While other high schools across the nation struggle with reform efforts to improve student learning, Arleta High School believes it may have come up with a recipe for student success and it focuses on the 3 R’s: rigor, relevance, and relationships. Before it even opened its doors in October 2006, Arleta High School was designed with one vision in mind: to challenge every student to attain academic and personal success through a rigorous and relevant curriculum that is supported by positive relationships.
This vision has struck a chord with teachers, students, parents and the community. While many schools throughout the district are experiencing a decline in enrollment, Arleta’s student population continues to grow beyond what was initially anticipated. It currently has a school population of 1650 students grades 9-11. This fall, more than 360 families applied for open enrollment to the school despite it having only 30 spots available. Community leaders that initially challenged having a high school built in their neighborhood have now become staunch supporters of the school and have volunteered time, resources and dollars to insure that Arleta High School remain a source of pride within their community.
Parents have embraced the school as a partner in helping their sons and daughters become successful students. Parent organizations including the CEAC, ELAC, and SSC were successfully developed and are functioning. More than 100 parents successfully completed the School for Parents program.
Why the popularity? A number of factors are responsible, but Arleta High staff has identified four key components: small learning communities, an innovative bell schedule, a curriculum focused on project-based learning, and an advisory program.
While other schools grapple with plans on how to break down their large campuses into smaller units, Arleta High School had the advantage of opening “wall-to-wall” with small learning communities that focused on the Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA), Social Justice (SJ), and Science, Math and Related Technology (SMART).
In alignment with the Los Angeles Unified School District initiative, all students at AHS are a member of one of these SLC’s which promotes a clear sense of purpose, a high quality standards-based academic program, and a personalized learning environment. In each SLC and throughout the AHS community, a clear sense of accountability, strong and capable leadership, professional collaboration and development, and parent and community engagement are tangible.
Perhaps the most apparent component is the four-by-four block schedule. In this schedule, students take four classes a day for 20 weeks during the fall semester.
Each class is 82 minutes long. This 20-week period equates to a year’s worth of study. During the spring, students take a new set of four classes. The end result is that the students complete 8 classes over the course of a school year as opposed to 6 that would be completed at a traditional six period per day school. The four-by-four also allows for increased opportunities for enrichment and intervention within the school day.
The longer period within the school day makes it ideal for teachers to engage in Project Based Learning. PBL is a powerful tool that allows students to make in-depth exploration of authentic and important topics through carefully designed projects that require problem solving, the use of tools and skills, collaboration, and performance-based assessments. In short, PBL allows students to see relevance in their school work.
Rigor and relevance are further identified in the school’s Expected School-Wide Learning Results. Faculty and staff at AHS have committed themselves to ensuring that Arleta High School students will become community contributors, critical thinkers, effective communicators, and self-directed learners. All courses required for an LAUSD diploma are assigned to highly qualified staff members and are available to students. Additional electives are added each semester.
A fourth factor identified as crucial, especially in regards to the relationship piece of the 3 R’s, is the 32-minute Advisory class. Students attend this class daily which is facilitated by teachers who act as advocates for their students. It has proven to be a powerful mechanism for building student leadership skills and addressing affective and operational issues within the school community.
Other innovations at the school include:
- Honors assemblies are held for each SLC every eight weeks
- An Early College program. In conjunction with LA Mission College, the early college program has been developed and implemented. As a result, a cohort of students will graduate from AHS with their AA degree
- Field trips. A group of students traveled to Washington to participate in the OPI institute, an environmental awareness and education program. Curricular trips are planned for the 2007-2008 school year to include Costa Rica, Oregon, and Washington, DC.
- A website at Arletahigh.com that is used to communicate with parents and the community and to house the advisory curriculum and teacher websites.
Visitors to the school are impressed with how the students and staff work together to maintain a clean, safe, graffiti-free school. Many have remarked that they thought they were on a private prep school campus as they observed the students hustling to class dressed in their professional attire that has become a tradition on Wednesdays. Students have embraced the principles of trust, respect, and personal responsibility to develop a school culture in which students are highly accountable for maintaining both the affective climate as well as the physical plant.
Taken all together, the mixing of rigor, relevance, and relationships with a bowl full of small learning communities, block scheduling, engaging projects, and meaningful advisory classes, makes for an innovative educational meal sure to satisfy any student’s appetite.