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February 25, 2009 > Caring School Climate Award

Caring School Climate Award

By Meenu Gupta
Photos By Courtesy of Katie Martinez

Calaveras Hills, Milpitas' alternative high school, won the Project Cornerstone Caring School Climate Award for this year. "The award honors their efforts to ensure that their students feel valued, respected, and supported to thrive" said Elissa Miller, Director of Development and Communications, Project Cornerstone.

As the day begins at Calaveras Hills, teachers, the principal and assistants stand at the doors and greet each student with a smile and positive comments. Each member of the Cal Hills staff and extended community focus on connecting with each student's life and building a relationship of respect, acceptance and trust. Students collaborate with staff to develop a graduation plan and are then guided by an advisor toward their high school diploma.

"Creating this caring school environment takes the dedication of each staff member every single day. There is a mutual respect that extends throughout the school and the focus is on making good choices and learning from our mistakes while moving forward" said Principal Katie Martinez.

The school receives the well-deserved award because of its wide array of services and graduation programs. For instance, the Advisory Program, variable credits and credit recovery programs, the Out to Lunch Club (OTLC) Mentors, with smaller class sizes and guidance services.

"This year, the OTLC has matched over 50 adults in our community with students at school. The mentors come from all segments of our community including: elected officials, City employees, school district employees, Cal Hills graduates, police officers, labor union members, business leaders, service group volunteers" said Martinez.

The OTLC mentors are able to show the students a larger world full of possibilities past graduation and to provide the student with a caring adult who will listen.

"As a community member, I have participated in the unique Out to Lunch Club Mentor Program, since 1999. The OTLC Mentors make appointments with their students monthly, pick them up from school, treat them to a lunch date, spend time listening and conversing and then deliver them back to campus" said Toby S. Librande, City of Milpitas, Child Care Coordinator, who nominated the school for the award.

"The results of this simple program are profound for both for the students and the Mentors. The adults in our community get to know the students at Cal Hills on a one-to-one basis, putting a name and a face to the students most likely to be negatively labeled and stereotyped" Librande said.

The community members also come on to campus at least once a month, strengthening the bond between the school and the larger community.

Established in 1969, the continuation high school mainly serves the students of the Milpitas Unified School District who fall short of credit requirements for graduation. The school helps them graduate successfully. During the 2007-2008 school year, the graduation rate for students enrolled for 90 days or more was 97% with an 85% graduation rate for all students who enrolled for the 2007-2008 school year.

The Milpitas community is fortunate to have such an alternative high school program that builds confidence in students and establishes a foundation for lifelong learning and success. "What is unique, special and important about Cal Hills is that this school values, respects and cares about our most at-risk students. Over the years, my students have explained that for perhaps the first time in their high school experiences, someone related to school actually notices when they are not in class and cares whether or not they come to school," said Librande.

The Cal Hills experience embodies developmental assets in action like positive relationships, skills, values. Forty-one such developmental assets have been identified by Project Cornerstone as crucial for a youth's healthy development. "Project Cornerstone's mission is to train and mobilize adults throughout Santa Clara County to intentionally work to develop healthy, caring, and responsible children and youth" said Miller.

The organization works with more than 200 community-focused groups, including schools, youth and family-serving organizations, city and county governments, and businesses. Project Cornerstone holds a Santa Clara County-wide awards breakfast on March 19 at 7 a.m. in Fairmont Hotel in San Jose, to honor the individuals and organizations making exceptional efforts to support young people. The public is cordially invited to attend and honor asset building in our youth. Register by Friday February 27 online at www.projectcornerstone.org.

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