River City Academy

Taelor Paige Brandon, Phellisha Jimmenne Dobson and Colton Ciufo let their caps fly at the conclusion of River City Academy’s graduation at the River Center last month.

There is a saying around River City Academy that the students do not have school pride, but school ownership.


Taelor Paige Brandon, 18, Colton Ciufo, 19 and Phellisha Dobson, 18, not only attended their graduation ceremony, but they planned it as well.

The academy is a proficiency-based school, which means students must score at least 80 percent and every assignment has to be completed in order to graduate.

“You literally can not leave a single assignment undone or else you don’t graduate,” Dobson, who received the University of Alaska Scholar Award, said. “This school makes you work for it.”

River City Principal Dawn Edwards-Smith says the responsibility is on the students to ensure their work is completed.

“Since it’s a student-centered school, they have to be the ones that are responsible and motivated to get it done. They have to own the work otherwise it won’t work out for them,” Edwards-Smith said.

The curriculum at the Academy is different than a traditional high school setting. There are more hands-on projects that prepare the students for the next step in their academic careers by completing internships and job shadows.

“We set them up to be responsible like they’re going to need to be in college. To develop communication with their teachers, to develop strategies for balancing their own work load and making their own decisions so that the transition into college isn’t so difficult,” Edwards-Smith said.

The students embrace the different style of learning.

“At River City, there’s a lot of emphasis on hands-on, getting out into the community, making sure you know what you’re supposed to be learning instead of writing it down on a piece of paper and turning it in,” Brandon said.

Students are encouraged to complete assignments by utilizing their talents and interests, not by just following what the teachers have instructed.

“You can do every single assignment your own way, however you want to do it, I got a lot done through things I like to do like music,” Ciufo said.

The small school setting allows for more communication between students and teachers than in a typical high school setting. Ciufo said students even communicate via text message with their instructors and principal.

This is the school’s third graduating class. Edwards-Smith said the school’s growth had a lot of it to do with the class of 2011.

“They really helped develop the school,” Edwards-Smith said. “A lot of the things we did were based on their needs.”

As for the future, Dobson plans on attending University of Alaska, Southeast to pursue a degree in business before transferring to University of Alaska, Anchorage to obtain a degree in psychology.

Ciufo says he plans on attending KPC for his core classes and is thinking about transferring to Seattle Cornish College to study music.

Brandon wants to take general credits at KPC and then transfer out of state to become a dietician.