There are many aspects of M-A’s Computer Academy that are unique. It’s designed to prepare 150 sophomores to seniors for college with more individualized attention and programs. My previous article, The Computer Academy: A School within a School, introduces the mentoring program, where local professionals in tech or other careers meet one-on-one with Academy students to provide advice and guidance throughout the year. The mentoring program is one way students get inspired to succeed in school, but it is the Academy field trips, classroom community, and the students’ raw motivation that bonds them with their teachers and fellow classmates.
A CLOSE COMMUNITY
In order for students to feel comfortable and supported in their high school ambitions and college dreams, Olsson thinks it’s critical that a close community is formed with the classroom. Senior Eric Estrada at the Academy said that there are only about twenty students per class. He thinks fewer students make it easier to get to know each other and build close connections that are very valuable in getting through a stressful day or hard year.
Students also have their teachers for two years which builds classroom community as well. Brett Olsson, an Academy Biology and Environmental Science teacher, believes that knowing students for two years boosts their academic progress.
Olsson explained, “It takes a while to get to know your students and for them to get to know us … It really helps the second year where they start off, and they know what they are expecting of the teacher … It’s rewarding to see them grow and progress in my class … I know what they need, what their strengths are, and what it is they need to work on.”
This close community, Estrada said, made him understand the value of making connections with people. “Everyone is together so they will have the motivation to do better in school,” he reflected. Connected and supported, Estrada also grew as a person: “I learned how to communicate more often with the students and teachers. I also learned how to respect people. I pretty much learned how to be a better student overall.”
However, it’s on Academy field trips where these connections are strengthened and solidified. Students go to San Francisco, visit local companies, or go on hiking and camping trips together.
Currently working in software at Apple, Christine Fargo, an Academy mentor, notices the benefits field trips to local businesses have on the students. “It is a great way to get the students exposed to different types of jobs and what’s around them.”
Most importantly, students get to know each other beyond classroom constrictions. “We go on these trips and we come back and then we have a positive experience to build on in the classroom … They want to work together. They want to do well and encourage each other, ” said Olsson.
In fact, Olsson organizes his own two-night camping trip at Point Rays every year. “It’s a really great bonding experience that students get to have with each other and it’s also great to see my students outside of the classroom in that way.”
Out in the wilderness, school is quickly forgotten, and friendships are given time to thrive. “My most memorable experience during the school year is during the camping trip that I lead. Walking with kids up a giant hill with huge backpacks on their backs and helping them get to the top, those are always great memories. Or playing mafia around the picnic table … Field trips and retreats, we have a lot of great memories from those!” said Olsson.
“We get to know each other throughout the years and we get to know each other a lot,” explained Estrada.
While field trips and close classroom communities are great sources of encouragement to succeed academically, Estrada believes that there are certain people who inspire him to come to school each day, to challenge himself in class, and to set goals for his future.
After high school, Estrada wants to attend college and pursue computer science or electrical engineering. There are several people in his life who have inspired him. He gave a shout out to Mr. Rubin, Department Chair of the Academy, and government and computer applications teacher. “He is the one who reminds us the whole reason why we are here. And the whole reason why we are in school is to have a better life in the future,” he said.
However, it is his father who he admires the most. “He reminds me of why I am doing this … My dad, he works his whole life for his family and that kind of motivated me — his work ethic. He works really hard, and he never gives up. And all for a good cause — to feed my family and to have a roof over our heads. He gives me tips every day, to live a better life than right now.”
While each student has his or her own motivation and different goals in mind, Estrada finds that they all share a common motive. We “all want to have a better life, to have good grades, to go to a good college,” he said. They are also all determined to support each other as they work toward that goal. “There is a lot of great students in the academy. They all like to do their own things, but I know everyone around them is pushing each other to do their best.”
Now when Estrada graduates and heads off to college, it is belonging to this close community of motivated students and teachers that he will miss the most. “I will miss the people in the academy. I got really close to them because we pretty much motivate each other. Like, we say it’s worth it at the end, that all this struggle will not be for nothing.”