It might be blazing hot, but summer is officially over for thousands of Kern County students who will return to classrooms this week.
Schools have been preparing and are launching a series of varied initiatives this year ranging from enhancing sexual education offerings to encouraging teachers to build more solid relationships with students to help them overcome social and emotional obstacles.
Here’s a breakdown of what some of Kern County’s biggest districts are tackling.
KERN HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT
Suicide prevention: Compelled by the passage of AB 2245, KHSD is setting in place policies that will be launched this year addressing suicide prevention, intervention and postvention, which refers to activities that reduce risk and promote healing among the bereaved after a suicide death. The district created a task force of mental health clinicians, social workers, school psychologists, school counselors, administrators and a police officer to develop a comprehensive policy recognizing “that all schools do indeed have the potential for having suicidal students,” said Ryan Geivet, KHSD’s director of instruction. Then schools can identify “at-risk” students and get them the support they need, Geivet added.
CPR ready: KHSD’s goal starting this year is to have every student CPR-trained by graduation. AB 1719 requires students in California be instructed in compression-only cardiopulmonary resuscitation in health education courses. That training will be implemented this year with the help of the American Heart Association and Chevron, which donated training kits to every high school campus.
STD awareness: Conservative KHSD trustees expressed reservations last year when the Kern County Public Health Services Department presented them with alarming statistics on sexually transmitted diseases among teens attending school in its boundaries. They asked for help, but received obstinance from at least one trustee, who said it wasn’t the district’s problem to address. Now KHSD is partnering with Kaiser to bring a production of “What Goes Around,” an STD awareness play, to its campuses. The first showing will take place in late fall with a parent preview opportunity in September.
Next Generation Science Standards: Science teachers spent this summer at Cal State Bakersfield’s Fab Lab, a hub for digital fabrication, testing equipment including 3-D printers, laser cutters and vinyl cutters to design lessons for enhancing engagement in line with new state standards. The lessons are inquiry-based.
Bond projects: KHSD is flush with cash to spend after voters approved $280 million in bonds last November. The district’s most high-profile project expected to break ground this academic year is a $60 million Career Technical Education center planned in the southwest near Independence High School that will accommodate about 1,000 students. The district will also begin modernization efforts at Foothill High School, replacing technology systems, plumbing, roofs and windows.
BAKERSFIELD CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT
“No new programs”: When it comes to new initiatives and programs this year, BCSD will have few.
“We’re not doing anything new,” BCSD Superintendent Harry “Doc” Ervin told The Californian during an interview this past week. “We’re refining what we’re already doing. Every year, if you’re doing something new and introducing new initiatives and programs, it gets old. People get tired of it. We already know what we need to do to make sure our district is academically successful.”
That means a continued focus on early childhood literacy, more guided reading, and investing more time into Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, district leaders said.
One place where Ervin thinks the district needs more work? Fostering better relationships between students and teachers.
About 64 percent of district elementary school students surveyed said they felt a teacher or adult cared about them all the time, and at middle schools, 33 percent of students said it was “very true” that there was a teacher or adult at school who really cared for them.
That leaves room for improvement, district leaders said.
Social and emotional learning: When kids start school this week at BCSD, they aren’t going to be bombarded with pop quizzes, tough math lessons or challenging work. Instead, the district is having teachers focus on building relationships with students.
“Kids perform for teachers they like. If they don’t like you, they’re not going to perform for you. The same is in any business environment, so it’s really important we build those relationships,” said Tim Fullenwider, BCSD’s director of instructional support services.
Teachers will be welcoming students with an exercise called “Four at the Door,” which stresses eye contact and greeting the student with a high-five or handshake, by name, and asking about their weekend or a personal interest that lets students know their teachers care about them.
“They’re little things that make a world of difference,” said BCSD Communications Manager Irma Cervantes.
Project Jr. BEST: Working to close an achievement gap among black students, the district is launching Project Jr. BEST this year, an initiative that creates after-school programs geared toward black students.
At the same time, Ervin stressed that even though the program included a “culturally relevant curriculum” that all students, regardless of race, could be enrolled.
“Even though Project BEST is specifically focusing on African-Americans, no student is excluded if they want to participate,” Ervin said. “That would be unfair.”
The project is an extension of Project BEST, which stands for Black Excellence in Scholarship and Teaching and is operated at the high school level.
“We can’t do this work alone. Our community is our team,” said Mark Luque, assistant superintendent of educational services.
Bond projects: BCSD received $110 million in bonds last November, giving it cash to begin fixing up old buildings. It started with Voorhies Elementary, which is receiving a face-lift and will be fully modernized by the end of this school year. Funds will also be used this year to begin designing a STEAM school on the corner of Cottonwood Road and Belle Terrace. That project would be completed in about two years.
PANAMA-BUENA VISTA UNION SCHOOL DISTRICT
Castle STEAM Academy: After a $7 million state grant and nine months of planning, Castle STEAM Academy — PBVUSD’s ambitious plan to transform one of its poorest campuses into a model school — opens Thursday.
The campus employs seven specialists who, in September, will begin a series of rotations to teach students from transitional kindergarten through sixth grade about science, engineering, visual arts, technology, physical education, music and performing arts, said Katrina Wilson, one of the school’s two principals.
“We’re getting kids engaged in school. We have kids who don’t enjoy going to school ... so we want to create an environment where there’s growth mindset,” said Amanda Scheidemantel, the school’s other principal.
Harold Pierce can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @RoldyPierce.