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What Happened To Ygnacio Valley High School?: The Programs Today

Ygnacio Valley High Principal Sue Brothers, left, and Student Services Coordinator Socorro Lomas
Ygnacio Valley High Principal Sue Brothers, left, and Student Services Coordinator Socorro Lomas
This is the third in a three-part series on what has transpired at Ygnacio Valley High School since it opened more than 50 years ago.

Ygnacio Valley High School. Principal Sue Brothers describes a high school student’s journey to college as traveling down a winding river with many banks and curves.

“Families that have been there before know what’s around the bend,” she said. 
“Families that haven’t been there don’t know what’s ahead.”

It’s one of the philosophies Brothers and the other educators at Ygnacio Valley High employ as they try to lead their students down a successful path.

Those strategies are wrapped in a number of programs designed specifically for the needs of Ygnacio Valley students.

One is a four-year program that tracks promising students whose families have no college history.

There’s also an after-school homework center as well as in-house academies that guide teens toward careers in the health and education fields.

The goal is to reverse a 30-year trend that has slowly seen Ygnacio Valley slip from its once high-achieving status to where it is today.

The graduation rate at the Concord school is 81 percent. Its 17 percent dropout rate is the highest in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District.

The 1,161-student school is listed as 63 percent Hispanic or Latino, many of them not fully proficient in English. Almost 70 percent participate in the free or reduced-price lunch program.

State figures show 27 percent of Ygnacio Valley parents didn’t graduate from high school. Another 28 percent graduated but didn’t attend college.

“An 80 percent graduation rate is not acceptable,” said Brothers. “We’ve got to turn this around. Kids are at risk.”

The Programs

One of the prominent programs on campus designed to change the course is the Puente Program.

Puente, headquartered at U.C. Berkeley, recruits students from local intermediate schools and then tracks them all four years of high school.

The program is part of their English classes. Every student in that particular class is a Puente participant.

The program is only two years old at Ygnacio. There were 63 freshmen and sophomores enrolled this year. In two years, there’ll be students at every grade level participating.

The students are all “first generation” college hopefuls. Some may have siblings who attended college, but none of their parents or grandparents went to higher learning institutes.

Four times a year, the students’ parents come to Puente meetings, so they know what their children need to do.

“We educate the parents as well, so they can support the students,” said Socorro Lomas, the school’s student services coorindator.

Four of this year’s Puente freshmen are Luis Delfia, Irais Velazquez, Leilani Flores and Daniel Rivas.

All of them will be enrolled in classes such as chemistry and French as sophomores. They’ll also be taking the PSAT next year.

They’ve learned in the Puente program what they need to do every year they are in high school in order to get into a good college after they graduate. The four freshmen all said the program has made them more organized and kept them on track.

They also have gained motivation by taking field trips to colleges, where they’ve toured the campuses and talked to students and professors.

“I learned more about what college is like,” said Rivas.

The 15-year-old Concord youth isn’t sure yet what he wants to study, but he knows why he wants to go to college.

“I want to get a high-paying job, a job that I like,” he said.

His 14-year-old classmates have similar goals.

Delfia would like to study criminal justice. Flores has dreams of going to medical school, perhaps to be a pediatrician. Velazquez would like to go into either medicine or criminal justice.

The four teens, like the others in Puente, are now role models, too. They talk to their younger siblings and even cousins about college. They tell their high school friends about the importance of staying in school.

“My parents expect me to be successful,” said Delfia, “and I don’t want to let them down. Not after the hard work they’ve done.”

In its two short years, Puente already has some success stories. Puente instructor Kara Yu said 90 percent of the program’s 10th graders passed the English Language Arts section of the California high school exit exam this past year. On the math portion, 100 percent passed.

“We are so excited and so proud of them,” said Yu.

Ygnacio Valley High, however, doesn’t stop at the Puente Program.

The school also has health science and education academies. Each program has 150 students who enter the process as sophomores. Their courses emphasize learning in either health or education. The goal is to eventually get them jobs with a minimum of college or vocational training.

This program has been operating for 12 years and students must apply to get in.

Ygnacio Valley also operates an after-school program called CARES that provides tutoring on campus as well as a homework center from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. every weekday. At the center, there’s also activities and the students are given a snack and even a light dinner.

This program is designed for teens who have no one else at home in the afternoon or whose home life is so disruptive they can’t get their school work done.

“Sometimes, this is the safest place for them to be,” said Brothers.

A marriage and family therapist is on campus two days a week. Brothers is looking for funding to have the counselor available five days a week.

The Challenges

Despite the programs, Ygnacio Valley students still face many potential pitfalls.

Brothers said students drop out of high school for a number of reasons, many accumulating over time.

“Dropping out is not an event. It’s a process,” she said.

Among the reasons are students arriving at Ygnacio Valley with low skills and past failure in school.  Poverty is another factor. So is language. Half of the school’s Hispanic students come from another country.

These students enter high school and see a big mountain to climb. 

Brothers said the shrinking of the middle class has eliminated an opportunity. It used to be lower income students just needed to climb one rung to reach a solid middle-class job such as an electrician. A high school diploma may no longer get them there. They may need to climb two or three rungs.

“They’ll look at what it’ll take to graduate from high school,” said Brothers. “They’ll see they have to do all this work and they wonder what it’s going to get them.”

Some sophomores and juniors are lured out of school and into the workplace by a job that pays slightly above minimum wage.

“Ten dollars an hour at their age seems like a lot of money,” said Brothers. “We try to show them that ten dollars an hour will get them a shared studio apartment and a bicycle.”

A Brighter Future

When she arrived, Brothers also formed teacher teams that get together to discuss curriculum and teaching methods.

The principal also analyzes data to make sure what educators are doing with their precious time is actually effective. One of the focuses now is the freshmen failure rate.

“We can’t let these kids fall behind. They get easily discouraged,” said Brothers.

This summer, the school is using Measure C money to rebuild the 100 wing into a more modern science center. It’ll have labs and lecture halls.

Measure C money is also being used to refurbish a building near the gymnasium. 
That new facility will house an athletic training room for sports medicine students, a weight room and a ceramics classroom with an outside kiln.

Brothers said the new structures help facilitate learning and increase school pride. 
All part of the chief goal at Ygnacio Valley High these days -- keeping kids in school.

“I’m really thrilled with what we’re going to be able to do,” she said.

Part One: What Happened To Ygnacio Valley High School?: The Glory Years
Part Two: What Happened To Ygnacio Valley High School?: The Decline

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