EF Academy Pasadena, LA County’s Most International Private High School, Talks About Its Student-Centered Learning Style

Sally Mingarelli

Dr. Sally Mingarelli, founding director of the school

All of us at EF Academy Pasadena are delighted to be in the final stages of preparations to welcome our first students on August 30-31, 2022, and I am delighted to be on board as founding headteacher. I come to this position with 17 years of experience at four American boarding and day schools in three different states. I am a strong advocate for student-centered education, and have had the privilege of contributing to and leading school change initiatives over the past two decades that have focused on introducing grounded best practices. on research in the best schools. I believe every student can experience success and be motivated and excited to learn deeply, and I believe schools can do better to make sure this is true. My doctoral research at USC has provided further evidence in the field of education on the effectiveness of competency-based learning as a student-centered tool for improving learning outcomes and motivation of diverse students. I’m excited to bring this experience to the leadership of EF Academy Pasadena!

EF Academy’s mission is to open the world through education and our school’s vision is to empower the next generation of global change makers. As Principal for EF Academy Pasadena, my primary job is to ensure that all of our programs and employees align with this mission and vision so that we can keep our promise to families.

When I read the powerful statements of our mission and vision, the first word that strikes me is “empowerment”. It’s no small feat to build a school designed to truly empower students. One could argue that innovation in schools over the past two decades has been heavily focused on issues of empowerment. How are you empowering students to prepare for a future characterized by increased globalization, collaboration and technological integration? How do we empower them to be flexible, resilient, creative and critical thinkers who can accept ambiguity and thrive in continuous change?

Just as important as these forward-looking questions about the world in which our students will one day work and lead, schools have been asking questions about how to empower students as part of the curriculum. How do you ensure that each student is empowered to build on their strengths and improve their areas of growth in all of their classrooms? How do you design secondary schools toward greater student agency so that students can develop and demonstrate their mastery through unique pathways and apply their learning in ways that are relevant and meaningful to them? These issues of empowerment in school and beyond school are intertwined, as research has determined that developing in students the skills and habits of mind necessary to thrive in their future requires more big student-centered approach to education.

EF Academy Pasadena is proud to open its doors with programs designed using best practices in student-centered education. Our educational team was hired with equal emphasis on their subject matter expertise and mindset for agency and student empowerment. When you enter our campus, you will not experience a unique, teacher-centered approach applied in our teaching. Instead, you’ll see classrooms with students working side-by-side on projects of their own design and teachers serving as facilitators and fellow learners. You’ll see a program design that clarifies learning goals and gives students the time and agency to pursue those goals on personalized pathways. You will see a culture of intellectual curiosity, where “failures” are seen as interesting data points to drive next actions. You will experience a healthy desire for feedback, where students do not ask how many points they have earned, but rather what they have skillfully highlighted in their work and what they need to focus on to continue to improve.

As I reflect on my role in changing the world through education and empowering the next generation of global changemakers, I am confident that our approach to teaching and learning will be particularly empowering. I then turn my attention to reflecting on my work to support a global mission and vision. EF Academy is not alone in pursuing a global vision, as schools in the United States and around the world have actively innovated in recent years to focus on developing students’ cultural competencies and global problem-solving skills. through curriculum, service and travel initiatives. . Our unique privilege at EF Academy Pasadena is to do this work every day on our own campus with a truly global learner population.

Our founding student body is made up of students from 26 countries, with no nationality represented at a percentage greater than 20%. Every day, in our classrooms, dorms, sports fields, theater and art spaces, design labs, and dining hall, our students will practice global communication and collaboration skills. Our students will have the daily opportunity to negotiate across cultural and linguistic differences and develop empathy to be genuinely curious about the origins of different perspectives.

In line with our global mission and vision, our signature Academic program is our global leadership program. Structured around the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations, this program allows students to work throughout their four years on collaborative student-led projects that seek to create workable solutions in line with the SDGs. Through this program, EF Academy Pasadena students will engage in solving global issues with a global population of their peers, creating frequent and authentic opportunities to expand their thinking beyond their own cultural or national context. I couldn’t be more thrilled to execute a global mission and vision on a truly international campus!

We at EF Academy Pasadena are all excited to be part of the Pasadena community and look forward to building relationships and collaborations. As much as we value our international community on campus, we also value the rich learning opportunities in Pasadena and the greater Los Angeles area. We look forward to inspiring our students by engaging with the centers of art, design, music, film, STEM, aerospace, humanities and culture that are in our own backyard! We are also honored to step into Pasadena’s rich K-12 educational landscape, with peer schools doing the same hard work to prepare our students for an ever-changing future. We look forward to connecting between schools to do this good work together.



For more information, Contact us or attend our Doors open August 18 at 6:30 p.m. to learn more about our international environment, curriculum and global leadership program, as well as staff and founding faculty, and receive a tour of the campus perimeter – register here

Norma A. Roth