Years ago, South Valley High School was formed to serve Ukiah Unified School District as a continuation high school, but we have expanded our horizons.
Traditionally, when students arrive at a continuation high school, the school does everything in its power to help them catch up academically. Students receive packets of work, mostly at a basic skills level, and each completed packet turns into credit. If students show up often enough, don’t cause too many problems and do enough work, they make progress—some faster than others.
In addition to credit recovery, continuation schools also offer flexible schedules to accommodate students who have to work to support their families. We encourage students enrolled in work-study and/or independent study programs to continue pursuing their diplomas while they work, sometimes even helping with applications and resumes (but not necessarily, as it is not in the curriculum). Eventually, these students earn enough credits to graduate with a high school diploma and that is considered success.
South Valley used to focus on credit recovery and consider the diploma as the ultimate measure of success, but no longer. While we want our students to graduate, that is not our main focus; for it is our belief that if a diploma is all we accomplish, we have failed our students. We focus on building self-awareness and community. We focus on raising self-esteem and self-confidence. We want our students to end their high school experience knowing they are valued in our society and having the skills needed to go on and have success as defined by them.
To accomplish this, we reconfigured our master schedule to include a class called “Advisory.” During Advisory, we teach positive interactions, soft skills such as how to make phone calls and write thank you emails. We teach students to think about what makes them happy and then ask them to research jobs—using that knowledge to guide them. We teach them leadership skills and how to be accountable for their own actions. We teach them to move past rejection, to embrace themselves, embrace positive relationships and embrace the power they have to make a future for themselves, one they will enjoy. Advisory started as an adjunct class, but now it is at the core of all we do. It gives them time to shine. As part of Advisory this year, we piloted the Big Picture Learning Program www.bigpicture.org Its full implementation next year will only improve what we have started.
This is now the South Valley Way. We have built a “We are Family” culture and our students feel cared for, a feeling many are experiencing for the first time as teens. We welcome students who may feel disenfranchised or lack focus, and we help turn them into proud people—proud of who they are, proud of what they have accomplished, and proud of the direction they are headed in.
As principal of South Valley, I am proud of our students. I feel privileged to be part of a program that allows students to recognize their potential and begin to put the building blocks of a bright future in place.