DEL MAR — Six students from Sea Change Preparatory will soon be traveling to Italy to visit historical sites such as the Vatican, Palatine Hill, the Colosseum and Pompeii.
But their primary goal is to capture a fourth open-ocean swim world record.
Known as The Zombies Swim Team, the group will fly to Italy on May 27 and, along with four teachers, swim in pairs in open water on a course that has not yet been attempted.
The team will be tagged out after about an hour so there will be a four- to five-hour break between swims. They will be watched and monitored continuously by their teammates and others rowing alongside in a kayak.
The Zombies already hold three world relay swimming records, including 42 miles from Santa Barbara to Anacapa Island, 27 miles from Santa Rosa Island to Goleta and 28.5 miles along the west coast of Molokai in the Hawaiian Islands.
The team also completed solo swims from Alcatraz to San Francisco and a relay crossing of the English Channel, which earned the participants a congratulatory letter from former President Barack Obama in 2015.
But whenever possible they swim in twos for team building and camaraderie, said John Allcock, who co-founded Sea Change with his wife, Cheryl Allcock.
The program is part of the micro-school’s mission to help students achieve their maximum potential through a variety of “pillars,” one of which is that “inspiring physical fitness teaches them they can do things that they don’t think they can do,” he said.
“They can conquer their fears and conquer challenges and that involves three mornings a week swimming in the ocean for roughly an hour at 15th Street near Powerhouse Park,” said Allcock, who also serves as the director of mindfulness, another school pillar.
“Mindfulness is the ability to train people to recognize their internal and external experience and not be captured by it,” he said. “If you’re fearful, you don’t need to react to the fear. You can examine whether or not it’s reasonable to be fearful and react accordingly.
“If you get angry, you can examine that emotion,” he added. “And rather than act on it and throw the eraser at the other student, you act in a more skillful fashion. Anxiety doesn’t mean fear of the upcoming SAT test is real. You can examine that emotion and release it.
“That is in the curriculum all over the place, but significantly in the three days a week at the ocean. We engage in 20 minutes of mindful meditation before going into the water,” Allcock said, adding that it is especially helpful during the night leg of the swims.
“If you’re going to swim 20 miles, part of that swim is going to be in the dark,” he said. “I drew the midnight shift for Santa Rosa. When you’re 22 miles off the coast and it’s pitch black, mindfulness comes in.”
In addition, Allcock said, Sea Change provides “super high-quality, personalized, individualized education delivered in a very small caring environment.”
The student-to-teacher is about 3-to-1 with no lectures or large group classes. Currently there are eight students enrolled in grades four through 12.
The goal is 25, with a maximum of 30. Tuition is $22,500 for elementary school and $24,500 for middle and high school.
Allcock said Sea Change also has “an outstanding fine arts program with a music component.”
“Layered on is the global travel component.,” he added. “Once a year we take a trip and in the course of these trips we do other things.”
“It’s like school without walls,” said Jennifer Colonna, the admissions and marketing director. “They can go see the things they are learning about firsthand so it’s not just out of a textbook. We want them to be well-rounded global citizens. We want them to be whole.”
Although the swim program is not mandatory, all current students participate.
“We encourage them to try,” Colonna said. “Every kid here was a beginner. Nobody was a star athlete at their previous school. It’s really not a super competitive edge here.
“It’s about growing their self-confidence and proving to them that they can do something if they put their mind to it, overcoming their fears and their anxieties and building something with their community and their teammates,” she added.
“The outcomes have been nothing but phenomenal,” Allcock said. “We have students in the engineering departments at Berkeley, Purdue and Michigan. Another is at Boston University.”
Cheryl Allcock ran private schools for more than two decades, most recently The Arch School, which focused on highly challenged students.
“Last summer the lease was up, and we decided we wanted to get away from the focus on highly challenged kids, not that we wouldn’t take kids that have challenges,” John Allcock said. “Every kid has challenges to some degree.”
In fact, one 13-year-old student at Sea Change is autistic and nonverbal but he communicates with his classmates via a computer.
“He’s really smart and he’s got a great sense of humor,” Allcock said.
The Allcocks planned to take a year off, but several parents asked them to stay open. After months of searching, they signed a lease Aug. 28, 2017, for space on Camino del Mar.
With help from a parent who is an architect, Sea Change was ready for students in less than a month, although the first 10 days of classes were held in the Del Mar Library.
A few students from The Arch, where two swim records were earned, are now enrolled at Sea Change.
“We focus on any student who is not performing to their top potential academically, socially, physically in their current environment,” Allcock said. “That could be because they don’t function well in a class of 38. Or maybe the kid is super smart and bored in a class environment that has to teach to the middle.”
“We get the kids that need to go ahead and can’t,” Colonna added. “Here they can go as far as they want. And we really encourage that, too.”
Carlsbad resident Faith Irvine, who will attend Boise State University this fall, was a student at The Arch and is completing her senior year at Sea Change.
She said she didn’t have a choice when her parents told her she was transferring from Aviara Oaks Middle School.
“But I wasn’t opposed,” she said. “They mentioned to my brother and I that it was a school without walls. And if we wanted to be challenged in our academics to go farther in the future, this would be a good school because instead of just sticking to the textbook you go globally to understand.
“It was definitely a change,” she added. “At first, I thought it was weird, but I was getting hours on end with my teachers in order to help me get a good grade to finish the course. So I saw it as more beneficial than anything else.
“The learning environment is amazing,” she said. “The teachers are very understanding of how people learn differently, which I think is really important. They’ll accommodate what you need in order to learn and understand the subject. I’m definitely challenged and recognized for what I can do.”
As for the swimming, Irvine said she always loved the water but was used to swimming in pools.
“The swims are definitely difficult,” she said. “But as a group and as a school, we’re all able to keep each other centered and face the challenges together — whether it be current, waves, temperature, sea life — to finish.
Swimming the English Channel is among her most memorable moments at the school.
“It was something I never thought I could do,” she said. “I never knew I was capable of swimming in 54 degrees with no wetsuit. I was very impressed with the whole team, but me specifically.”
Another fond memory is the trip to Costa Rica.
“We went to the forest and saw sloths and toucans,” she said. “We were just surrounded by the most beautiful tropical area and things you never thought you’d see.”