At America’s largest public charter school, teachers recognize the achievements of individual students

By: Andrew Campanella

 

Every day, 4,700 students walk through the doors of America’s largest public charter high school.

 

The student population at Granada Hills Charter High School near Los Angeles, Calif. is diverse and engaged. Students at Granada Hills come from 60 countries and, collectively, speak more than 40 languages.

By any measure, Granada Hills is a big school. But that doesn’t stop school leaders and teachers from celebrating the achievements of individual students, even students who are not members of winning sports teams or academic leagues.

Julia Sevilla

For example, Granada Hills makes it a point to publicly celebrate the skills and talents of students like Julia Sevilla. A senior at Granada Hills, Julia is one of America’s youngest chess champions. She travels around the world to compete in – and many times, win – chess tournaments. Along with Julia’s parents, the teachers at Granada Hills work to encourage her interests and promote her success in the local news media.

According to the school’s executive director, Brian Bauer, building individual connections between students and teachers is a core goal of the school.

“It’s all about the connection….we go out of our way to highlight student success,” Bauer said. “We define success rather broadly. It’s not just academic success…or success on the playing field or in an extracurricular club. We highlight students on campus who do the right things, who hold the door open for another student or who find a laptop on campus and return it to an adult.”

The key to building this “culture of recognition,” Bauer said, is hiring talented teachers with strong content knowledge, and “a willingness to go the extra mile to get to know students, to meet students where they are.”  Once on campus, teachers and staff “frequently remind ourselves about the power of an extended hand or a ‘hello,’ or a ‘how are you,'” to students, he said.

Bauer wants students to see that “a teacher is not the ‘saint on the stage,’ or the ‘purveyor of all information,’ but a coach, a mentor, an advisor, someone who aspires” to help them.

And while Granada Hills teachers and staff work to recognize students, the students themselves are working hard to celebrate their school. During a recent meeting where a proposal to expand the school was successfully considered, a group of 15 students – not consultants or administrators – developed and delivered the winning presentation. Students helped develop the school’s logo, stationery, and mascot. And student teams develop Granada Hills’ annual plans for participating in National School Choice Week with a variety of service projects and celebrations. 

“Students have served as ambassadors, as spokespeople for what we’re doing,” Bauer said. “They’re the best at it. They’re the truth tellers for what’s taking place.”

The results speak for themselves. Granada Hills boasts exceptional academic achievement and high levels of parent satisfaction – so high that there is a 3,500 student waiting list for the ninth grade class alone. Based on this demand, and the school’s success, Granada Hills is preparing to expand to serve even more families.

If this isn’t a school choice success story, I’m not sure what is.

Read more: Five Questions with Brian Bauer, executive director of Granada Hills Charter School.