A Lighthouse of Learning

By Roman Cohen

As an emotionally tumultuous teenager, it was hard to feel like I fit in anywhere. We all know the drill: gawky, geeky high schooler feels socially afloat; classic outsider. And then I found Fusion.

My Lighthouse

Fusion was a safe haven for 15-year-old me, fresh out of a medical crisis, and unable to go back to my original high school. I felt like I was stranded at sea, and Fusion was my lighthouse. The lighthouse guided me back to shore, and I was greeted by the lighthouse keepers: my teachers and mentors at Fusion. They dried me off and warmed me up, and when I was ready, they let me traipse further inland by myself, towards a successful and sunny future. At the same time, they were always just a call away.

It’s been over two years since I was a student at Fusion. I’m now a sophomore at Skidmore College, majoring in Gender Studies with minors in art and anthropology. I strongly believe that I couldn’t have graduated high school without Fusion as my lighthouse.

Here are the reasons why my Fusion teachers made my experience an opportunity to bloom into the person I’ve become.

1. I thought I was weird… and then – don’t take this the wrong way! – I met my Fusion teachers.

As a fearful outcast entering a new school, I was terrified. I didn’t want to be there. I wanted my old school and my old friends. I didn’t want to make new friends or talk to new people. That is, until I walked into my sophomore English class with Katie Tamola.

I no longer felt like the weird outcast.

Katie was goofy and eccentric and had a knack for making you feel at home. After our first one-hour class, I didn’t feel nearly as weird or fearful anymore, by sheer comparison to my equally delightfully weird teacher. Fusion helped me realize that the unique qualities that made me feel like an outcast didn’t have to be shameful. They could be celebrated.

2. It’s practically impossible to feel like no one cares about you when you’re a Fusion student.

Walking into a Fusion classroom is nothing like walking into a traditional classroom. Instead of hurriedly taking a seat to begin a lecture and taking notes for an hour, my classes with Michelle started with a “how are you? How was your dog’s surgery? How’s your sister’s SAT prep going?”

Fusion teachers care in an active way, in a way that, in my experience, not many traditional schoolteachers have the emotional bandwidth or time to do. Given the one-on-one structure, they’re able to take advantage of the opportunity to pay close attention to each of their students and become in-tune with their individual needs. They not only want you to learn, but they want to learn about you.

My Fusion experience was like being taught by my friends. In a way, I was. The more time I spent at Fusion, the stronger the relationships with my teachers became. Class often felt like just hanging out and coincidentally learning a few things at the same time. Despite the fact that I’ve since graduated, those relationships have endured.

3. Fusion teachers are human.

Before you say anything, I do realize that teachers outside of Fusion are also human, but rarely do they get the opportunity in a traditional classroom to show their fundamental human fallibility and have the space to acknowledge it.

Fusion teachers aren’t afraid to be human, which, in turn, allowed me to be human.

If I was having an off day, I could come into class and say so. Then I’d have the option to talk about it or to modify the lesson or to move forward as we normally would have. There was constant communication between my teachers and me to ensure that our shared needs were being met to cultivate the ideal learning environment. Fusion classes aren’t hierarchical; they’re collaborative on every level. Since I had seen my teachers have off days and how open they could be about that, I knew there was a complete lack of judgment. They were empathetic and kind and didn’t force me to do anything that I didn’t have the mental capacity to do so.

Their kindness taught me that being in a bad mood didn’t make me broken, it made me human.

Lasting Positive Relationships

The safe haven of Fusion is a direct result of the people who work there: a direct result of their empathy, their intelligence, their passion, and their faith in their students. My relationships with my Fusion teachers have been some of the most enduring relationships I’ve held through all the transitional periods of the past few years. I’ve been to weddings, birthdays, met families, and even attended a funeral for a father. Likewise, they’ve been there for me in times of crisis and in times of celebration, constantly cheering me on.

My favorite teachers from my time at Fusion are some of the most special people I’ve ever met. They had faith in me when no one else did, including myself. They manned the lighthouse when there was no one else who would. And that is what makes Fusion so special.

About the Author

Fusion Alumna

Roman Cohen is a sophomore at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY, majoring in gender studies with minors in art and anthropology. In their very limited free time, they are an EMT for Skidmore, do digital drawing and acrylic painting, and dote on their two guinea pigs, Killer and Larty.

Roman attended Fusion Academy Westchester from 2015-2016 and the fall semester of their senior year in 2017.