U.S. News and World Report’s recently released second annual survey of America’s Best High Schools shows Ramona Unified School District’s Mountain Valley Academy (MVA) did it again. For the second year, MVA earned bronze medal honors for the education students receive in the alternative school.
The newmagazine’s goal is to provide a clear, unbiased look at public schools and how well they are serving students in achievement level as well as preparation for college-level work.
Data was collected from more than 21,000 schools across America and of those schools only 1,900 were awarded a gold, silver, bronze or honorable mention medal. Breaking it down even further, only 17 schools (out of 100) were highlighted in San Diego County.
According to U.S. News and World Report, a high school is recognized as a top school if it: “attains performance levels that exceed statistical expectations given the school’s student body, as measured by state accountability test scores for all the school’s students in the core subjects of reading and math, achieves proficiency rates on state tests for their least advantaged student groups that exceed state averages and prepares its students for college, as measured by student participation in and performance on Advanced Placement (AP) and/or International Baccalaureate (IB) exams.”
Statistically, MVA ranked among the top 9 percent of schools and Principal Ellen Burgess is very proud of that news.
“MVA, in my opinion, is a model independent study program,” she said. “It combines the opportunity for students to learn independently, pursue their own interests and learning styles, while combining classroom experiences. It is a small school where everyone knows and supports each other, so peer pressure is a positive in the lives of our students. Everyone encourages each other to shine and celebrates all of our successes. Discipline issues that require office referral are almost nonexistent because the culture promotes strong personal values, co-operation, and true caring for each other.”
This close knit community is made possible through the non-traditional structure of MVA. In this home study program, students generally attend class twice a week. The class time is reserved for activities that require group participation such as science labs, simulations, and role playing.
The remainder of the work is done at home. Therefore, MVA students learn to manage their time and take charge of their own learning. There is also a lot of parental involvement such as meetings every six weeks with their child’s teacher to revise curriculum, which is all aligned with the California Academic Content Standards. This ongoing communication ensures that each student is carefully monitored.
When asked what sets MVA apart as a learning institution, Burgess thought best to hear from her students directly. Her first question upon visiting their class was why students came to MVA. The responses were all positive with comments like: “Teachers have time to care,” “we have great kids; everyone knows each other, not cliques, no ‘in’ or ‘out’ crowd — just the ‘crowd,’” “no one falls through the cracks; teachers are on top of each student’s achievement,” “you get a better education because your learning is not limited by others,” and even “everyone knows everyone’s mom.”
As far as college preparedness, they feel very ready. “Teachers treat students like college students, setting the same high expectations,” “students learn to manage their time, the schedule allows for flexibility to hold a job, participate in extra curricular activities and maintain a strong academic program,” “students are better prepared for college because of the schedule which requires students to learn to use their non-class time productively,” and “you learn to rely on yourself rather than others telling you what to do.”
When visiting the classrooms that are part of the Ramona Community School campus, every one is different, but one thing remains the same. The students are engaged. Whether they are working in small groups, completing an art project, having an open discussion in science, doing hand motions in their Spanish class, or sitting around a small table debating literature in their English class, they really are actively interested and they do it with openness and a smile.
But, it’s not just the students. The teachers are equally passionate about their work environment.
“MVA is a great school to work at because of the variety of activities that I participate in every day,” said English teacher Debra Ray. “I teach daily, develop lessons to fit individual students, correspond by e-mail with other students, conference with families to make lesson plans, work collaboratively with colleagues to keep programs running smoothly around the campus. I love the creative aspects of this teaching position and the high level of parent and student contact.”
When asked why they enjoy their classes, the students gave many reasons. “We debate everything,” “we developed our own court cases and set up our own government,” “we work out problems through communication in appropriate ways,” “we wrote our own pilgrimage in a modern day version when reading Canterbury Tales,” and “we developed a board game based on a novel” were just some responses.
“It is obvious from the student statements that they are proud of their school, each student has their own personal commitment to their learning, and that this truly is a ‘family,’” said Burgess.
For more information about the report, visit www.usnews.com/sections/education/high-schools/index.html.