At Vista High School our mission is straightforward, “...to provide a safe and consistent learning environment where students are inspired to overcome previous academic challenges by meeting specific and achievable goals in order to graduate and begin the transition to adult life.” That’s a fancy way of saying that our staff is dedicated to helping all students develop and maintain positive learning habits that will help them to find success in the workforce or college.
But, what does this mean in practice? It means being patient and understanding because for numerous reasons our students have struggled and are academically behind their peers who attend EHS or other comprehensive high schools. It means listening to our students and showing some empathy, because most of them come from homes where there is only one parent struggling to pay the bills and raise children. It means looking through incoming student’s records very carefully to award them credit for previous work, even if some of it is partial because many of our students, through no fault of their own, have moved from one place to another resulting in costly disruptions to their education. It means trying to understand what it might be like for a student to be impacted by exposure to drugs, prison or guardians so distracted by their own adult problems that they forget about their kids. It means having open lines of communication with students and their parents about what students need. It means constantly remembering that “alternative education” means being creative in what we do and how we do it to help lift students toward the success they so desperately need and seek (even if they do not want to admit as such).
It’s easy to look down upon young adults who have made poor choices and decide to condemn them to a life full of personal difficulty, including poverty and possible continued negative interaction with law enforcement and our legal system. Doing so would be a serious mistake, as their adult problems would only multiply into challenges that law abiding, hard-working citizens have to endure through additional stress on the public services that we all depend upon. Producing good citizens that contribute positively to society at large is a goal that benefits everyone. It is with this in mind that the Vista High staff has made strong efforts during the past two years to expose students to multiple opportunities to listen and interact with a variety of representatives from different professions. Our intention is to give our students the chance to learn about the options they could have after they graduate in which they could learn a trade and earn a living wage. For example, Vista has already hosted presentations by professionals in HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) repair and maintenance, the Army, Golden One Bank (financial education and fiscal responsibility), and numerous construction trade experts in electrical, plumbing, roofing, tile work, and sheet metal installation and repair.
Listening to our students and taking their suggestions seriously is important to developing trust and showing that Escalon Unified School District’s motto, “We care” is something in which we truly believe. To that end, a student survey was administered in August to help our staff understand student interests and develop a plan of action to reach out and invite additional presenters during the coming months. In the weeks ahead students will have access to information about local cosmetology programs, the U.S. National Guard, various apprenticeship programs available through Job Redi, a drug awareness presentation, and several more. By offering our students viable options and attainable career goals we feel that they have more to gain and more to give back to the community.
Previous experience has demonstrated to me that our efforts to guide and help students who would otherwise be dropouts or non-graduates from EHS has had success. I’ve seen a Vista graduate receive a $10,000 scholarship to attend Modesto Junior College and go on to thrive there. Another Vista graduate is currently serving in the U.S. Army after we helped him battle personal struggles and challenges. Now he can smile with pride when people say, “Thank you for your service.” Many, many others we have helped are now in the local workforce.
I’ve talked to students and parents alike who have come by our main office to visit with our teachers and thank them for pushing them along, even if they sometimes frustrated our staff while they were still struggling in the classroom. Every student, who through our actions and stubborn determination, we support and help to reach the academic finish line is a success story and accomplishment to be celebrated by all Escalonians.