Standing at the end of the school driveway, Alta Vista High School principal Alicia Alvarez greets students every morning.
But her commitment to students goes beyond a smile and a wave.
The alternative charter school serves students who may be academically behind, who have a documented history of disruptive behavior, are homeless or who just don’t fit into large comprehensive high schools.
“We come here every day knowing that we are producing future community members who can be self-sufficient and continue,” Alvarez said. “We want to make sure a student leaves here with a diploma and a plan for their success.”
Alvarez said many of the students who transfer to Alta Vista as upperclassman are significantly behind in coursework. The school uses a block schedule of 10-week, 90-minute classes to help students catch up. If they keep their GPA above a 2.0, students are able to take an additional class during each block.
“While we may be defined as an alternative school, we never want our students to come here thinking that we have alternative expectations,” she said. “Every day we fight the negative stigma that comes with our alternative school label. We have high expectations for our students, and our focus is to make them believe in themselves.”
Hadasa Arguelles, who graduated from Alta Vista in 2010, transferred to the public charter school as a sophomore. Arguelles said she struggled academically and socially in her large high school, so her mom encouraged her to try Alta Vista.
“When I came here, I finally felt like I belonged,” she said. “From the students to the teachers, Mrs. Alvarez truly cares about every individual on campus. When one of us is struggling, she will work with us until we feel like we’re in a good place.”
Arguelles, who is earning her master’s degree in special education from the University of Arizona, is now a student-teacher at Alta Vista.
“The atmosphere here of continual improvement is why I chose to come back,” she said. “After 15 years, Mrs. Alvarez still has a deep love and passion for students. She is the reason I want to become an educator.”
All of the school’s 525 students qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch, nearly 50 students are homeless or not living with parents, seven percent are not proficient in English and nearly 12 percent have special learning needs, but those statistics don’t stand in the way of the student’s academic success. Alta Vista is consistently ranked as one of the top alternative schools in Arizona, last earning an ‘A-Alt’ letter grade from the Arizona Department of Education.
Because of that success, Alta Vista earned an additional $178,000 in results-funding from the state last school year. Approved by lawmakers in 2016, Results-Based Funding provides $225 per student to the top 10 percent of schools in the state, $400 per student to the top 10 percent of schools with more than 60 percent of students who quality for free or reduced priced lunch and $400 per student to all ‘A’-rated alternative schools.
Alvarez used the funding to add five new classrooms to their campus. Previously, Alta Vista bussed students to the local YMCA for physical education and art classes. Now, students have access to weight training, graphic design and a dedicated room for English Language Learners.
“We’re working with the whole child. Perhaps not all of our students will go to college, but they will all work,” she said. “Beyond academics, punctuality, communication, attendance, and respect for the environment are key to what we do here because that’s something that’s applicable to the workplace.”