By Reggie Ellis
exeter – It takes a special type of dedication to teach continuation high school students. More than traditional teenage classrooms, continuation high school teachers must urgently engage students while patiently working with delicate dynamics. Few have walked the thin line between gentle nudges and strongly encouraging at-risk students better than Beth Micari.
Micari was honored by the California Continuation Education Association (CCEA) as its 2017 Teacher of the Year on April 28 during a ceremony at the Annual State Conference located at the Fresno Convention Center. Micari has spent her entire 14-year career at Kaweah High School in Exeter, first as an adult school educator and then community day school for expelled students before spending the last 12 years as a full-time teacher at the continuation high school for the Exeter Unified School District
In 2014, Micari became Lead Teacher and department head for the English department at Kaweah High School. More importantly, she was able to raise enough money to purchase a greenhouse kit with donations from the community. Students did the assembly, painted a tool shed to match the school colors and began selling lemon trees, jasmine, honey suckle, succulent and other drought resistant plants out of the greenhouse in 2015. The greenhouse kickstarted her floral design program and helped her earn her first of back-to-back Institute for Teaching (IFT) grants from the California Teacher Association. Since that time she has authored, implemented and developed funding to start Kaweah High School’s first Associated Student Body program and has received 15 grants for programs she created. Her most program, Cross-Age Tutoring, involves continuation high school students volunteering in elementary school classrooms. Micari said the students get community service credits for the time but much more from the experience.
“I think the students really enjoy being looked up to instead of being looked down on,” Micari said. “It’s nice for them to have that feeling that they are wanted and respected, that they have meaning to someone else. These kids don’t always get that at home or from their peers.”
In addition to providing elements of a traditional high school experience, Micari’s programs have led to academic improvements as well. Through the programs, Micari led a massive instructional shift that led to dramatic increases in student assessment data outcomes. Regarding summative testing data during this time period, Kaweah High School student’s English assessment scores rose 29%. Kaweah’s similar school ranking percentile blossomed from average in Tulare County to top in the State of California.
“I think these programs give students things to look forward to at school,” Micari said. “A lot of these kids would be placed in jail, cut class or join a gang if this school didn’t provide them with a place to learn.”
With a student population of about 105 students, the small, rural continuation high school in Exeter was able to earn a six-year WASC accreditation, be named a Model Continuation High School, and receive the prestigious Golden Bell Program award.
KHS Principal Darin Pace said Micari’s commitment to at-risk students is only matched by her energy for creating positive opportunities at the continuation high school. He said she comes to work every day with a smile and an enthusiasm for educating students, even when they don’t want to be taught.
“She’s the engine that drives us all,” Pace said. “She really knows how to bring all the pieces together to make a successful program.”
Micari credits others for helping create a positive environment at the school such as interschool sports team that play other continuation high schools, annual field trips to the Museum of Tolerance, Monrovia Nursery and the Kaweah Oaks Preserve.
“Kaweah has created a school culture where kids want to come to school,” she said. “Getting kids to school is half the battle. Once you get them here, we have plenty of things to engage them.”
The California Continuation Education Association (CCEA) is a State organization designed to: Advocate for the betterment of continuation education; Promote the development of quality schools for our students; Support and provide professional development for the improvement of instruction that leads to: a) student achievement of high standards; b) completion of a high school diploma; C) effective preparation for work; D) positive community involvement, and; E) a foundation for life-long learning. The “Teacher of the Year” is the CCEA’s most prestigious award.
“Beth could have left this school a long time ago but decided to spend her entire career with the neediest of kids,” Pace said. “It just goes to show you the kind of person she is.