Articulating Ourselves

photo 1 (2)Late winter is the season of explanations.

I’m fortunate to work in a school district that gives students and families lots of options. Which of the high schools a student will attend and what courses she’ll take once she gets there are just two of a host of choices students make during the time they’re with us.

One of the necessities in an environment that provides so many alternatives is good information on which to base a decision. What this means, in real terms, is that at the start of every year, our schools develop a plan to offer campus tours, middle school outreach, and a School Information Night, where prospective students can get a sense of who we are.

In my time, I’ve heard one or two people grumble about this, but I’m reminded of that great quotation from Thomas Edison: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Put simply, the yearly opportunity to articulate who we are makes us better.

Students and families who visit our campus may have heard about our school -truths, legends, facts, and tall tales- but none of those compare to what happens when they get here and have a chance to see for themselves.

What people notice first when they arrive at San Dieguito is that things here are a little different. Once through our front archway, folks step over bronze plaques embedded in the breezeway honorings classes back to the Roosevelt administration. They walk past “senior tiles” designed, created, and installed by 12th graders from across the years, and into a world of student murals and mosaics.

I like to think that as people look at this living gallery of student spirit they get a sense of the individualism and creativity that are so important to our school.

Passing this public art, our current students bring that spirit to life. It’s with their stories that the history of San Dieguito continues to be written. Stop ten students at random and you’re likely to hear ten different experiences, all with the common denominator of that accepting spirit of San Dieguito.

It’s not by accident that campus tours are led entirely by students. Students, I’ll proudly add, whose only preparation was being told: answer all their questions, tell the truth, and have fun.

San Dieguito is at its best unscripted.

photo 1 (5)This past week we had the opportunity to articulate ourselves to a different audience, one not made up of anyone who would join our school family. On Friday, a WASC team, educators representing the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, visited campus as part of our regular accreditation process.

In addition to asking who we are, our WASC team added the questions “What do you do?” and “What do you want to improve?” Their objective eyes and vast professional experience provided us a new lens through which to see our work with kids.

Teachers, counselors, and classified employees all had a chance to talk about our school, and I was more proud than surprised when their conversation kept coming back to the same topic: students.

The list of what we do, from providing social and emotional support to opening gender neutral bathrooms, from promoting scores of on campus clubs to celebrating San Dieguito institutions like the Student Forum and Senior Java, Professional Learning Communities, common formative assessments, and teacher collaboration time, all of it circles back to helping kids.

In addition to our professional family, the WASC visit provided a marvelous opportunity for parents and students to reflect on who we are and what we do as well. Randomly chosen groups of each were given opportunities to speak candidly with the visiting team, and impressed them when, unbeknownst to each other, they both stressed the special nature of San Dieguito and both used the same word to describe our school: accepting.

We are. Skater, scholar, surfer, or scientist, there is a place for everyone at San Dieguito. It’s a school that honors individuals and the individual choices they make. You don’t have to wear a cape or Pikachu costume at San Dieguito, but if you want to, that’s fine too.

photo 5As I walked the smiling WASC team to the parking lot at the end of the day, one member said in passing: “What’s astounding is that the kids own this culture. They live it and help others -teachers and other students- understand why it’s important.”

They do, and I’ll add that I think at least a part of this ownership comes from the fact that every January our school has an overall clad opportunity to articulate ourselves.

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