Once again this year, I am visiting all of our high schools. I started these intensive school visits last year and found them to be very beneficial. My first high school visit this school year took me to the land of the Hug Hawks. I was overwhelmed by the information shared with me by Principal Cristina Oronoz, her administrative team, counselors, and other presenters; including a student; that highlighted the activities, programs, and supports at Hug High School. The real-life stories shared with me were both uplifting and heart-breaking. I am very proud of the community that has been and continues to be built at Hug High School. Every day, the staff and students live their motto: “Hug is a community.”
This community spirit is manifest in many ways. One example that was shared with me was the efforts to build capacity of educators by having teacher leaders on campus mentor the new teachers at the school. The staff focuses on all students and their individualized paths to graduation. The school provides a number of wraparound services to support the students and their families as they navigate their education and prepare for life after high school. I really enjoyed hearing from the Communities in Schools program about their work in meeting student needs and engaging parents. This program along with many others are helping Hug High School students reach their educational goals. And I am thrilled that they achieved an 82 percent graduation rate in 2017. The staff is tracking students and working diligently to provide the students with opportunities to reach this milestone. Hug students work with the staff throughout the year and never give up. The Hug staff really believes in all of their students and interventions can start as early as ninth grade. This deeper knowledge and relationship with students is the foundation of the success at Hug High School.
I toured the school and enjoyed talking to teachers and students in their classrooms. Arthur Pacheco and his AP Calculus students were focused and engaged. It was great to hear the students tell me how much they loved math and shared their aspirations for the future. In Jennifer Rasmussen’s French 2 class, the students participated in an oral lesson speaking only French. Although I don’t speak French, I enjoyed hearing how smoothly they were speaking and seeing how much fun they were having in class.
My next visit took us to Stehpan Molder’s freshman SEL class. The theme was “Get your grit on,” and we did several interactive exercises to work on this. We had a cake lovers versus pie lovers class discussion. Then we worked in small groups on a Count the Squares lesson. I really enjoyed working with the girls in my group. At the end of the class, we talked about perseverance and grit and an egg and tennis ball were used to demonstrate these skills. Seeing the interaction between all the students and watching everyone contribute to the lesson and conversation was invigorating.
I had a great time playing the drums in Kevin Thomas’ music class. The students were playing modern music, and playing it really well, too! I joined the boys in the percussion line and they even let me have my own set of drumsticks. The energy and excitement in the room was fantastic. It is really inspirational to see students really having fun and taking pride in their efforts.
I joined Elana Willoughby’s freshman English class where the students were working in groups to create thematic statements for their novellas. The dialog was rich and meaningful. Some groups had teacher aides helping them while others were working independently. Every group was focused and engaged.
Sarina Cellucci, yearbook advisor, shared some of the great work the students are doing to prepare the yearbook this year. There are going to be some really great pictures!
I had lunch with a wonderful group of ninth grade students. I continued the message about grit and perseverance. We talked about how they have to do the work to graduate from high school and our job as teachers and administrators is to support them on this journey. This is especially true when students stumble. It is important the kids know that they can ask for help.
During my visit, I learned about a student with a stellar accomplishment. If you follow me on Twitter, you can see a picture of me and Favian Paniagua Soto. Favian is a prestigious Questbridge finalist that was awarded a full-ride scholarship to Princeton University where he plans to study astrophysics. Favian is an amazing, humble, brilliant young man. I am so proud of him and so very happy for him.
When I left Hug High School, I felt energized and motivated. The administration and staff are leading the charge for positive change for all of their students. The spirit of Hug is modeled by the entirety of the staff. I love how the staff embraces each student on a daily basis. The results are evident and continued growth will happen. Go Hawks!