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Episode 121: Valley High is Changing Lives

It is an alternative school where you will find some incredibly talented teachers and students. On this episode of the Supercast, we take you inside Valley High School where a different approach to learning is changing lives and leading to student success in ways some never imagined.


Audio Transcription

Anthony Godfrey:
Welcome to the Supercast. I'm your host, Superintendent Anthony Godfrey. It's an alternative high school where you will find some incredibly talented teachers and students doing amazing things. On this episode of the Supercast, we take you inside Valley High School, where a different approach to learning is changing lives and leading students to success in ways some never imagined.

We are here with two students from Valley High School to hear directly from them what it's like to be here, but first let's let them introduce themselves.

Axinia:
I'm Axinia, I'm the student body representative.

Kylee:
I'm Kylee. I'm also on the school leadership team.

Anthony Godfrey:
Okay. I know you also go by Z. So I'm gonna go with that. Z, let's start out with just talking about why you've chosen to be at Valley.

Axinia:
So I chose to be at Valley because at my boundary school, when I moved states, because I lived in Arizona and then I moved to Utah, they didn't transfer all of my transcripts, so I was missing credits. But previously to that, I had had major back surgery and I had an infection that was like killing me because it got into my spine and my hardware. So from that I had like 72 absences, just that. And then I was missing more credits on top of that. I decided to go to Valley the next year, just so I could get caught up with my grades and stuff like that. And I also know Valley was a really good school because my sister had previously come here.

Anthony Godfrey:
Kylee, tell me why you've chosen to be at Valley.

Kylee:
Similar to Z, I had a lot of like health issues and things like that. And at my boundary school, they were not very accommodating. They didn't really like, excuse the absences. I tried to work with the teachers and the teachers wouldn't really work with me as well. So I actually got a couple different people that recommended that I go to Valley. So I decided why not give it a shot? And so I came and I love it here. I was really scared at first, because Valley has like a lot of bad stereotypes, but I found like none of those to be true.

Anthony Godfrey:
You talked about some of the stereotypes about Valley High School. I'm sure that you've both heard those. What are some of the misconceptions about Valley?

Axinia:
That like it's only a school for like delinquent or drug addicts or like drug dealers. And it's like, there's those at every school, not just Valley. Valley is just a school where they still don't put up with it, but they just want you to get your work done so you can graduate. They want you to graduate. They're not gonna tell you no, or put you down or anything. They're gonna let you know that that's probably not the best choice, but they're gonna continue to push you to do good.

Anthony Godfrey:
So the expectations remain high, but there's an approach that helps you overcome maybe the things that you're dealing with. 

Axinia:
Like they also make it seem like it's all the students and it's not. A lot of the students here don't even associate with that. 

Kylee:
I think the major thing that I got before coming to Valley is like, that's the school for the bad kids. What's wrong with you? Why are you going to Valley? Kind of thing. So that kind of freaked me out a little bit that I was gonna be put in that stereotype. But after being at Valley, I found that like, none of the kids are bad kids. Like everyone here is really genuine. 

Anthony Godfrey:
How do you feel students treat each other here at Valley? You've described that a little bit, but tell me about that. Does that feel different maybe than what you've experienced elsewhere?

Axinia:
Like you still get students that argue with each other and they still have problems with each other, but they're willing to work past those to get things done in school. But also like even outside of class, like they'll even work on it to try to become closer. At Valley there's no one who's really gonna argue with people or hate on people. You can go really talk to anybody and be their friend pretty much.

Kylee:
One thing, at my boundary school, there was a person who, we were having a class discussion, they told me to shut up and the teacher did nothing about it. I haven't had that happen to me here, but I know that if someone were to talk bad about me or something like that in class, I feel like the teacher would stand up for me and be like, you can't say that. That's not okay. 

Anthony Godfrey:
Tell me about what classes are like at Valley. How are they different maybe from classes that you've experienced throughout your time in school? 

Axinia:
Classes are different here because they're smaller and you get a lot more one on one time with the teachers. I feel like the teachers are a lot more patient with you, but also like if you need more time to do your work, the teachers will be willing to work with you and give you that extra time. 

Anthony Godfrey:
How about you Kylee? 

Kylee:
I like that the class length is shorter. Because for someone like me who has like anxiety and ADHD, when you sit in the same spot, in the same classroom, just with nothing really to do except for busy work, you get really anxious. And it like, kind of builds in your stomach. Whereas in Valley it's like, even if I'm having a hard day and I don't wanna go to school, I'm like, it's just a couple hours. Like, it's not like I'm gonna be there all day.

Anthony Godfrey:
What would you say to students who are considering Valley, but aren't sure?

Axinia:
I would want them to know that Valley, even though it has that bad stigma towards it, that Valley is a really great school. They're very welcoming and it can be overwhelming at first. But at the end of the day you're gonna realize that you're welcome and that this is like a family and not just a school. 

Kylee:
I've actually had a couple friends that I've recommended come to Valley, that I know struggle with similar things like me. And some of them have. I love Valley so much. So anyone who would be considering coming to Valley, I would say just do it. If it's not the right fit, then you can try something else. Valley has been life changing for so many people. Like it really was such a big deal for me. I went from being a student that had failed pretty much every class to a student with all A's, and doing things like speaking on a podcast and things like that.

Anthony Godfrey:
There's a level of rigor in the classes. They expect a lot of you and I maybe that's a misperception sometimes too. They expect a lot out of you. I don't think you can hide Valley, speak to that for me.

Axinia:
Like the teachers obviously want you to do your work. They expect it from you just because Valley is like your second chance a lot of the times, not every time. But you know, like they just want you to do good. Valley wants the best for you. The teachers want what's best for you. They want you to get on track to be able to graduate or even possibly graduate early. But at the end of the day, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. So they're not gonna force a student to do their work if they're really not that interested. 

Kylee:
Things that I've heard in class sometimes. If a student's not participating in class a lot of the time it's “if you don't wanna be here, then don't be, cause there's a lot of people who need the opportunity to come to Valley. And so if you don't wanna be here, then you should give your spot to someone who does.”

Anthony Godfrey:
I think that makes sense and what you said earlier is ‘try it and if it works for you, great, if it doesn't, then you can try something else.’ But that's why it's an alternative high school. It's an alternative, it's a choice. It's something that you can try and I worry that some students may not feel successful or not feel connected to their school experience and wonder whether there's any way they ever could be. And Valley is a place where they just might be.

Kylee:
It definitely, for me has been. 

Axinia:
Valley understands that like life can get in the way. Like last year for me during fourth quarter, my mom passed away and I came in and talked to the counselors and stuff like that. They told me that they would freeze my grades so that I could take time to do what I needed to do. They're very understanding and very compassionate for students. All students need to do to get that is to be very communicative with the teachers and the staff here so that they know what's going on. Students don't need to be scared to go talk to them because it's not like they're gonna go tell everyone your business. 

Kylee:
That being said, I think that it goes like to a deeper level. You have a deeper connection with the teachers and the admin here. You feel like you can actually talk to them and be open with them and communicate with them, which is a big thing about Valley. The students have a lot of responsibility. It's not just have your parents call in sick. You need to do it yourself and get your things done. I feel like it prepares me for the real world more.

Anthony Godfrey:
What are your plans after Valley? What's next?

Kylee:
So I'm graduating at the end of third quarter. After I graduate, I'll be going to culinary school, Job Corps. I am really excited. After about a year of that, I'll go to advanced culinary school, be able to cater on cruise ships and do things like that in California.

Anthony Godfrey:
I hope that I can be on a cruise sometime in the future where your food is served. I have no doubt you'll be doing it. It's just whether I get to cruise or not. How about you Z?

Axinia:
My plans after school. Well, I'm supposed to graduate second quarter, but I'm gonna stay and finish the whole year because why not? But I also, after this, I'm gonna go to SLCC for two years and I'm gonna get my associates for geology and then I'm gonna transfer to university and try to get my masters. And then after that I wanna go back and get my associates and my masters for physics so that I can be a geophysicist.

Anthony Godfrey:
Sounds fantastic. I love to hear your plans and I love that Valley is a launch to your being able to achieve those.

Kylee:
I never thought I would graduate at my boundary school. And that is something that makes me feel so successful because it's completely turned my life around. Now I'm graduating early and I didn't think I'd graduate in the first place. 

Anthony Godfrey:
That's fantastic. 

Axinia:
Valley has definitely given us hope. Like last year I had been like uprooted from my house twice. So I was basically wondering where I was gonna live. And then the second time, you know, after that, my mom had passed away shortly. So last year I just had little to no hope, but Valley, Valley is definitely one thing that kept me going, because it's like, if I can just get there to graduate, I can continue on and do something else after school.

Anthony Godfrey:
Well, you both have bright futures ahead and I congratulate you on all the progress that you've made. Make the most of Valley while you're here. Enjoy it. And best of luck in your future endeavors.

Kylee:
Thank you. 

Axinia:
Thank you. 

Anthony Godfrey:
Stay with us. When we come back Valley High's principal joins us to explain why a different approach to learning is making such a big difference in so many lives.

Break:
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Anthony Godfrey:
We're here at Valley High School with Principal Jacinto Peterson to talk about Valley.

Principal Peterson:
Thank you for coming, for being here. Valley's the greatest place on planet earth.

Anthony Godfrey:
It is the greatest place on planet earth. And I'll tell you, I'm just gonna start with how proud I am of the work that happens here. We ran into the governor's education advisor and I got the chance to talk to her while she was here, just about what a great school Valley is. I'm just so impressed over the years with all of the great things that are done for kids and the attitude about helping kids, no matter what their circumstances are.

Principal Peterson:
Honestly, all these kids are untapped jewels, so we just want to keep 'em on the right line. Since 1975, this place has been sending out productive citizens in society. So we want to keep on that same journey. I stand on the shoulders of giants each and every day of all the folks, Clyde, Sharon, and Todd, and all the rest of the folks who've made great contributions here in this building.

Anthony Godfrey:
Let me ask you a question related to that. You've been principal for how long now?

Principal Peterson:
Two years, which has been all of the pandemic. So since pandemic I've been in place.

Anthony Godfrey:
As you think about that, that's the same for me. Just about my whole time as superintendent has been changed by the pandemic and impacted by it. As you became principal, you acknowledge you're standing on the shoulders of giants. What was your vision for Valley moving forward?

Principal Peterson:
The most important thing for me is to help everyone become happy in life. Ultimately that's my mission. That is my aspiration, helping everyone become happy. That's a very awkward statement, but it is linked to education. It is linked to fulfilling their own personal goals and aspirations. So happiness, teamwork, collaboration, and all those things combined to get you towards that finish line. So you can be a pilot and not a co-pilot.

Anthony Godfrey:
Tell me about Valley. There are lots of people who may not understand it. Give me the overview. I know that because I've worked with Valley for decades. What is the purpose of Valley and what sets Valley apart from other schools?

Principal Peterson:
First of all, always recognize that Valley is an alternative high school and what that means to lots of people may be different. The reason why we call this alternative is because we are gonna try some tactics and some strategies that a traditional boundary school may not employ. So with that, we have teachers that are willing to be flexible. We have a staff, the folks in the front office are willing to be flexible and come up with the resources and strategies to best help kids. So our whole philosophy is helping kids reach their full potential.

Anthony Godfrey:
There are a couple things that are unique about Valley that I'd like you to describe. I know that the Friday experiences to help students earn credit, that's always intrigued me. Tell me, tell us more about that.

Principal Peterson:
That was put into place to extend kids' understanding of their own community. We get to go to a lot of activities. Tracy Aviary, Timpanogos Caves, and to realize that there are a lot of great resources right in their neighborhoods that are educational in purpose. So as part of remediation, those Friday activities occur on a given Friday. There is a topic of discussion, but is aligned with going somewhere, getting out of the school and making the world your educational classroom.

Anthony Godfrey:
Now, speaking of the Friday experience, that's possible because Valley has a Monday through Thursday schedule. Talk about the schedule, the four day schedule and the times that students can choose to attend. For me, that's just another level of flexibility that helps students fit school into their lives no matter what's going on.

Principal Peterson:
Our schedule currently looks like a Monday through Thursday schedule. It is between the hours of 9:00-1:30, session one, and then 2:30-6:30, session two. Those wonderful schedules are put into place because we are an alternative school. Many of our students also have jobs. So that gives them the opportunity to attend work, learn some life and social skills, come to school, grab their academics as well as learn some life and social skills. So we are flexible on that. We have that middle section, we call that power hour. That's the time for remediation. Time to check in with your teachers, time to make up missing topics or missing actual days. So if your attendance is bad, that's an opportunity for you to come in and get that one-on-one attention with a teacher.

Anthony Godfrey:
And for those who are thinking as they listen to this, they might want to work at Valley. It's a Monday through Thursday schedule helping kids who are ready to connect to adults and get some help in their lives. 

Principal Peterson:
Yes, indeed. It's a misnomer to think that our kids are not going to college. We have 10% of our kids or more that are college ready. The rest of our kids will be going to trade schools and also making great contributions. Salt Lake Community College is one of our great partnerships. We probably interact with them about probably 40 times in a given year. We have all the trades schools that come through thanks to Cathrin Wischmann. We have career days, which is, one in the fall, one in the spring. So we have a lot of positive programming that takes place here at Valley.

Anthony Godfrey:
You're also equipped to take care of a wide variety of student needs. Washing machine, dryer, staff that may be helping in ways that other schools aren't able to. Tell me about some of the additional help and support that's given to students based on their life circumstances. 

Principal Peterson:
Well, our job is to try to eliminate boundaries for kids. So one of the places that we have is our daycare center for any teen parents that may have a child and wants to further their education. We have a daycare center, which we charge students about $50 per quarter, and their child can remain in that daycare center all day long. They will get fed. They will be taken care of by the finest daycare providers on planet earth. In addition to that, for anyone that might be running to some fun financial stress, we have a washing machine and a dryer. We also have a homeless liaison that steps in. We have teachers who are willing to spend their own money to buy packets for kids. Our main office staff has been known to buy things for kids. And so our hopes and goal as a collective endeavor is to just help kids be successful in life. Sometimes that remains just for us having a regular conversation with them about these are some circumstances that we had to endure as a young person. So just passing on the wisdom, being the guru of such when we're just having a conversation with kids.

Anthony Godfrey:
Tell me what it feels like to work at Valley for you.

Principal Peterson:
For me, for a young man who grew up in a single wide trailer, this is my population of kids. These are the kids that have always been brilliant. They've had some setbacks in life. And so ultimately our goal as a staff is to remind them that they have grit and they are resilient. These are the finest young people I've had the opportunity to work with. They have this thing called ‘I don't quit’ in them. So for me, even when the cards are stacked against them, they still grind it out.

Anthony Godfrey:
If someone is listening and thinking, maybe this is a match for someone that I know. My child or a friend's child, or a niece or a nephew. Describe for me, and this is gonna be hard because this is the right place for such a wide range of people. Describe the students at Valley. Who is the Valley student and who's the student that Valley is geared for.

Principal Peterson:
I would say any kid that has had some setbacks. A kid who needs to regenerate who they are, some kids who may need a couple wins under their belt. If you're asking that question, it's probably your neighbor. It's probably your own personal kid. Kids who are really smart, can't live in that huge school environment where there's 3000 kids. They have anxiety, they need a smaller learning environment. Kids who had brushes with drugs and alcohol, who for some reason have continued to battle through those things. Kids who really just have lost some hope and our job is to restore hope and that we are going to hold them accountable for things in life and ask of them to reach their full potential. 

Anthony Godfrey:
We're very fortunate to have you here Jacinto. I know how much you care about every employee and particularly every student here and you are the person to be carrying the torch. So thank you for all you do to help these students.

Principal Peterson:
And thank you kindly Dr. Godfrey as well as all the supporters of Valley High. If you ever want to find out what is being cooked at Valley High, please come by and we'll let you look in the pot. Take care.

Anthony Godfrey:
Thanks for joining us for another episode of the Supercast. Remember, education is the most important thing you will do today. We'll see you out there.

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