From a student being recognized as Vintage High School Student of the Month:
First of all, I would like to thank the board for recognizing me with this award tonight. I would like to introduce my family members that are here: my mother Linda, my father Bob and my younger sister Molly. I have lived in Napa since I was two years old and have attended Pueblo Vista Alternative Elementary School, River Middle School and I am now a senior at Vintage High School. I feel extremely lucky to have attended the schools that I did because I have had an exceptional experience at all of them.
Pueblo Vista Alternative and River are both schools that stress the importance of parent participation in their children’s education and this practice has had a great impact on my educational experience. I would like to thank my parents for their hours of volunteering for my schools. Their involvement and interest in my education has helped to motivate me, and I deeply appreciate all the support they have given me.
When I attended River school, the Principal, Ms. Inlay, and the teachers did their best to instill certain values and principles in the students. One phrase that I constantly heard at River School was that ³it is all about choice², at River they stressed that above all, students must take responsibility for their actions and learn to accept the consequences of their choices. Looking back, I think that this lesson laid the foundation for my success in high school. I think that teenagers have had more and more difficulty taking on responsibility in recent years, and that is a skill that students must possess in order to do well in high school classes.
Another value that the River School philosophy stresses is the importance of community. During my three years at River I participated in many community and teamwork building activities. The value of community has also helped me succeed in high school. I am lucky to have a strong supportive group of friends who are also academically driven. All of us support each other by helping with homework, discussing our class work and studying together. Without the support of my friends, I doubt that I would have pushed myself academically as much as I have over the past four years.
In regards to my future plans, my favorite subject in school is history and I would like to pursue it in college. I would also like to study abroad during college or live in a different country after college. At the end of my eighth grade year I was able to participate in a trip to Costa Rica with other middle school students and I had a wonderful time experiencing the different lifestyle and culture of the country. I plan on attending a four year college and I have applied to several public and private colleges. Currently, my top choice is the University of California at Berkeley, so hopefully I will be enrolling there next fall.
Thank you for this award.
From a parent:
I have two children who attended 6-8 grade at River Middle School (one graduating in 2004, the other in 2007). My children are quite different in nature and learning styles. River School was an excellent environment for each of my children in quite different ways. They were each very well prepared for high school academically, socially and emotionally. Through the integrated curriculum, listening groups, opportunities for leadership and responsibility and excellent elective program, they each were able to feel supported, respected and valuable. They entered high school well prepared and able to work well in groups, delegate and share ideas confidently. They were given many leadership opportunities at River and were truly listened to by staff and peers. I am extremely grateful to the school for many reasons and highly recommend this program.
From a student:
I am now a 9th grader, but without River School, I wouldn’t have been as inspired to excel in high school. River not only challenged the left side of my brain, but it also encouraged activity on the part of my right hemisphere. Mrs. Inlay has made it one of her many goals to create a safe environment in which one can feel free to excercise their 1st amendment rights and become comfortable with being creative. I have never felt more empowered to speak my mind. I began to appreciate challenges, and I was motivated to create work that I was proud of. It offers great parenting classes because the staff recognizes that at such a difficult age, it’s essential for parents to understand, accept and motivate their pre-teens. Overall, I highly recommend this wonderful school…that is if you believe in the importance of education and the grandeur of creativity.
From a student:
I attended River School several years ago as a 6th, 7th and 8th grader. I can honestly say this has been one of the best decisions of my life. I am now a senior in high school and realize that the skills I have now are largely based upon what I learned as a student at River. River School taught me to be an individual, and the environment of trust and respect allowed me to grow in such a way that I needed as a middle school student. My education there was top notch and I learned much more than just academics. Many of the teachers at River are still my friends and I visit them whenever I have the chance. I benefited more than I ever expected to from River’s close student-teacher interactions. In my mind, students would be crazy not to choose River School.
From a parent and her daughter:
My daughter attended the River School for 2 years as a 7th & 8th grader. Since she has both ADD and Bi-Polar Disorder I can tell you that it has been a struggle since she started school. I have tried all along to teach her the skills she needs to survive and thrive in this world and, for now, in the school systems. The approach I took up until now was to stay close to her teachers and stay involved in her school while pushing her along the road. At the River School, parenting classes taught me to let go and let her take responsibility for her actions. I did that completely the first year and saw her struggle, fail and be held back a grade. She went through their process for regaining a grade level after being held back. This time she stepped up to the plate and showed that she could do the work. It was still a struggle, but it was hers.
An even bigger struggle for us has been to get my daughter to own her disabilities, that is, to become her own advocate. I have tried to teach her to request help at school when she needed it but she was always either too embarrassed or shy to reach out. The River School taught her that the resources were there and available for her but that she had to initiate it and seek out the help. No one was going to push her to the counselors and resource people.
She is now a freshman in a very large High School where it will be so easy for her to get lost in the masses. Here is her story of how the River School helped her.
When I was in 8th grade I finally got down the fact that I had to go to the teachers if I wanted help, not my mom. Before this I had great difficulty approaching the teachers. I would rather hurt my grades than go up to the teacher for help. Through learning this I have been able to get myself out of a too difficult English class and into a Resource English class, which is slower than the regular College Prep English course. I also learned to keep a cool head when dealing with teachers otherwise I could get myself more trouble. The River School discipline system taught me to gain control when I would get emotional and out of control. I have used this skill this year by trying to not get too emotional when I found out I was failing my math class. It kept me from several detentions. I learned to be persistent when dealing with my Math class. The teachers were trying to put me into a lower level math class when I felt that I just needed a different teacher who would be more tolerable to my learning process. As a result of my meetings with the Resource Supervisor at the High School she helped me learn that by going back to basic algebra, I would learn the basic skills I may have missed along the way. She made me feel good about it too. I was also able to go and get the Band class added between semesters, an unusual act. River School has given me the confidence I needed to express my needs and wants. River School gave me my voice.
From the parents of a student:
This testimonial is written on behalf of our daughter who spent her 6th, 7th and 8th grade years (2000 2003) at the River School. We are honored and delighted to share our thoughts about this exceptional school as the staff applies for the National Character Education Award this year. This reflection summarizes our recent experiences based on Morgan’s journey during these three years.
Our daughter chose to attend River School because she learned that the school community focused both on the ³Implicit Curriculum²- a comprehensive character education model fostering positive emotional, moral and ethical behaviors- as well as the ³Explicit Curriculum²- an integrated academic instructional program developed collaboratively by the teachers and staff. As her parents, our attraction to the school was the opportunity to continue our involvement with her education in a meaningful way for us as learners of this amazing educational process.
She had a difficult first year with the skills of 1) staying organized and 2) taking complete responsibility for her learning (i.e. completing and submitting all assignments on time for more than one class/project). As a result of her choices to be disorganized and not turn in work, her grades suffered and she was given the choice of completing a successful Summer School session or repeating 6th grade. She chose to complete Summer School, with many personal sacrifices. During the following two years, she went through a transformation before our eyes and those of her teachers and school staff. Her self-motivation and determination blossomed. She took on leadership roles at the school. She began to value each and every assignment and project and later became an advocate for student-led conferences as hers became more positive and powerful for her as a learner. When the Distinguished School Award reviewers came to the school last year, she was delighted to give testimonial to them as a student who, because of this caring school community, decided to turn her life around.
One highlight for us as a family was the opportunity to participate in the North Coast Educational Summit as a member of a student, teacher and parent panel discussion before an audience of new and prospective teachers. Two school staff moderated the discussion by providing the guiding essential questions and clarification for the session. Four students provided personal accounts of their experience with both the implicit and explicit curriculum throughout their two and three year histories at the school. Two alumni elaborated on their successful transfer from River School into a comprehensive High School setting, though they missed the smaller and more intimate learning environment of the River School. Everyone was truly impressed with the articulate manner of how each student shared testimonials. Perhaps the opportunities to practice public speaking to large groups at school helped prepare each of these young people to meet the challenge of presenting to an adult audience in this academic conference setting. The parents in attendance offered a variety of perspectives on how the school impacted both their children as students and students as members of their families as well as the larger community in a lasting and lifelong manner.
As parents we are humbled and honored with the opportunity to represent such a distinguished school and share our views as active participants in the River School experience.
[Their daughter is now a freshman at University of California at Santa Cruz.]
From a former student:
To whom it may concern,
River was a great experience for me. It made a big change in my life that I don’t think would have happened if I had chosen to go to another school. This change has something to do with the Project Based Learning that River uses. When I was in fifth grade I was planning on going to Redwood Middle School. Then some people from River came to my school to do a presentation about how awesome River was.
At first I thought River wasn’t any different than any other middle school until they started talking about Project Based Learning (PBL). I suddenly got immensely interested in this school. I started to research and I found the River school website. I started reading everything and I chose to go to River because I wanted to try something different. Choosing River was one of the best choices I have made in my life.
When I first started attending River I was a very timid person. I was nervous to make friends and I got nervous talking to people. As the years progressed I got less timid and more extroverted, I think I am an outgoing type of person. I believe River helped me in becoming less timid by having many projects and forcing me to be in groups. By me being in groups I had to interact with other people and that helped me make many friends.
I currently attend New Technology High School and the process of me choosing that school was similar to me choosing River, you get the idea. Because I went to River it has made New Tech a whole lot easier for me than it has for my friends who attended normal middle schools. River really prepared me mentally for everything I was to go through in New Tech. New Tech also uses PBL but New Tech is an all PBL school and River is a semi-PBL school. They aren’t very different except we do a slight bit more projects in New Tech than River but overall they are the same.
Overall I think River is a great school for anyone who wants to try something different, it might be harder for some people but it really gets you prepared for the real business world. River really changed my way of thinking and doing stuff and I would love to thank Ms. Inlay for everything she has done for the school.
From a Humboldt State University student visiting for a day:
Dear Mrs. Inlay,
Thank you so much for letting us come and observe your school at work (and play). It was so very inspiring to see a truly child-centered environment and to watch your teachers do what some of our public school mentors say can’t be done: let the kids be in charge. Particularly remarkable to me was the aplomb with which the DIGA students fielded our questions and acted out their mediation skits. Those girls can change society, if anyone can. Another amazing aspect of the visit for me, particularly since I’m currently student-teaching in a high school, was the collection of posters about various really intense, difficult subjects around the topic of global conflict. Some of my own students, in their late teens, are upset that I assume they know where Central America is, but your students have been challenged to find out real facts about distant parts of the world and relate those facts to their lives and they can do it! This, to me, is the clearest possible argument for raising the bar of expectation. Thank you again for your gracious acceptance of all of us into your school, and thank you from my heart for showing me the proof that it isn’t unreasonable to expect students to actually think about their world.