Ukiah Unified School District

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The Power of Partnership, Innovation and Learning

School Desk Blog: The Most Important Thing

We want our children to be healthy. At Ukiah High School, we are confident in our ability to prepare students for college with demanding academic classes and for the workforce in our many vocational education programs. I enjoy sharing stories and data that validate this achievement. At the foundation of this work is the greater mission – we want our children to be healthy. This is a tall order - countless individual challenges, ever-shifting societal pressures, and no measuring sticks to tell us when we are successful. Ultimately, healthy school culture is best seen in authentic action, earnest emotions, and easy smiles. Using these guides, it has been a fine holiday season at Ukiah High School.

Authentic action – good stories are abundant. Donated presents flowed from our students to the community gift effort. The band and choir performed six holiday shows. Our drama students matched that number. Tucked in the middle of this busy month was the annual Winter Ball. Pointing to a semi-formal dance may be an obscure choice to present as a symbol of a healthy school until we realize just what our students accomplished. They planned, organized, and executed a flawless event hosting 562 students. Sophomore Alex Bernie’s performance as the DJ was equal to any I’ve seen at more than 100 such events. Gaining confidence from this effort is healthy. For the bulk of our students, the recognition of healthy choices occurred when they checked into the dance. All 562 students passed a passive alcohol breath analyzer test. Metal detection wands were also used to detect the presence of vaping devices. Only one nicotine device was found. Through the night, nearly all danced. Nearly all stayed the entire evening. Six years ago, UHS students embarked on a journey to make dances alcohol free. Sixteen school dances and more than 8,000 breath analysis tests later, we continue to accomplish this healthy mission. This year’s Winter Ball was a great event – and a typical UHS student event.

Earnest emotions – you know them when you see them. Our students take final exams in December, the week before the holiday break. Finals and holidays, a stressful combination. The response of a small group of counselors, students, and community members exemplifies a healthy response. During final exams, students are greeted with and share breaks with emotional support dogs and hot chocolate. A full spectrum of positive emotions now punctuates the demanding week. Between students and dogs, we see kindness, hugs, soft voices, gentle petting, nurturing, unbridled encouragement, and genuine ear scratching. In return, our canine friends speak through warm eyes and a posture that leans in with love. The march toward the next final is silently marked by the infectious warmth offered first from dog-to-student, and then student-to-student. Amidst testing, what we’ve learned this semester, is that we’re teaching what is most important in life – a healthy response to stress.

Easy smiles – sometimes, they look like a sea. There are more than 1600 students at Ukiah High School. That’s a lot of faces. Arriving, changing classes, heading home. They are notable whether in mass motion on campus or when they pause for breaks. As the principal or observer-in-chief, I can assure you, the mood of our children isn’t always sunny. Crowds, like individuals, have moods. For no known reason, this December has seen a whole lot of smiles on our campus. Genuine smiles that exude the peace we hope for in this season of light and giving. This month I’ve seen more smiles than I’ve seen in a long time. Well above the December average, perhaps even a record number. I know enough to understand every day won’t be sunny, so I know to celebrate the sunny days. I also know that these smiles are a reflection of the work we do together. We do this work because we all agree that the health of our children is the most important thing.