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The Power of Partnership, Innovation and Learning

School Desk: We Asked What Worked Well? Our Students Answered

It’s the end of another school year, and I want to share some of my reflections. My overall takeaway is that we're fully back! This school year felt very similar to the years previous to 2020-21. Campuses are completely open, and the energy and vibrancy are infectious. All types of events, old and new, are in full swing, and the positive energy permeating our campuses is like food for my soul. You could feel it all year long. We’re back! 

I often wonder what worked for our students and families. What went well? What programs or services did we provide for them that were inspirational and helped them succeed? A few Ukiah Unified attributes are universal to our success story. First and foremost, the dedication and unwavering commitment of our exceptional educators cannot be overstated! Their passion for teaching has created an engaging and supportive learning environment for our students.

Our comprehensive extracurricular programs and enrichment, including sports, music, arts, and clubs, have fostered a sense of belonging and provided opportunities for students to explore their passions and talents. Community partnerships with The City of Ukiah, SPACE, and The Boys & Girls Club of Ukiah have created an environment conducive to student and family success, empowering our students to reach their full potential. These programs are inspirational and help students find their passion.

When I was thinking about writing my column, I knew I could describe our many strategies and initiatives that have undeniably worked for our students' growth and success, but what is more powerful is hearing from our incredible students. We asked a few of Ukiah High School’s graduating seniors a few questions: What worked well? What helped you succeed? And this is what they said.

Ukiah High 2023 graduate Xochitl Vasquez said the ability to take dual enrollment classes at Mendocino College was instrumental in her educational success. “The college classes made me work faster because there were more assignments due quicker, and I like that,” she commented. Xochitl also credits her success to the personal attention that she received during tutoring in the Ukiah High School Library and the support she received from high school staff. “Mrs. Prax-Lodge is very interactive with her students, and that really helped me learn. Mrs. Frith, my counselor, helped me with my schedule and was always there for me. She helped me get involved with Dual Enrollment at Mendocino College.” 

Xochitl told us how transformational her first homecoming was in the fall of 2019, her freshman year, and how being part of the high school community helped her be successful. “There were so many activities, and there were so many students and teachers, and everyone was involved. I was a little shocked and overwhelmed, but then I joined in, and it was a lot of fun. This is amazing, I said to myself; I knew there were a lot of students, but it was crazy when we were all together in one place. I felt like part of a great big family,” she said.

Another great program helped her succeed too. “I started with the ATS (Academic Talent Search) program in middle school, and it exposed me to a lot of information about college and helped me understand the process and prepare for college in many ways. They helped recently with a detailed checklist of everything I had to do to be ready to start college.” Xochitl will attend UC Santa Barbara this fall, where she is undecided but will most likely study Psychology.

As we know, parental support and engagement are among the most important factors in student success. “My family always pushed me to do well, and I guess I’m competitive and want to do my best and finish first,” Xochitl commented. “I wanted to do as much as I could… I started to ask for extra work in middle school. I didn’t want it to be easy and then be lost when I went to college. I wanted to try the hardest classes to see if I could do it. I felt like I could, and once I got the hang of things, I knew I could do it!”

Riely Olson, another Ukiah High 2023 graduate, found his passion and inspiration through our Career Technical Education (CTE) program. “I didn’t like elementary school very well,” he said. “I wasn’t into the usual classes and subjects like English and History, and the structure of it wasn’t for me. When I started Middle School, I joined the band. It was pretty cool, and I started looking forward to going to school every day. I had something to look forward to.”

Riely completed several of the 20 CTE pathways we offer at Ukiah High, including Construction, Agriculture, Machine Shop, and Automotive. He described why his high school experience was meaningful. “I always liked math a lot, but I learn a little differently,” Riely said. “I have to see it in use, and I like how many of the CTE programs do that; they made it accessible for me… I tried different CTE programs to see what I liked. My Dad is a welder, so I’d seen it done, but I hadn’t tried it much, so I took welding classes at Ukiah High School with Mr. Montesonti. I had an idea of how to weld, and UHS gave me the knowledge and skills to be good at it. I learned a lot in my welding classes, and I can apply that and get a job right out of high school. I was good enough last year to get a summer job as a welder making pretty good money.”

Ukiah High School graduate Madeline Armstrong credits a wide variety of reasons for her success, including the ability to take college courses. “It’s so important to get a step ahead if you can, so it was amazing to be able to take classes at Mendocino College,” she said. “My Harvard interviewer commented on just how many great opportunities we have in our small town. She was shocked that I was able to take so many college classes. I have 40 units.”

Madeline thought our teachers empowered her to believe in herself and believe that she could do great things. “They reinforced that even though we are from a small town, anything is possible. We are as competitive as anyone, and we’ve been through a lot, so we have determination and resilience. Our teachers instilled that,” she said. 

“I loved my experience at Eagle Peak. It was clear that the teachers cared so much about the students. Mrs. Mellow from Eagle Peak emailed me recently just to say hi and see if I was doing okay. When you see that teachers are devoted like that, it really makes a difference. My teachers made me try harder and be more invested, and I’ve had that throughout my education here. All of the teachers I have had here have really been over the top and beyond amazing when it comes to caring about students and doing the work inside and outside of the classroom for us!” 

Madeline will never forget the Science Fair. Besides the academic aspect, her project was deeply personal. She explained, “I absolutely loved the Science Fair when I was in 8th grade at Eagle Peak. The whole process of emulating the G7 Summit and trying to solve real-world problems was fantastic. My project was about the impact of wildfire smoke on different plants. I chose that because we had lost our house in the fire, I felt that was really something personal to me, and I appreciate the chance to explore that… The Science Fair kicked off my interest in science and the medical field.” 

Just as our students are grateful for the staff and programs offered in Ukiah Unified, we are incredibly grateful to our students for the positive footprint they’ve left on our campuses and in our hearts! We’ve had the honor to watch them grow and thrive through the years with the many ways we seek to engage their learning, and our hearts are filled with joy to see our students take the next steps in their journey. They have filled our hearts with such joy.

Thank you to our incredible students, staff, and supportive community for making these achievements possible in 2022-23, a remarkable year. And to our parents and guardians, thank you so much for trusting us with your children! I can’t wait to see what great things are on the horizon for the 2023-24 school year.