MISHAWAKA – Leaders of the International Soccer Academy of America – a small, private, athletically-focused high school on Edison Road – are celebrating this week after receiving accreditation from the Indiana State Board of Education.
The school, which just completed its first year, was initially denied accreditation last July after state board members said the academy failed to provide detailed accounts of its anticipated budget, teaching methods and capacity to support virtual education.
Accreditation: Soccer academy plans to open despite rejected request
State board staff came back with a positive recommendation this month, saying the school’s most recent accreditation request rectified deficiencies found in the academy’s first attempt.
The state board approved the school’s latest request Wednesday morning with little discussion as part of its 11-item consent agenda.
“Last year was tough,” the school’s founder, Ethan Hunt, said. “It was nice to get to this year and hear that you’ve done a good job. That gives you reassurance.”
Earning accreditation means the school can now graduate students with Indiana’s CORE 40 academic diplomas and take part in the state’s choice scholarship program, which could come as a welcome sign for families eying the academy’s $ 25,000 per-year tuition.
Tuition covers students’ academic needs, facility use, travel for competition and college tours. That $ 25,000 sticker price, however, is rarely what students pay.
Through company sponsorships and student scholarships, the school has been able to offset tuition to an average cost of $ 5,000, Hunt said. Families never pay more than 10% of their families’ annual household income.
The academy is located on Edison Road at the former Edison Lakes YMCA between Grape Road and Main Street. Lippert, a premier sponsor of the school, has helped furnish renovations and paid for students’ school supplies, Hunt said.
The school’s mission is to bring academics and athletics together in one school with a focus on college readiness and collegiate competition.
The academy is not a member of the Indiana High School Athletic Association and instead competes against teams such as Grace College, Bethel University and Huntington University, as well as other schools across the Midwest – a prospect that’s helped the school recruit prospective students.
“Here, you can tell that people want to play to become better,” said Jordan Lopez, who visited for a shadow day and will join the school this fall. “I really liked that. I’m a really competitive person.”
The academy, through a sponsorship with Spanish soccer club Villarreal, can send up to two students all-expenses paid to Spain for a week of training with the professional team. With scholarships and family support, more students may be able to join the trip.
The academy in its first year served 32 students and is looking to grow that number to about 60 by next school year. Hunt says he’s especially working to recruit female athletes.
Right now, about 20% of students are women and 92% are Hispanic. Hunt says he’d like to grow to a 50-50 ratio of male-to-female student athletes. As a private school, many of the academy’s students come from across northern Indiana.
The school employs four teachers and is looking to hire an additional English teacher by next year. All but one are licensed, Hunt said, and the school works to keep a low 8-to1 student-to-teacher ratio.
Classes offered include core subjects such as math and language arts, as well as others, including Spanish, business and mindfulness – a class students say has transferred to their skills on the field.
“It made us way more prepared mentally in the game,” said Bryan Medina, who will be a sophomore this fall. “We had to learn how to breathe.”
Hunt says the school has brought in about $ 110,000 this year through student tuition fees and about $ 150,000 through small and large sponsorships with local businesses and families.
Accreditation means the academy can now further supplement tuition fees through the Indiana School Choice Scholarship program, which pays private schools the equivalent state funding a public school would receive for a student based on which school district they live in.
For most International Soccer Academy of American students, that equates to about $ 6,000 per student in dollars the school can use to offset tuition costs. Hunt estimates the choice program will net the academy a total of $ 240,000 next school year. The school will also be eligible to receive funding for its special education students, including four who are currently enrolled in the school.
Accreditation also plays a role in public perception, Hunt said. Over the last year, the young school has not devoted a large sum of money to marketing in favor of investing in students’ educational needs. Hunt said, instead, he focused his recruiting efforts through Instagram and word-of-mouth communication.
Making the pitch for a new school without accreditation, though, has come with its challenges. Hunt says he’s heard from prospective parents and sponsors that they’d feel more comfortable investing in a school that has received approvals from the state.
He said the school was able to better frame its accreditation request this year after having data and sponsorship dollars under their belt after opening this school year. For example, Hunt said, he was able to share with state officials signs of academic progress among the schools ‘first class, including a jump in students’ average GPA from 1.8 to 3.1 over the course of the academic year.
“I believe that athletics is a vehicle to get students where they want to be in their professional life,” Hunt said. “Maybe some of these kids need soccer right now and that keeps them in school and then they get a degree in whatever they want to do.… If they get a soccer scholarship, that’s the icing on the cake. But, it doesn’t have to be just that. “
The school now, with accreditation under its belt, is focused on expanding its reach. The academy currently enrolls three students, including one from Mexico and two from Michigan, who stay with host families – generally, parents of other students at the academy who agree independent of the school to house classmates.
Opening soon: Mishawaka native bets big on soccer-only private high school
Hunt can foresee this program expanding in the future with a greater international reach. He’s also got his vision set on a longer term goal of exploring middle school education.
Mishawaka Mayor Dave Wood, who visited the school for its accreditation announcement Wednesday, said he has been in discussion with the academy about the use of the city parks department’s athletic fields. He said he sees the school as a fitting partner as the city works towards building its own regional athletic complex.
“In this case, you’re bringing students from all over to experience Mishawaka,” Wood said of the school. “It’s our opportunity to put our best foot forward and show off this wonderful community.”
Email South Bend Tribune education reporter Carley Lanich at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @carleylanich.