Home-schooled student Ngaio Nobumoto knows what it takes to succeed. His father’s framed platinum record for Natalie Cole’s “Unforgettable” hangs in the 15-year-old’s bedroom, a symbol of hard work and drive, as well as a reminder of his father’s legacy as a jazz pianist.
George Gaffney, who died from a stroke when Ngaio was 7, was an Emmy-nominated musician for his work on the TV show “Moonlighting.” Gaffney accompanied jazz greats from Count Basie, Peggy Lee and Sara Vaughn to Frank Sinatra, Rita Moreno and Engelbert Humperdinck.
Ngaio lives with his mother, Lisa Nobumoto, in Big Bear City, a jazz singer who travels for her career. She has played various Las Vegas casinos including Caesars Palace and the Bellagio, as well as numerous jazz festivals.
Ngaio plays guitar, piano and bass, plus takes voice lessons from Diane Sloan-Kubeja. Most recently, he sang Coldplay’s “Amsterdam” with Big Bear High School student Tori Waner at Sloan-Kubeja’s Spring Recital. The aspiring musician is a candidate for the National Honor Society and received the Presidential Education Award for the last three years.
Extracurricular activities are a big part of Ngaio’s teen years, and he doesn’t let something like not attending traditional high school stop him from participating. He made the Snow Summit Race Team for the 2010-11 season, and dreams of one day racing for the U.S. Ski Team.
“I think it’s a good thing I am able to shape my hobbies and pursuits around school,” Ngaio says. “As long as my grades are good I am able to do what I enjoy.”
The Nobumotos moved to Big Bear in fall 2008 from Marina del Rey. It was while on a camping trip that Lisa took a deep breath, looked around at the surrounding pine trees and made a decision to raise her son in this small mountain town.
Lisa, whose mother was a schoolteacher for Los Angeles Unified School District for 35 years, attended private school. She wanted the best possible education she could provide for her son and on her terms.
Ngaio has been home-schooled since fifth grade. With an ailing mother who lives in Las Vegas and her singing schedule, Lisa looked to home schooling for flexibility, but also for its impressive academics, she says.
Connections Academy out of San Juan Capistrano is a tuition-free online charter school that supplies Ngaio with textbooks, instruction, online tutoring and discussion groups. Enrollment at Connections Academy has nearly doubled in California during the past three years, according to Lois Paula Verzosa, a representative for Connections Academy. The school receives the average daily attendance money from the state.
The academic expectations are demanding, but Ngaio enjoys the challenge, he says. During his 10th grade year, he will tackle AP history along with Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn,” Amy Tan’s “Joy Luck Club” and Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” for English.
Lisa is not Ngaio’s teacher, she says. She is his learning coach. She helps keep Ngaio on track by monitoring his schoolwork online regularly. Ngaio’s teacher guides him through his lessons and explains what it will take to reach his goals, Lisa says.
While she knows home schooling isn’t for everyone, Lisa feels strongly that it is right for Ngaio. “I don’t want anyone telling me what to do with my son when it comes to his schooling,” Lisa says. “Everyone should have their choice.”
Contact reporter Arrissia Owen Turner at 909-866-3456 ext. 142 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.