San Antonio High stands alone among Apple Distinguished Schools
by Mick Rhodes | firstname.lastname@example.org
Claremont’s San Antonio High School was recognized recently as an Apple Distinguished School, one of only 690 from 36 countries around the globe, and the only continuation school in the world to be honored with the coveted distinction.
The award ceremony took place last Monday, taking San Antonio’s 50 students by surprise.
“A lot of the times the things that our teachers and students see, they’re so used to it that it’s very commonplace to them, that ‘Hey, this is just what learning looks like,’” said San Antonio High School Assistant Principal Jessica Ly. “But then to hear that we’re the only continuation school in the world, it was really cool to see the realization on their faces and a sense of pride set in.”
A total of 37 California schools won the award, including San Antonio and three other CUSD campuses: Condit, Oakmont and Sycamore elementary schools. With four winners, Claremont is among the top Apple Distinguished School districts in California. Only Downey and Porterville, with five each, earned more.
“It’s just a proud moment for the school district, and specifically for San Antonio High School, and for our board of education too,” said Claremont Unified School District Superintendent Jeff Wilson.
Indeed. Continuation schools carry a stigma as last-ditch spots for troubled kids. But a troubled kid isn’t always a troublemaker, and that blanket stereotype is certainly inaccurate.
“When you get to know these students, it’s not that these students are not capable of the academics,” said Ly, who is in her first year as an administrator after having spent the previous six years teaching science at San Antonio. “I think sometimes they’re victims of circumstances outside of school. As we all know, our work or our school isn’t everything. Things like home life, or attendance issues, those are the issues we have to address before we can talk about academics. And once we are able to support them in that, then we are really able to help them flourish.”
San Antonio High School’s Principal Felipe Delvasto, in his 25th year with the district, is one of its go-to experts on helping kids get back on track. Along with helming the school, he’s also CUSD’s senior coordinator of alternative education.
“When a kid fails grades, that doesn’t make them bad kids,” Delvasto said. “People believe that kids who go to San Antonio High School are kids who are being expelled for discipline issues; But the truth is that probably a good 75 to 85 percent of our students are here just because their grades are low, or they have failed classes, or they are falling off the track to graduate. We are here just to help them recover those credits and get back on track to graduate on time.”
San Antonio High plays a vital role in Claremont’s well-regarded public education system. It’s a catch-all for kids who — for myriad reasons, most beyond their control — do not fit into the typical learner category. Many students who are going through challenges are able to remain at CHS and deal with them there. For the others, SAHS can be a real blessing.
“Sometimes school takes a back burner,” Delvasto said. “School takes second priority over life at home, over issues at home.”
Kids often enter SAHS angry, he said, as it’s not their choice to be there. Some are experiencing trauma or upheaval in their personal lives. Others are being bullied. Still others are flailing academically. They all leave with a different mindset.
“Kids cry when they get here, and they cry when they leave from here,” Delvasto said. “Because of the stigma, they don’t want to be at San Antonio High School, because [it’s a] continuation school where ‘bad kids’ go. But once they’re here and they flourish and they get good grades, they put a smile on their face.”
It’s difficult to say what a typical San Antonio students looks like, but the unifying factor is they are all beset by unique challenges.
“Although every one of our students is different, I think their common factor is they may have some kind of setback in life, whether it’s personality or just family life,” said Ly. “And because of the setback, in the traditional setting I think they’re often written off as a failure because they’re not able to produce academically.”
The school works closely with new students to acknowledge the experiences that led them to San Antonio, and endeavors to turn those perceptions around.
“We’re saying hey, just because you went through this experience in life, whether it’s some kind of family trauma or it’s a financial issue, yes, it’s challenging, but this doesn’t make you unworthy,” Ly said. “When they come here we try to use that as some sort of character building. And then once we’re able to tackle that, then the academics come after. These kids are very capable, they are very intellectual, and they have talents that can’t be measured by a letter grade.”
San Antonio students learn via a project-based, collaborative model. It’s a strategy that helps instill confidence and build leadership qualities in the previously disenfranchised students. Teachers facilitate, and students work together to solve problems that span the disciplines of English, math, science, foreign language and history. The approach is obviously getting results.
“These students are really taking ownership of their learning. They’re able to create something in projects, create something tangible, and present that after the fact,” Ly said. “You’re still learning all of the concepts without just memorizing them. You’re applying them in a way that applies to all of these other subject areas.”
Once they’ve caught up with their credits and brought up their grades, San Antonio students are offered the choice to return to Claremont High. It’s testimony to the specialness of the school that many don’t want to leave. It’s also worth noting that the overwhelming majority of the ones who do head back to CHS return armed with newfound tools to deal with whatever obstacles had previously stymied them.
“We have created a new student that is able to find their way to perform better in that different environment,” Delvasto said. “It’s a great feeling to have that student be successful because that’s really [why] we all became teachers.”
Wilson had praise for all four CUSD schools honored by Apple, but singled out San Antonio, acknowledging the achievement of being the lone continuation school in the world among the 690 honored.
“Mr. Delvasto and Ms. Ly have demonstrated their leadership by pursuing continuous innovation at San Antonio High School that is first and foremost student-centered,” Wilson said. “That leadership team is inspirational in how they model collaboration for students, and in how they create a ‘what if’ culture that encourages risk taking and creativity.”
It’s nice to know Claremont kids who may not be able to make it in mainstream high school have a place to land — one of the best in the world, in fact — that is supportive, innovative, and passionate about helping them build themselves back up.
“As human beings, we don’t fit into the same box all the time,” Delvasto said.
Ain’t that the truth.