By Tara Schmidt
Class of 2012
SPOKANE, Wash. – The Gonzaga University School of Education is again reaching out to help more high school students in the state graduate. Earlier this year, the School completed a research project to help improve the high school graduation rate in Spokane Public Schools. Now it is helping students graduate from the Yakima Valley’s Sunnyside High, one of the state’s lowest-performing schools.
Sunnyside students seized the opportunity to come to Gonzaga’s campus last week to share their experiences of failure and success with Gonzaga’s teaching candidates in the School of Education.
The Sunnyside School District has been abuzz with change since it received a three-year, $6 million federal school improvement grant designed to improve its poor graduation rate. Through a partnership with the school district, Gonzaga education Assistant Professor Chuck Salina is allowed to serve as Sunnyside High School’s “turn-around principal” and is integrating what he learns into Gonzaga’s teacher education curriculum. Since his appointment this past summer, Salina has implemented many changes to help ensure more students will sport the Grizzly caps and gowns at Sunnyside’s commencement. Salina also has taken steps to address many of the individual obstacles students face.
At Gonzaga last Thursday (Nov. 11), Salina’s Sunnyside students met face-to-face with Gonzaga’s teachers-in-training in an innovative and powerful opportunity for all students in attendance to learn from each other. Several Sunnyside classes spent the morning with four classes taught by Gonzaga education faculty Jonas Cox and John Traynor. The students broke into small groups and shared stories of academic success, a common-ground topic all the students welcomed.
“Many of our teacher candidates plan to form mentoring relationships with these students over the next six months, and several have expressed interest in doing their student-teaching at Sunnyside,” Cox said, adding that a trip to Sunnyside is being planned for this spring, as is another visit to Gonzaga by the Sunnyside students.
Dave Martinez, assistant principal at Sunnyside, said the format fostered pedagogical breakthroughs.
“This is a great opportunity for Sunnyside students to impact these young teachers,” said Martinez, noting the teachers also made a positive impact on the Sunnyside students. Many of the Sunnyside students in attendance who had nearly dropped out of high school said they were inspired to graduate. Even some Sunnyside dropouts attending said they, too, were newly inspired to graduate.
As the students’ time together ended, Salina asked if anyone had any concluding words. Almost immediately, a Sunnyside girl piped up, saying, “Let’s do this again!”