In search of alternative learning experiences, eight to 10 students each year leave the school behind and decide to continue high school within the district at Tamiscal.
Tamiscal is an alternative school designed for independent study. It was created for students who have a certain talent or challenge in their life that prevents them from going to school five days a week but still want an academic high school education.
“There seems to be three major reasons that I’ve noticed people come here” sophomore Kacie Carroll said, who moved to Tamiscal four months ago.
Illness that prevents a student attending is one reason students transfer. When students leaves, it could also be because they struggle with severe emotional conditions. Counselor Molly Yasuda has had students leave for such medical reasons in the past
“They were having a lot of issues pertaining to anxiety, and they just felt that that campus could serve them better.” Yasuda said.
Another reason is that students have an activity outside of school that is a large part of their lives.
A common case is dancers who need to train several hours a day every day, which is something Yasuda has seen several times. Carroll also said that there are several students in Tamiscal who are focusing on music and already have record deals.
However, one very common reason is that teens are drawn to Tamiscal simply because they are unique learners or because the structure of high school doesn’t work with their lifestyle. Most of the time the learning style of a traditional high school makes it difficult for these students to succeed.
“I don’t think that there was anything specifically that wasn’t working about Drake. It’s mostly just the school structure in general that has never really worked for me. Gradually I have become more and more unhappy, so I decided to make a change,” said sophomore Piper Atkinson, who moved to Tamiscal in March.
Teens spend about 40 hours a week in school. A Los Angeles Times poll of public school teachers finds that on average, high school students are assigned 3.5 hours of homework per weeknight, or more than 17 hours a week.
“It’s frustrating. If someone’s struggling or doesn’t understand something, it’s very hard for teachers to realize that and help that person. Of course teachers are trying their best, but it’s just very easy for students to get lost. No one realizes it because there’s so many kids” Atkinson said.
With such a high concentration of students, teens often also feel social pressure that they are unable to cope with in such a large population.
Despite there being so many different people, teens may feel that there is no room for individuality and feel pressured to be doing what everyone else is doing.
Carroll said one of the main reasons she left is because she felt pressure from her peers to be involved with drugs. She said she felt that she was having trouble finding ways to have fun with her friends that were drug free. Going to Tamiscal is her way to get away from that and focus on her academics.
To attend, students must go through an in-depth enrollment process that includes writing a letter explaining why you are interested and the reason for moving to Tamiscal.
An interview follows and, if accepted, a large amount of paperwork must be completed. Rather a long tedious process, it can be assumed that most everyone there wants to be there according to Atkinson.
As it says on Tamiscal’s website, students must “truly want to be here (not just the parents).” Having motivated students is crucial because students will only see their teacher once or twice a week.
A typical Tamiscal student will be on campus about three times a week and attend about two to three different classes a day. These classes would be core classes: math, science, advisory, and SIS, a supervised independent study time set aside for Tamiscal students.
SIS is a mandatory two hour study period. Depending on a student’s schedule this list could also include a Spanish class or an extra class such as physics.
A student’s core classes also include English, history, and physical education, all taught by one teacher.
Students meet with their core teacher once a week for one hour to turn in completed assignments and receive new ones.
This is the time for students to ask questions and make sure they are fully understanding what they’re doing.
“It’s one on one, as if your sitting down with a teacher, both looking at work and also doing some teaching of material and then also forward lesson planning,” Yasuda said.
Students turn in work in advance of these meetings, so when they are with their teacher, they can go over what they’ve done and prepare students for their next assignment.
Usually teachers have specific questions prepared for students. This is also a time for students to turn in a fitness log for P.E. credit.
All other classes, such as math and science, are taught in small groups of around 11 people and are the same duration of time as a block period here.
Both Atkinson and Carroll said these classes are taught through discussion and application of knowledge rather than busy work and one task assignments.
Carroll said this can also be seen in their homework assignments. The work is meant to make students dig deeper into a topic and tries to steer clear from worksheets and packets. Students will typically have five hours of this homework for each class.
In total a Tamiscal student has about 30 hours of homework a week, and only about six to eight hours in school.
In addition to their classes at Tamiscal, some students might also continue to take elective classes at their original school or at College of Marin.