This article appeared in the November 18th, 2015 edition of the West Sacramento News-Ledger.
The Yolo Education Center: Helping Students Achieve Success
by Thomas Farley with a later interview in a follow on article by editor Monica Stark
The new Principal at West Sacramento’s Yolo Education Center is Alejandro Ramos. Everything indicates that he is changing learning and lives for the better. Allen Young, a Center educator, says that Yolo Ed was once a battlefield of gang culture but that has changed under the leadership of Ramos. He also says the Center has received six-year accreditation and recent recognition from Yolo County Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Jesse Ortiz.
Four schools make up The Yolo Education Center: Yolo Continuation High School Grades 10-12, Evergreen Opportunity Middle School grades 7-9, Evergreen Opportunity Elementary grades 4-6, and the Washington Adult School. All four help students who may have had trouble learning in traditional schools. Principal Ramos explains some of the differences between traditional and alternative schools:
“I think one of the biggest differences with alternative schools is that we are able to meet kids where they are at, build on that strength, and take a holistic approach to learning. We have the flexibility to be different; we’re not as scripted as a traditional school. We tailor the educational environment to take in the needs of the kids. Students come with a variety of needs and we’re able to work with them, support them, and get them to engage. The primary goal is for us to teach kids they can be successful.”
The entire Center staff is focused on success. Staff meetings include everyone from the Principal to janitorial employees. All Yolo Education personnel keep a friendly and concerned attention on every student, communicating concerns between each other whenever necessary. The Yolo High students I talked to did not mind this monitoring, indeed, they seemed to favor it.
Senior Tanya Alvarez explained the difference in learning at Yolo Ed. “I think we have more communication with our teachers because of the smaller classes. Teachers pay more attention to each of us.” Another two-year student of Yolo Ed, James, comments, “I like this school a lot better. Smaller, better atmosphere.” That atmosphere is not accidental. Behavior like bullying or ridicule are not tolerated, they are contrary to what everyone at Yolo Education is trying to achieve.
Educator Young explains the Center’s new culture. “A culture of family. In many cases these are students that have been marginalized throughout the district, their environment, or the community. In many cases this could be their only stable environment. We want an atmosphere of family, we want to make sure that this is their safe haven, and I think Principal Ramos has done a great job of doing that in the last year of change.”
Continuation school perception is also changing. Young stresses that there is no longer any stigma attached to such a designation, that every student going through Yolo Ed is as academically qualified as anyone going through, say, River City High School. And that their graduation certificates read simply Yolo High School, without any disparaging wording.
With such progress made in such a short time, West Sacramento should eagerly look forward to what Ramos’ staff and students produce in the coming years. Certainly better learning, certainly better lives.
Question and Answer with Mr. Ramos by Monica Stark
1.) Talk about your background and what led you to West Sacramento. How long have you worked for WUSD and in what if any other capacities?
I began my teaching career in alternative education for the Solano County Office of Education. My first assignment was teaching in a Vallejo group home designed as a second chance for incarcerated youth. This challenging yet rewarding assignment reaffirmed not only my desire to pursue education as a profession, but also highlighted the power an educator has in redirecting the lives of underserved and marginalized students.
I have been in education for 18 years, having taught most of seven years for the Los Angeles County Office of Education. I am on my eleventh year in school administration. Prior to coming to Washington Unified, I worked for the Berkeley Unified School District. Three years as a vice-principal of Longfellow Middle School and four years as Dean of Students for Berkeley High School.
I am on my fourth year here at Washington Unified School District. Two years as Assistant Principal for River City High School and currently working on my second year as Principal for Yolo Education Center.
2.) What’s the difference between your campus and the River City High School — what makes Yolo unique?
Student enrollment and class size are the immediate differences. This allows for more direct interaction and relationship building with students. Teachers get to know the myriad of issues that are impeding success in school and work on addressing the road block or referring out to outside support services.
We have the support of a school social worker that runs a girls focus group and a foster/homeless youth support program weekly. For outside agencies we provide a counseling room to work with out students. We currently have the following agencies that provide outside wrap around services for our students: Yolo Family Services, CommuniCare Health Center, Victory Community Services, Yolo County Children’s Alliance, Foster Parent Recruitment and Retention, Each 1 Reach 1 Alliance, and Chicks in Crisis.
Yolo High School is fortunate to count on a Career Specialist on site that works directly with students on transitioning them out of High School and preparing them for College or Career. He consistently meets with seniors to keep them on a path to graduation and works both in and out of the classroom with career exploration, college FASA workshops, Scholarship information, Vocational/Technical opportunities, community service hours as well as hiring guest speakers, while networking with outside agencies for student support.
Another significant distinction at Yolo High School is the opportunity for students to recover credits. We offer online classes practically in all subject matter geared for high school graduation. Students can work at their own pace both during school and from home.
A successful addition to our site is our parent outreach. We currently have increased parent participation on campus not only through back to school nights and open house, but also through parent meetings both in English and Spanish sessions.
3.) How does a student become enrolled at Yolo?
Most of the students at Yolo High come from River City High School. Primarily because they are credit-deficient and are not engaging academically. A significant portion of those that come from River High are students that are overwhelmed by the size of the High School and need a smaller learning environment. To our credit we are increasingly receiving students electing to come here by choice. This year all but a couple of our transfers were voluntary. A small portion of our students are transfers from other districts.
4.) If there was one message you’d like your students to take to heart when they leave Yolo what would it be?
I want my students to seize the opportunities available. I want them to be advocates for a positive direction in their lives by embracing their potential and seek out their dreams!
Bottom photo: Alejandro Ramos on the right, Allen Young on the left.