December 24, 2008

Sweetwater Schools are Golden – Again

Hilltop High and Olympian High Receive Top State Honors

In keeping with a proud tradition, two more Sweetwater schools are golden.

Outstanding programs at Hilltop High and Olympian High received prestigious Golden Bell awards from the California School Board’s Association at a ceremony on Dec. 6.

“Sweetwater’s Golden Bell track record is a testament to the passion and dedication of district educators and evidence of the hard work and potential of Sweetwater students,” said School Board President Jim Cartmill. “We couldn’t be prouder of these two schools.”

The Hilltop High Connect Crew, led by advisor Louise Fericelli, was recognized as an exemplary student services program. Each school year, Connect Crew classes train 60 juniors and seniors as student leaders to mentor incoming freshmen.

Each entering 9th grader is paired with a Connect Crew leader who becomes their own personal campus guide. As trust and friendship grow, Connect Crew leaders serve as role models and motivators, coaching newcomers through the high school experience.

Even though they have a special mission to help freshmen, Connect Crew leaders are also effective conflict mediators for problems schoolwide. Often students will more readily discuss their problems with another student, so Connect Crew members help identify trouble and diffuse problems before they flare-up.

Across town, Olympian High, the newest Sweetwater high school, also garnered a 2008 Golden Bell award. The Schoolwide Academic Literacy Plan was honored as an exemplary instructional program.

The research is clear, there is a disconnect between what many high schools teach and what colleges and employers expect from high school graduates. Principal John Devore launched the Academic Literacy Plan at Olympian to bridge that gap.

The Olympian Academic Literacy Plan represents a shift in the high school instructional approach from content-driven to a skills-driven focus. It is based on a systematic teaching of a set of three habits of mind: intellectual perseverance, metacognition and intellectual curiosity.

To build intellectual perseverance, students are taught to understand that if they receive a D, F or even a C grade, they may need to relearn the material. Tests are given multiple times to ensure mastery. At Olympian High teachers and staff encourage students to stick with it.

In developing metacognition, students learn to examine their own and others’ thought processes; to practice intellectual humility and become comfortable with ambiguity.

Teachers also nurture their students’ intellectual curiosity by instilling an interest in exploring other cultures, issues and questions beyond their own experience. This year’s senior class is reading “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson. It is the story of one man’s effort to promote peace in the Middle East by building schools for girls. Inspired by the book, Olympian seniors are involved in an effort to raise $12,000 to build a new girls’ school in Pakistan.

These are two programs making a real difference in students’ lives. Both the Olympian Academic Literary program and Hilltop High’s Connect Crew have transcended the classroom to help their students become engaged in their education in a meaningful way.

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