The Rhinos Sports School in Irvine, Calif., officially launched in August 2019 as a private school and already has success stories validating its existence.

School principal Andreea Trufasu currently oversees three teachers, one tutor and 10 student-athletes from 4th-12th grade, and there are expansion efforts underway. The Rhinos Rugby Academy began exploring academic offerings a little more than two years ago, when academy athletes and their schooling situations required attention.

“The first student-athletes who came to us really needed help academically as well as support in improving attitude and work ethic. Some were not even enrolled in school at that time, for various reasons,” Trufasu said. “We wanted to see how the system worked, so we started the school program with a couple of students. … “We were able to get significant results in a short period of time, with students enrolled back into the regular school system as well as accepted into Mater Dei High School, one of the top football schools in the country.”

Those early successes provided the impetus to go forward with a full-fledged sports school. Meanwhile, the tutoring sessions expanded and the staff received further insight into the student-athletes’ challenges.

“We noticed that some kids have a lot trouble understanding concepts at school and there was limited individual help available” Trufasu said of the learning curve. “And so they would carry that lack of knowledge into the next grade. We also noticed that some kids don’t take tests very well, and so we were able to work with a few kids in those areas and be successful.”

The Rhinos Sports School partnered with multiple credentialed and NCAA-approved national charter schools. Kids are enrolled in these programs and then have their curriculum customized by the Rhinos teachers according to their true grade level. The charter schools assign a Teacher of Record (TOR) to each student, who visits Rhinos every 4-6 weeks to gauge progress towards successful graduation.

Being a sports school, student-athletes also get their rugby or football training in. An average day at the Rhinos Sports Schools sees members arrive at 9 a.m. and progress through strength and conditioning sessions, speed and agility drills, rugby skills (which benefit football), and four hours of academics. At present, there are 10 enrollees ranging from middle school to high school.

“Word of mouth has been the recruitment process thus far,” Trufasu said. “It’s primarily rugby and football kids, but because of the sports training and the amount of independent study kids in California, there will be other sports added in the future.”

Trufasu also explained that student-athletes can attend Rhinos Sports School in an effort to better position themselves for another high school or spend all four years with Rhinos.

“It’s up to the kids’ goals,” Trufasu said. “If they’re interested in high performance then they can do all four years with us in high school. We already have high-level rugby competitions, the HP training, and a very good school program that caters to the needs of each student-athlete. Others come to us to better position themselves to get back into a top football high school, because we don’t offer football competition, nor have plans to do so.”

The natural next step is college, and that’s where the intention of the sports school is really aiming.

“Colleges are accepting transcripts for individual study programs and sports schools,” Trufasu said. “That’s the whole motivation for the school – to give kids several best options for college, depending on their goals, and to give them tools to successfully graduate from college and be prepared for adult life. Many college students struggle to complete 1st year of college and adjust to that life, academically and away from home. We want our kids to not just get into college, but to successfully graduate as well.”

In its short existence, Rhinos Sports School has already seen success stories in Diego Reynoso, who is now a national shot-put champion, and Ray Leutele, who leveraged his rugby skills to be accepted to Mater Dei High-School and football program, and just signed with D1 University of New Mexico on a football scholarship. And there are more success stories to be added shortly with May graduates aiming for Ivy League schools.

The Irvine location is in the process of expanding its classrooms to accommodate approximately 30 students. The next step is to expand the school into Sacramento.

For more information about Rhinos Sports School, contact Trufasu at andreea@rhinosacademy.com.