers made learning fun and interesting.
  • 100 percent said Brightmont teachers were knowledgeable in their subject area.
  • 93 percent said Brightmont helped them to achieve academic goals, with 7 percent saying maybe, and 0 students responding negatively.

It’s a shame that so many parents are still unaware that such schools exist and that they are still seen as so revolutionary. In this piece, I hope to spread the word to parents about our schools’ unique features, address questions about cost and paint a picture of a brighter future, where all families have the access and freedom to choose schools like ours for their children.

Customized Academic Instruction

For some students, special education services can satisfy the need for customized academic instruction. But many students beyond those with an underlying special education need merit additional attention from the teacher. Introverted students are less likely to participate in classroom discussions, but can’t hide in a one-to-one setting. Every student must answer every question.

Some students have uneven abilities. Brightmont enables a student to be working both above- and below-grade level at the same time in different subjects. A student with special needs may enroll in advanced classes such as Physics and Calculus, subjects not generally available within a special education resource room, but still very appropriate for college-bound students with physical and mental health disabilities, but no cognitive deficits. We can also accommodate students on the autism spectrum who might become overstimulated in larger school settings, but otherwise are able to manage the demands of a college-prep curriculum.

Flexible Scheduling

Beyond the academic reasons for one-to-one instruction, there are some students who simply can’t access traditional education because they can’t attend regularly. These include students with chronic illnesses, significant anxiety disorders, terminally ill parents, those with the very rare opportunities to compete athletically and child actors, musicians, models and other performers. Flexible scheduling can remove many barriers to success. If a student is ill or travelling, Brightmont can pause instruction while the student is absent, then resume right where they left off without a huge backlog of assignments to make up.

Time of day can also become a barrier. If a student takes medication that causes them to be very sluggish in the morning, school can be postponed to start at 10:30 a.m. instead. An older student who is working may adjust the class schedule around their shift. An athlete competing in a winter sport can attend a school year from March through November and take “summer break” during winter when their sport is most demanding.

Dual Enrollment

Beyond operating as a fully-customized private school, Brightmont allows students to hand-select the best of all instruction formats through dual enrollment. Some students take all academic courses at Brightmont where instruction and pacing is tailored for individual needs and also attend classroom-based instruction in a neighborhood public school to participate in classes like orchestra, drama and a full range of electives. The option to mix-and-match ensures that students continue to receive peer recognition in those areas where they excel, and allows the privacy of one-to-one instruction in subjects where they need individualized attention.

History of Brightmont

Brightmont Academy began in 1999 in Seattle. I was completing an educational leadership graduate school program, and also tutoring extensively. I observed that tutoring often wasn’t the panacea we hoped it would be. I investigated private school requirements and learned that Washington State Administrative Code outlined a process to issue high school credits based on mastery-based instruction instead of seat time. Using this school model, Brightmont achieved favorable results, enabling multiple students to make up credits to graduate on time with their class or to earn a Brightmont diploma during a time when few other education options existed.

The school has expanded significantly and replicated in other areas. Today, Brightmont Academy operates 11 campuses based in Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota and Washington State. Each school is fully accredited and staffed with an experienced campus director who oversees instruction and serves as case manager for each student as well as a team of talented teachers who engage and mentor their students at the same time they deliver academic instruction. Beyond my home state of Washington, the other states offer higher levels of school choice and, therefore, represent areas where families actively seek alternatives and are receptive to different instructional approaches.

One-to-One Instruction Model as a School Choice Option

The one-to-one instruction model is one of the oldest models around, and yet our school, even after 18 years of demonstrated success with underserved student populations, is consistently labelled “innovative.” It’s a model that works for everyone because it allows educators to employ the best practices for each individual student. Research supports it. Educational psychologist Dr. Benjamin Bloom, highly respected as one of the most advanced thinkers on the teaching and learning process, published his findings on the effectiveness of one-to-one instruction back in 1984.

The only barrier to widespread implementation identified in Bloom’s study was cost.  Brightmont Academy is able to provide one-to-one instruction on a full-time basis at a tuition level comparable to other independent private schools and approximately 3 to 4 times the amount of public school per-pupil funding. Instead of sharing the teacher’s time with 29 or more classmates, the student has the undivided attention of that teacher, so as with other school models, employment costs are the greatest school expense.

Students with special education funding often fit right into our tuition range financially, and some public school districts choose to place students at Brightmont Academy when the student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) calls for one-to-one instruction.

In states that offer school choice funding, we see increased enrollments from families for whom finances were the only barrier to selecting the one-to-one option. Our enrollment numbers constantly shift because we allow rolling admissions and students may graduate at any point they accrue enough credits, but we have served as high as 70 percent of our total student population at a campus as students funded completely through the Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Account program, rather than parents who privately paid tuition. The campus director will meet with each family to help them understand enrollment options, available funding sources and how to combine Brightmont with other school models when necessary to stretch tuition dollars as far as possible.

Brightmont Academy has brought the option of one-to-one instruction to parents who choose this private school and can afford the tuition. State-funded school choice programs have significantly broadened the range of families served by providing a funding source to many who would otherwise find the tuition prohibitive. I look forward to the day when one-to-one instruction becomes just one more choice on the continuum of school choice options available to all families.