by Lorie Lewis Ham
Even as a life long resident of Reedley, CA and a member of the media, there are things in Reedley that I am not aware of. Earlier this year I was approached by someone about doing an article about Kings Canyon High School (KCHS) and set out to find out exactly what KCHS was because I honestly had no idea. This led me to my interview with Randy Bessey, Ed.D., Program Administrator at KCHS which I am sharing with you today! I am glad I went on this journey to learn more and hope you will go on it with me now–you won’t regret it!
KRL: What is KCHS?
RB: Kings Canyon High School is an alternative high school serving the students of Kings Canyon Unified School District.
KRL: How did this school first come to be and when?
RB: Founded in 1977, the campus was developed for high school students aged 16 years or older, who struggle for one reason or another at the comprehensive high schools.
KRL: How did you become involved here?
RB: I became involved in KCHS two years ago because of my passion for serving this population of students.
KRL: How is it determined that a student is best off attending KCHS?
RB: Which students would be best served by KCHS is determined by KCUSD’s Placement Committee. The committee is comprised of high school counselors, social workers, psychologists, administrators, and district administrators. The committee evaluates each student based on how to help them become successful. KCHS offers smaller class sizes and a personalized approach to learning.
KRL: Who are the students who can benefit from attending here?
RB: Students who benefit from attending KCHS usually prefer smaller classroom settings and opportunities to earn credits in a teachable unit format.
KRL: What is a teachable unit format?
RB: The teachable unit format is where KCHS students earn credits every two weeks as opposed to earning credits over the length of a semester. This benefits students who may struggle, for a variety of reasons, during the course of the year. This format allows them to get back on track rather quickly as opposed to losing a semester’s worth of credits. Certain students also benefit from smaller class and school size because they feel less anxious. The staff meets each Wednesday to discuss each student’s strengths and opportunities, and we provide tutoring, intervention, and enrichment plans for every student on campus. This is made possible because of our smaller school size.
KRL: Why do you feel that this school is important?
RB: Kings Canyon High School provides a very important service to the “at-promise” students of Kings Canyon Unified. Our staff is dedicated to working with students who, for some reason or another, have had to overcome some adversities. We work very hard to provide hope and guidance to students.
KRL: Are there special challenges that you face at this school?
RB: Struggling students often have a tendency not to believe in themselves or their abilities. We work very hard every day to provide students with hope and build upon their self-efficacy. We are a very small school in size and often have to be very creative in the ways we utilize our space. Fortunately, Kings Canyon High School has a team of caring, dedicated, creative, and flexible professionals.
KRL: Special rewards?
RB: Kings Canyon High School has great pride in its students and in creating a safe environment for all to reach their goals. We follow the “Wildcat Way,” which is: Respect, Responsible, and Caring. Students who go above and beyond are recognized daily and receive prizes for making the school a great place to be. Three times a year we have reward trips for students who achieve 90% of their credits, have 90% attendance, and have no behavioral issues. As an example, students just returned from a reward trip to Monterrey Bay Aquarium and we plan to visit Alcatraz in January. Our seniors also earn college scholarships thanks to our partnership with Reedley College.
KRL: How many students do you generally have?
RB: We typically have 115-120 students on campus.
KRL: How many teachers?
KRL: Where is the school located?
RB: 10026 S. Crawford Ave. Dinuba, CA 93618.
KRL: What is the CAL SAFE program?
RB: The CAL SAFE child care program provides free childcare for eligible teen parents in KCUSD. The program gives new experiences for the child and guides the parents and students in understanding and promoting the development of the children in each of the following four areas: (a) emotional development, (b) intellectual development, (c) physical development, and (d) social development.
KRL: Can you tell me about the attendance rallies? What are they and what is their purpose?
RB: We have attendance rallies four times a year where students with great attendance earn wonderful prizes (including a laptop). Attendance is critical to learning and Mrs. Flores, our partners at EEOC, and our staff work very hard to help motivate and encourage students to come to school every day. The next one is December 14 at the KCHS campus.
KRL: Can you elaborate on these statements that you shared with me about KCHS?
“Students must connect to lessons.”
RB: For us, we truly believe in the three “Rs:” Rigor, Relationships, and Relevance. Relevance is important in connecting students to the lessons so that they can become actively engaged in the lessons. For example, students can often be seen out physically measuring the area and perimeter of the school’s garden or using math to design and build benches for the garden, as opposed to completing a paper-to-pencil task. In English classes, students are dissecting contemporary issues that have meaningful social and cultural connections to them. Students must engage in lessons that have purpose and meaning in their lives.
“At KCHS, teachers teach the same standards as the comprehensive sites, but are extremely creative in their pedagogy. Making real life connections through several social, cultural, and ethnic lenses is critical. At KCHS students may experience the standards through the eyes of a contemporary musician as opposed to William Shakespeare.”
RB: The students who attend KCHS, for one reason or another, were not successful at the comprehensive site. So using the same materials, but going louder and slower is not the answer. Because we are a small staff, it allows our teachers to work together, have students write and do projects across the curriculum, and reflect.
Reflection is not just important for our students, but it is also important for our staff. Reflection is the basis for improvement. With our smaller student population coupled with the teachable unit format we are able to stop, reflect, [and] analyze what is working and what is not, and then very quickly adapt to the needs of our students. Also, we are firm believers in scaffolding our lessons. We must first find the familiar for our students and then delve into the unknown. For example, in ELA students will utilize the state standards while reading The Circuit, which is a novel of migrant farm workers in California, to establish a foundation of something our students can relate to, before attacking Of Mice and Men. Students will use sidewalk chalk to graph points on the blacktop before plotting graphs in the classroom. We take scaffolding to a whole new and creative level in order to differentiate learning for our diverse population of students.
KRL: This sounds like a great way of teaching! If a student is interested in attending where can they get more info?
RB: Students or parents interested in attending Kings Canyon High School can meet and discuss options with their current high school counselors. Or, if they have any questions about our school, they can feel free to call (559) 305-7390.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
RB: Kings Canyon High School promotes the philosophy that all students can achieve academic success. Our student-centered approach, coupled with a highly-qualified staff and a small-school environment, allows our program to reach the diverse range of student needs at our school. Because of these efforts, the students and staff of KCHS received several recognitions last year. The school received [the] FCOE gold medal for Positive Behavior standards; we received a full six-year WASC accreditation by the state of California; KCHS had the highest placement test scores in school history for Reedley College; and had the highest SBAC scores in the valley for all continuation high schools. KCHS teacher Joshua Rios was also named Teacher of the Year for KCUSD. At Kings Canyon High School we are proud of who we are and what we represent. We may be small in size, but we are very large in heart.
You can learn more about KCHS on their website.