Ukiah Unified School District

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The Power of Partnership, Innovation and Learning

School Desk: Alternative Education Empowering Students

If you search the internet for “Kids who changed the world,” you will find many stories about student activists, researchers, and entrepreneurs. The one thing each of these young movers and shakers has in common is the ability to apply their intellect to the creation of something new or to solve real-world problems. You have, for example, Teagan Steadman, who, at eight years old, successfully combined his love of music with his desire to help children battling cancer and founded “Shred Cancer,” an organization that raises money for pediatric cancer research. At just 17 years old, his organization has already raised over $300,000 for research. There is Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate. Then there is 14-year-old Leanne Fan of San Francisco, California, who was awarded the title of America’s Top Young Scientist for inventing a set of low-cost headphones that use blue light therapy to detect and treat ear infections in children. And the list goes on and on. Young people all around the globe are applying their intellect and creativity to do amazing things. 

We have to change the notion that we need to educate young people first and then send them out into the world to do something with that education. While not every young person will win a Nobel Prize, every young person can and should actively engage in the world around them in the process of their education. Students have tremendous power to make a difference, and as they do so, they become more engaged with their learning.

Ukiah High School’s career technical education (CTE) classes provide students with many opportunities to apply their academics and explore hands-on learning in 64 classes across 22 different career paths. Our CTE program includes courses in Animal Science, Automotive Tech, Emergency Response, Patient Care, Administration of Justice, Construction, Software systems and Development, Video Game Design, Welding, and more. Students can pursue Child Development and Early Childhood Education or explore artistic careers such as Digital Media, Stagecraft, Fashion Design, or Photography.  

At Big Picture Ukiah at South Valley, students develop personalized learning plans with the guidance of faculty advisors and utilize a combination of classroom learning and projects to pursue mastery around their five Learning Goals: Personal Qualities, Communication, Quantitative Reasoning, Empirical Reasoning, and Social Reasoning. Students engage in internships through the Leaving to Learn component of Big Picture Ukiah at South Valley to explore the world of work and apply their academic knowledge and problem-solving skills in a real-world context.

At the Ukiah Independent Study Academy, students benefit from the flexibility to pursue interests outside of school without the constraints of physically attending a campus during the traditional school day. Students can travel with family, dedicate extra time to a sport or creative endeavor they are passionate about, or work a part-time job. This home-based educational option allows parents to partner with their students’ teachers to create individualized learning plans that meet the State standards and District learning goals and maximize each student’s unique strengths, talents, and abilities. 

The Ukiah High School Middle College program is open to 10th–12th-grade students who want to gain the best of two worlds, college and high school. A maximum of 30 students per grade level are accepted, so students experience all the benefits of a small, caring school environment during the school day and can still attend UHS social events or compete in UHS athletics if they want to. Students attend UHS classes at the Mendocino College campus instead of the high school campus, which allows the flexibility to take up to 11 units of college courses each semester. All fees and textbook costs are paid for by the school. Middle College teachers and counselors provide a wealth of assistance to guide students in their high school and college success.

These alternative educational options offered through Ukiah Unified are designed to break the traditional mold and seek ways for students to go deep and apply their learning. Students in these unique programs are empowered to move from “learning” to “understanding and application,” and, in the process, our kids just might change the world.