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Mall of academia Robert Moreno | Sat, Jun 22 2013 12:00 PM

The newest addition to the Westfield Plaza Bonita mall isn’t a giant retail chain or another cell phone kiosk.

The Charter School of San Diego welcomed its newest learning center, and its first in the South Bay, when it opened in May at the indoor mall.

Created for seventh- through 12th-graders, the learning center is for students who are behind in academic credits and prefer small group interaction, said Jackie Robertson, communications specialist with The Charter School of San Diego.

The school took over the old location of Tilt arcade.

But it’s not all fun and games at the National City charter school, as students have to work to bring their grades up.

The free public school is authorized by the San Diego Unified School District.

Since the school’s beginning, Robertson said it has had a relationship with Westfield malls throughout the county.

There are 20 Charter School’s of San Diego with five of them located inside a Westfield mall.

Robertson said having Plaza Bonita as its residence provides the school with unique resources that aren’t offered at a regular school.

“It really offers a location where students can get jobs,” Robertson said.

“They can be mentored by the other mall merchants. We’ve had managers come in and talk about interview skills and we do mock interviews. (Managers discuss) how to dress for an interview and how to present yourself.”

The National City location currently has 89 students with three credentialed teachers and two-part time classroom assistants.

To keep the learning experience personal, teachers get a classroom assistant once they have 25 students in a class, Robertson said.

Ninth grader Sophia Hernandez, who attended High Tech High before the new learning center, said the one-on-one experience is a reason why she prefers the charter school over her high school.

“When I came here it was better because I had a one-on-one teacher,” Sophia said. “I would get the help because there’s not that many students, and at a normal high school there is like a ton. At the high school I went to there was like 30 students and I didn’t get as much help sometimes.”

Sophia said her shyness would deter her from asking her teachers at High Tech High for help.

She said the one-on-one learning takes away her shyness.

The learning center has designed a personalized education program for students to catch up on credits at their own pace.

Staff and students analyze the credits accumulated at their original school, then work out a plan to catch up on all credits to meet California’s graduation requirements.

“Each student has a personalized plan,” Robertson said. “It is really tailored to what they need, which is really exceptional.”

Once caught up, Robertson said, students can either opt to go back to their original school or stay at the charter school.

The Charter School of San Diego follows an independent study model where students go to class two to three days a week.

Robertson said students also work from home, where teachers are available by e-mail or phone.

For a student to attend class, they must book an appointment. This is to prevent overcrowding, Robertson said.

The school is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The new Plaza Bonita learning center participates in a schoolwide graduation at Balboa Park.

Students can choose to graduate from the school they came from or graduate with the charter school.

Hayley Beaupre, a teacher at the Plaza Bonita learning center, said that as a teacher at the new center she feels like she is making a difference in the lives of students.

“I really wanted to work somewhere where I felt like I was making a difference and impacting the students who tend to be overlooked in other systems,” Beaupre said.

As with all schools, The Charter School of San Diego system adheres to California’s graduation requirements, including having their students take the California High School Exit Exam.

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