De Portola believes that students learn best when they are in a friendly and stress free environment coupled with positive relationships with the adults at the school. This core belief manifests itself in several areas of our school and it contributes to the foundation for a school we believe is very responsive to the developmental needs of the students under our care. Developmentally, students in middle school need a tremendous amount of support in organization, social development, and character development. These needs are addressed throughout the year using a variety of methods with the constant focus of developing young people that are ready to be actively literate, contributing members of society.
The first need, organization, is supported through a school wide effort to use the school planner effectively and that effort is reinforced using the weekly principal’s message. Classroom teachers encourage students to record assignments and projects in their planner. Each student’s planner is also reviewed by advisory teachers (period 5) for completion. In addition, the principal randomly selects three students each week for further review. Students whose planner is reviewed by the principal and who demonstrate effective use are rewarded.
Positive School Environment (Fun Factor)
Middle school students are extremely self centered and uniquely motivated by social influence. As an effort to address the needs that these young people have, the De Portola team believes it is necessary to maintain a school environment that provides students with positive reinforcement, friendly relationships with staff and ample opportunities to model effective means of navigating social environments. The school maintains a healthy number of recognition systems including small scale rewards for everything from simple acts of kindness (Caught Being Good) and school spirit to awards, to awards for getting all A’s and E’s (4.0 Nation). A schoolwide focus on positive behavior perpetuates those behaviors in a way that adolescents respond to, while also keeping the school climate comfortable and healthy. In an attempt to build student/staff relationships, De Portola maintains around 15 clubs, run by teachers. Clubs offered include everything from a Chess Club, Pokemon Go Club, Bible Club, Builders’ Club, to a Robotics’ Club, which offer access to a wide variety of interests. These clubs shrink the teacher to student ratio and provide a connection between staff and students that would not be possible in their academic classes.
Character development is an absolutely critical element of adolescent development. As part of our ongoing effort to support this development, we add a motivational piece in the weekly principal’s message shown to the students. This segment emphasizes being kind to all and is evident in many videos. There are also many service based clubs at De Portola offered to students that provide opportunities for students to give back to one another and to our community, including Builder’s Club, Latino Club, the Butterfly Effect Club, and the Friends of Rachel club. These clubs offer an opportunity to engage with students in a smaller setting allowing staff to provide specific and targeted character development.
Authentic Learning Experiences (Field Trips for All)
Another way our school responds to the social needs of mid level students is through the implementation of authentic learning opportunities. Every student attends at least one field trip every year. These field trips are chosen strategically to give students access to learning beyond the classroom (San Diego Archaeological Society, Museum of Man, Museum of Tolerance), authentic work environments (Sea World, Raytheon, Qualcomm), and access to the arts (Civic Theater Performance). Students are able to access experiences that shape their understanding of the world in ways that are not available through traditional classroom instruction leaving them inspired and focused on learning.
Site Wellness Plan
During the 16-17 school year, our Site Governance Team (SGT) spent time reviewing incentives at De Portola as a part of our site wellness plan. We found that many of our incentives for academic achievement were food based (candy, ice cream, etc). The SGT worked with members of our Site Wellness Committee to look for healthier alternatives for our students and staff including a move away from food based rewards. Beginning in the 17-18 school year, we will be implementing a plan to replace many food incentives with a token system that earns a student time in our new Gateway to Technology Lab. Students will be able to use state of the art equipment, including, a Carvy, Vinyl Cutter, Laser Cutter, and Industrial 3D Printers, to design and create piece of their own. Two walking paths were mapped out and labeled on campus for student and staff use with the intention of an emphasis on movement and the role it plays in wellness.