Celebrating new Sage Hill science center and special donor

Sage Hill students, faculty and parents gathered on the Newport Coast campus of the private high school Thursday to celebrate the naming of the new Lisa Argyros and Family Science Center.

The crowd erupted in applause as Lisa Argyros presented a check for $2.5 million on behalf of the Argyros Family Foundation to Sage Hill administrators during the ceremony. She is the daughter of Newport Beach philanthropists Julia and George Argyros.

"I think I cheered a little louder than that when I received the news," Head of School Gordon McNeill joked after accepting the oversized check.

School officials have been campaigning to fund the $8-million building for a year and have received support from nearly 90 local philanthropists. Other leading donors are Sage trustees, administrators, faculty, staff and students.

The Argyros Family Foundation donation marks the completion of fundraising for the state-of-the-art science facility.

The 13,000-square-foot facility will feature indoor and outdoor learning spaces, maximizing opportunities for collaborative learning experiences, McNeill said.

The building also represents the completion of the school's master plan, which has been in place since before the school's founding in 2000.

The Lisa Argyros and Family Science Center will be completed in the spring and ready to host classes by fall 2014.

Lisa Argyros said she is excited that teachers will continue to inspire students in their new home using the most-updated equipment.

"Sage Hill will now have the most innovative science center in the area," she said. "Future world leaders will get their start here."

The Argyros family first donated to Sage Hill in 1997, years before the school was even open.

With an enrollment of 480 students, Sage Hill boasts small classes averaging 15 students per teacher. Science classes like biology and chemistry are currently housed in five portables on campus. The new facility will have separate teaching, laboratory and collaborative space, allowing students to keep lab experiments going for several weeks at a time instead of having to clean up in preparation for the next class, Gordon said.

Administrators created a science advisory committee and partnered with professionals from places like UC Irvine to plan the center and curriculum in the hope of better preparing students for real-world science by expanding educational opportunities beyond fact memorization.

"Our goal is to have publishable results," Gordon said of Sage Hill students' science experiments.

Michelle Chen, 15, is a sophomore at Sage Hill with dreams of studying in the medical field after high school. She is excited at the possibilities the science center will bring to her studies, which include accelerated biology and AP chemistry.

"Unlike math, where there is only one answer, with science you know what's happening, but it's more experimental," she said. "That's what I like most about it."

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