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Another Way to be in School

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In an unassuming building located on the corner of 5th Street and Russell Blvd, (526 B Street if you’d like to visit), can be found a group of pretty incredible people. Over the past five years I’ve had the pleasure of meeting several of the dedicated individuals of which the staff of DSIS is comprised -The Davis School for Independent Study, established in 1991, boasts 161 students, K – 12 and a staff of eleven teachers: eight faculty at secondary level and three more at resource and elementary to eighth grade, including counselor Marvie Paulson and a part-time psychologist. While I’m certain that they all share many fine characteristics, the obvious ones are their love and respect for students. All of them are there because they have one shared goal in mind – they want to see their students succeed.

And they mean it.

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According to Karrie Hernandez, principal of DSIS, every single person who comes in contact with students has “ownership.” And in the tone of her voice I could hear the pride and responsibility with which she associates this term. That means that from the moment a student walks through their school doors, they are treated with kindness and respect, beginning with Cindy Martell, the site’s administrative secretary whose smiling face greets one and all. “I think this place is awesome!” She exclaimed, followed by a shy giggle when I asked what she thought of the school. And the reason for such awesomeness? “Because our students make the choice to come here…..they seem focused on their learning…taking charge of their education.”

Taking charge is just one of the appealing aspects to so many students who find that the individualized approach to learning and teaching works best for them. DSIS allows students to benefit from an alternative form of learning, independent study guided by credentialed teachers who provide an academically challenging curriculum. Once they graduate, many of these students continue their educational journey and according to Lucy Boland, eleventh and twelfth grade teacher on her twenty-fifth year at this school, “There’s nothing that gets in the way of going to a very good four year college,” after graduating from DSIS. In addition to joining small groups of classmates for subjects such as math, science and art, students enjoy the privilege of a one on one approach as they meet weekly with a teacher assigned to them. As Ms. Boland explained, when it’s just a student and a teacher sitting across from each other, “…you can get them engaged….” since there is no “…peer pressure to be cool, so kids can get excited” about learning as opposed to being worried, as in some cases, that they will be bullied for being, “excited about education.” Ms. Boland is the kind of teacher you hope your child will be fortunate enough to have. Her hour meeting often spills into the next time slot as she does more than discuss the material at hand. She describes herself as an “…adult they can actually talk to,” and believes that DSIS offers a different way to be in school. “Small is better,” she declared, smiling warmly at me from across her desk in the small, colorful cubicle adjacent to the school’s well stocked library. Clearly this type of program will not work for everyone and, as principal Hernandez said, “not one size fits all.” Yet she proudly shared that the, “number one thing that sets us apart is that our teachers are dedicated,” and that they function, “like a family.” Of course students are expected to be just as dedicated and as Ms. Boland said, “The only pressure is that you’ve got to do your work.” Students sign a contract prior to being allowed to attend DSIS, promising to complete the work assigned them, taking responsibility for their education. As Ms. Boland explained, “The way we work here prepares you for college.” Since most of the work is done at home, one must be self-disciplined enough to efficiently manage time so deadlines are met. Not a bad skill to have prior to attending a university where fewer people are around to remind you to do your work.

We think we have a little jewel here

DSIS Library

DSIS Library

“We think we have a little jewel here,” Ms. Paulson proudly smiled as she spoke about the K – 6 home schooling program also offered by DSIS. In this case the parent is primarily the teacher while a credentialed instructor provides the curriculum and meets with students weekly. Paulson added that workshops are available for enrichment and students also enjoy fieldtrips, the most recent for instance, an overnight environmental living field trip to Sutter’s Fort. Of course with a program such as home study, students and their families take on more of the responsibility for the learning process than typically occurs in the traditionally structured classroom. Yet she believes that the flexibility of their program means that students’ needs are better met, as it enables them to do well as they work at their own pace. And who are the students choosing to take advantage of this unique program?

“There are as many reasons for coming here as there are students,” explained Ms. Paulson. During Lucy Boland’s years with the school, she has taught students whose reasons to attend DSIS span the gamut, from health issues to their involvement in theater, swimming, motorcross, even rodeo riding. A flexible schedule allows individuals to be just that, individuals, who desire a rigorous educational program while tending to their unique needs.

DSIS Class of 2015

DSIS Seniors

And who better to attest to this school’s value than someone who has seen its impact first hand? The Davis School for Independent Study became part of our lives five years ago, when our son needed an alternative yet academically challenging program which would fit his needs after a medical diagnosis that meant he would miss quite a bit of school. He became what is known as a, “split-site” student, dividing his time between DSHS and DSIS in a way that allowed him to fulfill all his educational obligations. And fulfill them he did. So successfully that he has been asked to be one of the speakers at next month’s graduation ceremony. He hasn’t shared the contents of that speech just yet, but I know what I would like to say now that our time at DSIS is coming to an end. Thank you. A most sincere and heartfelt thank you.

One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child. ~Carl Jung

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Bailey Levy


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