Sage Hill students pursue passions

NEWPORT COAST — The air smelled of varnish. The sound of an acoustic guitar rose above the din in the small Sage Hill school classroom packed with a dozen or so people building their own electric guitars.

Across campus, students carefully placed homemade California rolls, hand rolls, and other sushi rolls of their own creation, along with some Odon noodle salad into a bento box for judging.

Former NFL player and current NBC college football analyst Akbar Gbaja-Biamila sat in another room, interviewing students in a mock sports broadcast.

Instead of preparing for finals, Sage Hill School was using the last week before graduation to give students a chance to explore their passions and try something new at the private school's first Spring at Sage seminars. The school took their finals last week.

Head of School Gordon McNeill said the week of seminars was meant to inspire students by connecting the lessons they had learned in class to real life.

"This is our opportunity for students to engage," McNeill said. "If you don't give the students the opportunity to see what's possible, how are they going to succeed?"

Spring at Sage allows students the chance to participate in half- and full-day seminars on and off campus, work on independent projects or internships, or travel locally, nationally or abroad in its Global Experience program.

The seminars were taught by the teachers, but they weren't like the normal courses they taught at Sage Hill.

For example, McNeill taught a class on the entrepreneurial spirit. Visual Arts teacher Brian McMahon, a master glass blower, taught a seminar on glass fusing. Spanish teacher Diego Izurieta taught "Building an Electric Guitar," with the help of a parent and student.

A former guitar player, who recently took it back up, Izurieta said it's nice to get to share his passion with students without bringing in the Spanish-cultural aspect. Having only ever built one guitar, the seminar was an education for him, too.

"It's very much a learning experience for me as much as it is for the kids," he said.

Junior Brooks Westervelt, 17, used the time for an independent project — a film on Spring at Sage.

The 17-year-old had a unique perspective on the seminars with plans for filming seven different seminars and adding snippets of other visual lessons for a conclusion.

"I think it's pretty cool from the perspective of documenting it," he said. "There's just so many different options."

To read about the program on the students' own blogs, go to

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