At Vista High School, learning truly does happen your way

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Photo by Katerina Holmes from Pexels
Photo by Katerina Holmes from Pexels

This story was originally published by GO Public Schools West Contra Costa.

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One blink on your drive up Barnard Street and you may miss the entrance to Vista High School — one of the most student-centered learning spaces in all of West Contra Costa. 

Led by veteran principal Edith Jordan-McCormick, Vista is a choice school within West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) for students in grades 7-12, and one that is often miscategorized as credit recovery or altogether unknown to many local families. 

“[Vista] is an incredibly amazing alternative high school that people just don’t know about,” shared Jordan-McCormick. “It may not have the brand of a traditional high school that people are used to but it’s a special and healing place.” 

Vista is an accredited independent study high school and is the only one of its kind in WCCUSD. Vista students take classes like their peers at traditional comprehensive high schools and receive the same WCCUSD diploma upon graduation. In fact, Vista has seen more growth in graduation rates in recent years than every other high school in the district.

The appeal of Vista’s independent study model — and the flexibility and personalization it affords — attracts students from all over the district. Jordan-McCormick explained that about one third of her students are the children of Vista alumni, while another third are artists or athletes looking for a school schedule that will accommodate the demands of their crafts. The remaining third of her students have family obligations that could not be met if they were enrolled in a traditional high school. 

Vista is also a home for students who have experienced emotional trauma, like bullying, and are in need of what Jordan-McCormick calls a “brain health break.” 

“At our fullest we had 172 kids with 172 different stories,” she said. “We’re able to slow the world down for kids and repackage school and hand it back in a way that works best for them.” 

A typical week for Vista students is entirely dependent on how much or how little school they need. A sophomore, for example, may attend their one-hour Biology and Algebra classes, check in with their supervising teacher, and decide to drop in for tutoring. On the other hand, a junior may be taking only one Vista class and three classes at a community college. 

The goal is that students are the drivers of their own education and educators in turn serve as co-pilots, says Jordan-McCormick. 

To meet the needs of Vista students and best support their individual educational journeys, Jordan-McCormick encourages her teachers to take on the role of warm demanders. In his article, The Warm Demander: An Equity Approach, Matt Alexander defines warm demanders as teachers who “expect great things from their students, convince them of their own brilliance, and help them reach their potential in a disciplined, structured environment.” 

Compassion is also an essential for any teacher working with a Vista student and is a core component of the Vista Way, Jordan-McCormick shared.   

“There really is something unique about being a compassionate caregiver in an academic space with a kid,” she said. “This also means that adults have to learn that their needs take a backseat to the needs of students.” 

Jordan-McCormick will be the first to admit that her tenure at Vista has turned her into a “huge fan” of alternative education and alternative learning spaces. Her hope is that more parents and caregivers seek out these opportunities if traditional school settings are unable to make adjustments for their children who learn differently. 

“If you think about how school is traditionally, it goes like this: I’m going to inform you, inform you, inform you, and then I’m going to test you,” Jordan-McCormick explained. “But the reality is that life is quite the opposite. Life gives you a test and it’s up to you if you want to inform yourself of that learning.  

“[At Vista] the kid gets to be the one who says ‘I’m okay with taking school and giving it to myself this way’ and [parents and teachers] are all on board. That’s powerful.” 

For more information about Vista High School, including the application process, please visit here

Natalie Walchuk is executive director of GO Public Schools West Contra Costa (GO WCC), and this piece was originally posted on the organization’s website here. GO WCC supports a coalition of students, families, educators, and community allies united around generating solutions to ensure that every West Contra Costa student thrives.

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