Any day of the week, except Sunday, students at Hills Academy are painting, dancing, playing or drawing their way to fame, fortune and just plain fun.
Executive Director Jane Lee who instructs and oversees the day-to-day artistic buzz at the Palos Verdes Peninsula and Torrance Hills Academy locations, said it’s her personal goal to create a safe, happy and productive atmosphere for the 400 students who come through her doors each week.
The Hills Academy mission is straightforward and succinct: “To develop and nurture students of character in an environment of integrity and excellence through the study of the arts.”
“We’re not here to just to produce winners, we’re here to be a part of a student’s life and make it better, said Lee. “It’s about the person, not the product.”
Hills students can take whatever art, music or dance classes they want at any level and any medium under university-trained teachers from institutions such as Juilliard, USC, Bob Cole, Otis College of Art and Design, New England Conservatory and Cal Arts.
Classes are tailored to the student’s need, so the relationship between student and teacher is monumentally important, Lee said. Tuition ranges from $80 for a private lesson to about $300 per month depending on the type of class and amount of participation.
Dance classes, for instance, are not based around practicing just to perform at year-end recital. Students are encouraged to be creative with their dancing. Classes include studying performances through video and choreographing the school’s own dances with the use of props and games. Moving to the music together becomes a lively, collective endeavor for all participants.
What sets Hills Academy’s musical program apart from other artistic establishments is the academy is a testing center as well as a founding school in California for the Royal Conservatory.
“The 130-year-old Royal Conservatory program is one of the largest and most respected institutions for music education and assessment in the world.” Lee said. “It’s an international program which brings in adjudicators from Canada to judge student’s performances. It’s definitely for the more serious student who may major in music or students who need to set goals.”
Like Peninsula resident and student Matthew Morreale who has become really good at tickling the old ivories.
The 15-year-old, home-schooled sophomore has been taking piano lessons at Hills since he was nine, but he’s already beat out college students in serious competitions like the Southwest Youth Music Festival, a competition under the auspicious of Long Beach State. He also writes his own music for the piano and plays guitar for fun, he said.
“I love Hills,” said Matthew who considers himself a very serious musician. “It’s a great school. The teachers care, and it’s a great environment. Because of Miss Lee, I’ll be playing at Carnegie Hall next summer.”
He said he likens Lee to a second mom because she is a loving and caring person to him and all the students.
John Morreale, Matthew’s dad said he thinks Hills is not only a great school, but he appreciates his son has a way to measure his progress and set pivotal life objectives.
“The Royal Conservatory not only tests you in performance but students are also tested in music theory music, history, rudiments, harmony—basically you’re taking all the courses of an introductory college student,” Morreale said. “By the time you reach the last level, you have a written test that makes you a complete musician.”
The academy also provides musical instruments for those who have yet to acquire one of their own, keeping parents from investing in expensive gear and accouterments if the child doesn’t wish to continue.
Lee said the school began with offering art and music, then added dance lessons. The academy later added an after school program where vans are sent out to Dapplegray, Rancho Vista, Montemalaga, Soleado, Cornerstone, Vista Grande. Peninsula Heritage and Country Day, to pick kids up for homework assistance in math and writing.
“Students are able to enroll in one elective class including ballet/tap, Hip Hop, elementary art, drawing/sketching, music and singing with the Palos Verdes Children’s choir,” Lee said. “We’re always expanding our vocabularies how to become better teachers and examples.”
Rolling Hills Campus
950 Indian Peak Road, Suite 100
Rolling Hills Estates, CA 90274
2941 Rolling Hills Road
Torrance After School Campus
2929 Rolling Hills Road
Torrance, CA 90505