Although the School Committee rejected Fusion Academy's request to open as an alternative school in town, the education facility opened up anyway, but as a "learning center" rather than a school earlier this month.

The center, located at 3 Dundee Park Drive, will offer 50-minute tutoring and mentoring sessions. Fusion will not, however, offer any courses for credit, which would make it a full-fledged school.

With initial plans to open as a private school in January, Fusion's proposal was rejected by the School Committee following concerns expressed by Assistant Superintendent Sandra Trach and echoed by Superintendent Sheldon Berman.

At a meeting, Trach said a number of requested documents had not been provided to the school district from Fusion, including an anti-discrimination policy, handbooks, and data regarding teacher turnover, subject matter expertise, and preparation time.

Trach also noted differences between Fusion Academy and Andover Public Schools, stating that Fusion's programs "fail to meet with the same thoroughness and efficiency of Andover Public Schools."

Their new plan, which Michelle Houlihan, head of school of Fusion in Andover, said the committee is aware of and on board with, will allow Fusion to continue to offer services and raise awareness of their institute.

"We're kicking off as a learning center which is actually interesting because Fusion started off as a learning center," said Houlihan.

Houlihan said the center will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and will offer tutoring and mentoring in a number of subjects including yoga, art, wellness, robotics, computer programming and more. The school will also assist students with daily struggles like organizing thoughts, time management, planning and study skills.

Fusion will provide students the extra help in a one-on-one setting, with sessions that are individually designed for the student and his or her needs.

The center has 26 classrooms, as well as a music studio, science lab, art studio and in-the-works technology lab. There are two homework cafes — a silent and a social cafe — where students can complete homework alongside peers or mentors, or in a quiet setting.

Though they traditionally serve grades 6 through 12, Houlihan said Fusion in Andover will explore other grade levels now that they are functioning as a learning center. Their services are open to any students.

"The thing I love about Fusion is that we can really meet students where they are — whether it's a social reason, emotional reason, a bad time, a good time — and make their academic journey fun and engaging and exciting," said Houlihan. "And the people here really care."

Houlihan said Fusion is the perfect in-between for families with children who aren't interested in attending a traditional private school or an alternative school.

Grace Desmarais, a teacher at Fusion, was geared toward the institute because of personal experiences with her sister, who is on the spectrum and struggled with attending public schools.

"When I was doing my training here, I felt like this was the school I wish my family had the opportunity to send my little sister to because it's exactly the environment that would have changed her life," she said.

Houlihan said after functioning as a learning center, they hope to apply a second time for approval as a private school from the Andover School Committee.


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