March Tahoe Mt. News
By Kathryn Reed
Continuation high schools have always been a misunderstood entity. Mt. Tallac is no different.
“There are kids who fit a profile of a continuation school, but 90 percent (at Tallac) don’t fit the profile,” said Amy Jackson, counselor at the 100-student school in South Lake. “We have a lot of different types of kids. There’s definitely the misconception that it’s just a lot of kids who made bad choices and screwed up.”
Before they start classes each student goes through an interview process. Do you want to be at Tallac? Do you want to graduate? A “yes” to both is essential.
Some students are at Tallac because they’ve had run-ins with the law. Rival gang members are classmates – just like at South Tahoe and Whittell high schools. Some are part of the Young Parents Program or are a significant other of a girl who got pregnant.
Other Tallac students have family issues, attendance problems at STHS, need time to work to support their family – not their kids, but their parents and siblings -- some don’t fit into a traditional high school, some lack the credits STHS mandates.
Many at Tallac have rough home lives. About 80 percent must work. Approximately one-third don’t live in a traditional home setting – they couch surf, live in a hotel or a car.
Food is an issue – that’s why breakfast and lunch are served at the school.
Counseling is available – sometimes that includes getting help for their parents.
It doesn’t mean everyone likes each other. But the campus near the football field at South Tahoe High is clean and has no graffiti. No security personnel are on staff.
Ivone Larson is the principal, but her office is at STHS where she is also the principal. Tallac is run by Director Susan Baker, Jackson, three teachers and a registrar-secretary.
Making the grade
A diploma is achieved after taking the same number of credits all STHS students must take, passing the state exit exam and doing a senior project.
Differences between the two schools on Gardner Mountain include class hours – Tallac goes from 8 a.m. to noon; students must be 16 or older and some are older than 18; students in the same class have a mix of abilities so it takes discipline to work at the appropriate pace; no bells dictate start and stop times; no honors classes are available.
“By the time they reach us they have decided they want a diploma,” Jackson said. “They get so much support here. We rarely have fights, we rarely have cliques. Everyone has respect for everyone.”
The three A’s are stressed – attendance, academics and attitude. Jackson uses the scenario if kids don’t attend school, then they start falling behind and this directly affects their attitude and obviously their academic success.
Awards are given out weekly to students who embrace the three A’s. For some, it’s the first positive recognition they’ve received in a school environment – or at all.
“A lot of us talk … that we want to graduate. That’s our main focus. We want to achieve our goals,” said Francisco Noboa, who plans to graduate in June.
Sometimes the issue is just not being able to get to class. Staff makes arrangements so the kids can get to school.
“A lot of these kids had patterns set-up for not being successful in school,” Jackson said in reference to life at home.
Tallac students give back through community service – because they want to. A couple help out at Bijou Community School.
Life beyond Tahoe
Many at Tallac don’t know the opportunities that exist beyond the South Shore. A field trip to the Universal Technical Institute in Sacramento and one to the cosmetology school in Carson City have several dreaming about life outside of here.
For some, they will be the first in their family to earn a high school diploma. Once they turn 18, they can take the GED. Several are taking online classes through Lake Tahoe Community College.
Robert Aguilar describes graduation as “the gateway” to his future. He wants to enroll in Lake Tahoe Community College’s Fire Academy and then probably move off the hill.
Jackson praises LTCC counselors who help make sure these young adults don’t fall through the cracks.
Noboa believes the prospect of college should have been emphasized in middle school. By the time high school is under way, it seems like a far off reality and the proper classes have not been taken.
Eric Salazar said the high school doesn’t offer enough options for students. That may change for future generations if the planned career tech talk comes to fruition.
“College is a very viable option for them,” Jackson said. Their coursework is suited for going to a community college and then transferring to a university.