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UC High Shifts Foci Toward Math and Mental Health

Audrey Hancock, Staff Writer

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   The UC High Administrative Team has begun to implement the newly established district and school foci for the year 2018-2019, in order to help students succeed and be healthy.

    The District focus this year is on graduating the same number of students that started at a school. According to Olivero, “We typically lose about a hundred students between their freshmen year and their senior year. They end up being credit deficient; they go to charter schools or go to other schools, in general.” He explained, “We want to graduate with the same number of students we started with. So, in order to address that, we’re going to have to rethink how we execute education on campus. We may have to redevelop a school within a school — in which we allow kids to make up credits, [specifically in math], similar to a charter school, but yet convince students to stay at the same school.”

   Principals at each San Diego Unified school had to choose two areas of focus for their schools for the year, and one area of focus at UC High is on math achievement, and the second is on students’ social and emotional support. Principal Jeff Olivero said, “UC High is going to have to focus support in two areas for this particular year. One is dealing with the longstanding national issue that’s found in many schools: the challenge of kids getting through some math classes. This tends to be a hurdle for kids and the reason why it is a focus for our school. When you look at our school data, a large number of kids are doing very well in school at UC High. Almost 66 percent of our students are graduating with honor status — meaning they have at least a 3.5 GPA. Yet, there are about 15 percent of students that are struggling in particular areas, such as mathematics.”

      “We’re going to be implementing some new support for kids for math but we’re going to need students to help other students. We are changing the culture of the school so that it’s an ‘all of us’ mentality versus ‘I’ll just worry about myself’ mentality, because the goal is to have everyone walk across that stage their senior year,” stated Olivero.

   “We have always had the math academy after school, but typically, the ones who are going to the math academy are the C students that want a B or the B students that want an A,” said Olivero. He explained that the kids that are at a desperate risk of not passing are not taking advantage of these helpful resources. “It’s natural and human to not go to areas where we are challenged or that we are not good at. In this case, our weakness is an area that is preventing us from being successful in other areas,” he added.

   “We’re going to deal with it within the classroom, where we are going to ask students to work with other students to ensure that they’re understanding the material too. It may mean we slow down a bit to make sure everyone’s on board, rather than getting it and moving on. Teachers are going to have to [go] back and figure out how to support students in those classes. We have asked students who have community college classes if they would, on the days they don’t have class, volunteer on those off days to work with specific math classes,” Olivero said.

   Math Teacher Ana Kuburovich said, “We as teachers are on the same level in terms of grading policies and requirements. There are programs like Khan Academy and Math Academy with Math Teacher David Asuncion that mostly encourages students to work in groups and teach each other, but I don’t know if it’s enough. A lot of times students respond better to peers than teachers, even if its one on one. Just like sports; you can’t learn everything overnight — which means persistence is crucial, you have to keep trying, and you have to admit you don’t understand something. I feel like we are moving in the right direction but then I feel like we have a long road ahead of us.”

   Senior Ethan Ward said, “Asuncion really helps me with math when he posts videos on Google classroom, but  I would like it if people came in and actually knew what they were doing because there’s not enough of Asuncion to go around for 30 kids that don’t know what they’re doing. Teachers should make the instructions more simple. It’s ridiculous, because even if you try hard and yet still fail, you have to retake the whole course again and then if you don’t pass, you can’t graduate, which makes the system seem pretty stupid.”

   The second focus for UC High is mental and emotional support for students. The administration feels that this deserves more attention. “Eighty five percent of students are doing well when it comes to their education. But our other goal is to help kids with emotional support. If you look at our data, there are higher incidents of kids feeling depressed, lonely, not feeling connected, and having thoughts of suicide.”

    “In order to reach out, we have increased our staff and added another counselor to improve our emotional support. We are also working with EdUCate [the foundation that raises money for all of the UC schools], who will contribute money, along with the PTSA, to bring in an outside counseling group called Mending Matters, who will be coming to UC High once a week to support students. They will be working one on one with students. We want to increase our opportunity to work with and help students who need someone to talk to,”said Olivero.

   School Psychologist Dr. Laura Alles said, “There are always the cases where a student’s need for help is significant beyond leaning on friends and family. We want to raise that feeling of community and safety so that students feel like they have somewhere to go–that is the best place to start. One of the best ways to do that is by offering support here with our guidance counselors.”

   “I hope that students who need help will understand that this is a time in life at which all of us could be going through challenges, and getting support is not a bad thing. People should not feel that it is a weakness  to ask for help of some sort. Maybe they need additional strategies, that they haven’t had access to, in order to help problem solve and put things into perspective. Sometimes we can easily spiral out of control if we’re not in the right mindset to deal with our problems,” said Olivero.

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UC High Shifts Foci Toward Math and Mental Health