Thursday, June 12, 2008
When the final bell of the year rang at Marina High last week, not a single student was looking forward to a graduation ceremony. It’s a scenario unique to Monterey County, but at this school, the out-of-the-ordinary factoids only start there.
Partnerships with local environmental organizations and top marine conservation institutions give its students hands-on opportunities that most do not receive until college– if at all. Students dedicate an impressive amount of outside hours to the community– despite the fact that they aren’t required to. And an uncanny family spirit has taken hold in a context where cliques typically reign.
Principal Don Livermore has observed the school’s evolution closely. “We’re the ‘Cheers’ school,” he says. “This is a school where everyone knows your name.” As the school enters a critical growth spurt next year, however, that feel-good atmosphere will be tested– 2008-09 will be the first year that all Marina-area students will be required to attend Marina High. When the school reaches capacity, it will be the largest on the Peninsula, holding as many as 1,400 kids.
A big reason students at Marina High get along well is because the school is young, tiny and filled with kids who have chosen to be here. Having opened its doors two years ago with 150 freshmen and sophomores who had the choice of attending either Seaside High or Marina, only 400 students are expected next year, the first it will house four grades and graduate seniors.
The administration’s willingness to make some innovative structural moves has also augmented the school’s friendly atmosphere. Since its inception, Marina High has avoided the prototypical academic hierarchy within its student body: All students are considered college preparatory, including special education students. Students who need extra help aren’t separated, but given targeted study skills classes.
Science instructor Myah Gunn has been here since the beginning. “We decided to be all-inclusive,” she says. “What’s great here is because we started only two years ago we get to decide who we are going to be. We are setting the culture of the school.”
Students recognize this all-inclusive environment as critical in preventing the divisiveness that plagues many high schools. Melodie Gibson, a junior, was here when the school opened, having come from Cypress Grove Charter High School. She admits she was skeptical, but the climate of the campus won her and her friends over. “We really started to like Marina High,” she says.
Group projects in the community help foster that camaraderie. Marina High has forged partnerships with CSUMB’s Return of the Natives Program, Kiwanis Club, the Lions Club, the Rotary Club, and the city of Marina, among others. Students have participated in the city’s Labor Day Parade, the Harvest Festival and tree-lighting ceremony, and logged volunteer hours with the massive Imjin Bike Race. In May, more than 70 students volunteered at Marina’s Wind Festival, helping run food booths, the air park, and the aquarium area. Most recently, Marina High put on its annual International Festival, which featured students performing dances and songs from around the world. Even Livermore marvels at the students’ dedication. “We have students with over 200 hours of community service,” he says, “and we don’t require it.”
Also noteworthy is the school’s close partnerships with area marine conservation organizations. Students have been involved with Moss Landing Marine Labs, visiting the site and studying the aquaculture work taking place; in July, internships will be available there, granting students an opportunity to work with researchers and receive a $1,000 stipend. Marina High is also fostering a relationship with Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute to “best stimulate engineering and technology interests and influence future career choices.”
These opportunities are heady stuff for a school that started the year with a miniscule budget of $7,000. Fortunately, it’s gotten help: Last year, the school received $90,000 in donations, including a Wells Fargo donation of $22,000 to fund the library. When the music department found itself lacking instruments, music teacher Jennifer Parker was astounded by the response: “I came in one day and the grandparents of one of my students had gone out and bought two basses and donated them.” Community members have even come out to paint the school’s dull buildings and transform its worn-out benches.
Sophomore Sarah Livingston Reed describes the overall effect succinctly: “It has the feeling of being a family.”