The vision of a “new normal” at AHS

Chess club, ping-pong, coloring and a new collaboration with Alamosa Parks and Recreation are all part of the AHS strategy to re-engage students in school.

Re-engaging students in school

ALAMOSA - Andy Lavier, principal of Alamosa High School, is serious about students being engaged in school activities. For Lavier, student engagement isn’t just a philosophy, it’s a strategy to address a challenge that has been in existence for quite a while in public schools but has become especially evident in the wake of the pandemic that has had a huge impact on education.

In the fall of 2020, as school was back in session and students were adjusting to being in the classroom after a disruptive previous year, Lavier observed a distinct rise in the number of students who were failing classes and students who were having discipline problems at school.

“We’re seeing a lot of bad grades and bad behavior,” Lavier told members of the school board during a meeting. “Every principal I talk to across the state is experiencing the same thing. This may be the new normal.”

Although there is currently a lack of long-term studies correlating the disruption in school routines sparked by the pandemic to a greater number of students failing at least one class and displaying behavior issues at school, Lavier’s statement is backed up by an abundance of teachers and administrators telling anecdotes of how “school has changed” for a large number of kids. And there is no shortage of people suggesting “this is how it will be from now on.”

However, for Andy Lavier, saying the situation was the new normal and accepting it as such are two distinctly different things. In the months since he relayed his concerns to the school board, Lavier – whom Assistant Superintendent Luis Murillo describes as displaying “relentless leadership” - has worked alongside his staff to decrease “bad grades, bad behavior” by increasing programs and activities students can participate in and enjoy while also keeping them connected to teachers and other students. 

“Every time you ask a kid who’s gotten in trouble what activities they do in school,” Lavier told members at this week’s school board meeting, “every time they say ‘nothing.’” Lavier listed the reasons as varied --  sometimes kids don’t have transportation after school, sometimes they have obligations at home. He listed a myriad of reasons but all led to the same conclusion: kids experiencing difficulties are frequently not engaged in school activities.

The AHS response was to grow a whole new variety of activities appealing to a wide range of interests, from a chess club to a pool club to a coloring club for students whose interests ran in those directions. All activities were designed to bring in and engage students who, in some cases, had never been involved in extra-curricular activities before. Lavier describes the response as “encouraging and great to see.”

On the academic side, an after-school tutoring program also yielded great results. Offered in advance of final exams and co-ordinated by Social Studies teacher Sarah Ramirez, the after school peer tutoring session was met with a tremendous response from students.

“We couldn’t believe how many kids showed up,” Lavier says. “There were so many students, we had to make a run to buy a lot more pizzas to feed them all.

The result? A 33% decrease in the number of students who failed.

Another success was found when e-sports – piloted in the school district last year – recently kicked into gear and was met with enthusiasm.

And recently, at this week’s Alamosa School District Board of Education meeting, Principal Lavier and John Reesor with the City of Alamosa Parks and Recreation Program  presented to the board a new program.

Created for Alamosa High School students and offered in partnership with City of Alamosa Parks and Recreation, Alpine Achievers Initiative and Adams State Adventure Program, the High School Outdoor Leadership and Recreation Club (HOLR) will provide students with opportunities to go mountain biking, snowshoeing, climbing both outside and on the wall at ASU as well as water sports including paddleboarding and white water rafting. A veritable cornucopia of experiences connecting kids with their environment, with others and, perhaps in some cases, with themselves and their strengths and abilities.

“This is a true collaboration,” Lavier told the board.

The goals of the HOLR program are relevant and clearly defined.  HOLR will help youth  to improve mental and physical health, grow leadership skills, facilitate mentorships between students and community members, improve academic performance and promote connections between students and the world where they live in the San Luis Valley. Funding for the program comes through Generation Wild via a GOCO grant from the state of Colorado.

John Reesor, who has been providing outdoor adventure programs to students at Ortega Middle School, envisions this program as a continuation of those experiences and skills he has been offering to OMS since 2018. The hope is to eventually tie HOLR to the Adams State Adventure Program that provides college credit to those who successfully complete the course.

But, at least for right now, Andy Lavier looks at the entire effort to engage – and, in some cases re-engage – students as a significant step toward Alamosa High School creating and growing their own “new normal” both now and in the future.  

Anyone interested in learning more about HOLR can do so by calling John Reesor at 719-937-7832 or sending him at email at [email protected]

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