Public School Districts Looking to Create Programs Catering to Advanced Student-Athletes

The Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District and the Fullerton School District are both working to launch different programs to offer students athletic training along with academics.

Public School Districts Looking to Create Programs Catering to Advanced Student-Athletes

Families in Orange County are passionate about youth sports. Thousands of kids take part in programs and clubs every week, training and competing in football, soccer, baseball, water polo and more. 

Now two local public school districts want to establish programs catering to student-athletes motivated to excel to the highest levels of their sport. 

The Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District and the Fullerton School District are both working to launch different programs to offer students athletic training along with academics. Both programs could be available for the 2024-25 school year.

The Fullerton School District hopes to offer the Performance Academy Sports Program in the fall. The FSD, which serves roughly 11,400 students in grades TK-8, said the program aims to fill a niche for advanced athletes by “offering first class coaching, conditioning, and strength training while attending free, in-person school,” according to a FSD news release.

Over the last several years, numerous youth sports training programs have cropped up in Orange County. Geared toward highly motivated young athletes, some of the programs are at private schools, and charter schools, while some require participants to be homeschooled or take part in online instruction.

“There has been a huge influx of students and parents looking for this specialized training, especially post-Covid,” FSD Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Adaina Brown, Ed.D., told the FSD Board of Trustees during a presentation at the April 16 meeting

Dr. Brown shared that her son participated in a sports training academy for football that offered online instruction. But, she said, many parents want a program with in-person public schooling and sports training in the same location to save money, minimize driving times, and simplify family schedules.

That’s where FSD hopes to offer something new, according to district officials.

If approved by the FSD Board of Trustees later this month, the program would allow qualified 6th, 7th, and 8th graders enrolled in the district to have a shortened academic school day, freeing up more time to take part in training for sports. 

In its first year, the program would be offered to 6th graders at Rolling Hills Elementary School and 7th and 8th graders at Parks Junior High School.

Sixth graders’ school day would end around 1:00 p.m. Junior high schoolers would take part in five periods for the day and use their P.E. period and an elective period for sports-specific training, weight lifting, and other athletic activities. Students would have to regularly fill out an activity log to receive physical education credit.

Students could opt to go offsite to attend one of the existing sports training academies in the area. Or, students could choose to be in what FSD stresses would be new and unique, and do their training at the Parks campus with Delta Prep Academy, a program for young athletes based in Tustin. The program would also feature “enrichment opportunities” such as lessons in marketing, Name-Image-Likeness (NIL) deals, and field trips to colleges.

“So as you can see, in some cases, we're proposing a program that currently doesn't exist in Orange County. And it could be a niche, potentially for others, but actually for our own families,” FSD Superintendent Bob Pletka, Ed.D., shared at the April 16 meeting.

Dr. Pletka said the district had lost 1,500 students during the Covid-19 pandemic and he had heard of some families that have left FSD, or are thinking about leaving, to better accommodate their children’s athletic activities.

While the students in the new performance academy program would be able to receive a free, public school in-person education from FSD, they would still need to be accepted into a qualifying sports training academy, which can vary in price. The cost to attend Delta Prep is $1,000 a month. 

The associated costs was a concern for board member Ruthi Hanchett. Dr. Pletka did say that a donor had expressed an interest in giving $10,000 in scholarships to the program. 

Parks Junior High School P.E. teacher Matthew Stricker cautioned that the program could exacerbate comparison culture at his campus.

"As the program was described to me, there will be afternoons when my regular P.E. classes will be sharing the field with the Academy. And while many students may glance over and think to themselves, 'Oh my gosh I'm so glad I'm not having to do that,' there could also be at the same time inevitably, some students who may not only feel left out, but feel disheartened, feeling like they're falling so far behind in sports that maybe they might get to the point of quitting their sport aspirations altogether,” Stricker said at the April 16 board meeting.

Board Vice President Hilda Sugarman suggested the sports program could be compared to past efforts in the district. “But my priority in thinking about this is when a child needs special [education], we provide special [education]. When a child is gifted, we provide gifted education. We work really hard to look at the whole child and provide children in Fullerton with what they need," she said.

“I think our first priority is we have a long history of giving families a sense of freedom and opportunities to make choices about their kids," Dr. Pletka said and added later, “But there's been this sense that our families, we want to give them choices and opportunities to help their kids move forward based on what they believe is best for their family. And so this would be one more area that would fit in that."

Again, the FSD program still needs to be approved by the FSD Board of Trustees and is expected to be on the agenda for the board’s May 21 meeting. 

Right now FSD is accepting letters of intent to register for its program to gauge interest in the proposal. As of Tuesday, the district had already received 30 letters, according to Anna Im, Executive Assistant at FSD. The deadline to submit the forms is May 16. The FSD is also holding information sessions and school tours. The next information night is scheduled for May 30. 

While the FSD sports program would set up a formalized framework geared to help student-athletes, the Placentia-Yorba Linda USD is looking to transform a current district property into what it's calling the Universal Sports Institute. 

Image from the PYLUSD website shows what the layout will look like at its Universal Sports Institute.

According to its website, USI will “feature state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, including strength and conditioning rooms, speed and agility training areas, tumbling mat space, cold plunges, a therapeutic swim spa, turf training areas, batting cages, a golf simulator, and more!” 

The program would be open to 3rd through 12th-grade students in the PYLUSD. They would need to be enrolled at Parkview School, a “public independent-study school” that allows its TK-12 students flexibility in creating their schedules and courses of study. 

“This is a game changer for our district and the new direction for public education as parents and kids continue to seek options and specialization for their educational experiences,” PYLUSD Superintendent Alex Cherniss, Ed.D., told The Orange County Register

Find out more information about the FSD program here.
Find out more information about the PYLUSD program here.

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