Students at VAPA Legacy High School sport new school spirit T-shirts that were given to all students in celebration of the school’s 10th anniversary, one of many measures to help improve school climate.
Coming back: How one school worked on restoring its positive climate
January 31, 2022
This article was contributed by Edward Trimis, principal at VAPA Legacy High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The pandemic and school closures have hit everyone hard, notably our students, families, teachers and staff that work in public schools.
I am the principal of a small arts high school of 460 students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Although our students have returned fully to campus this year, it has taken great effort to return to the positive school climate that students and staff once knew.
We are in South Gate, southeast of Los Angeles, considered a “hot spot” for COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles for a while. We are a schoolwide Title 1 school with over 90 percent of our students’ families living below the poverty line. We are a local school of choice, though we get many students from different parts of the city who attend on a permit. We offer full-time programs in every art discipline and a full college prep program with AP and honors classes.
When we returned fully to campus on August 17, we worked overtime to get our students acclimated to being back in school, even offering our Freshman Transition program again. Our 10th graders have been especially impacted, as most have never had a regular high school experience since they were in online learning all last year.
We struggled at the start of fall with unending challenges still being thrust our way, such as COVID testing students and staff every week, pushing vaccinations while encouraging students to come to school, encouraging teachers to stay strong amid intense professional and sometimes personal challenges, and maintaining our routine evaluation of teachers while facing severe staffing shortages (we have had an unfilled math position all year).
The schools are anything but “back to normal.” The increased amount of graffiti on the campus, hostility in the classrooms (teachers and students), suicidal ideation from students, and low morale and despair from students and staff all came to a head when bathrooms were being vandalized and we were counseling upset students and sad teachers almost every day.
I knew we had to act, so I called a meeting with all my leadership team, counselors and teacher leaders. I ran through a slide presentation summarizing where we were with details and photos. I made the case we had to act, and act quickly. Monitoring the restrooms all day long and having students sign-in every time they needed to go in could only last so long.
We needed to bring back the climate that had always been so positive. We had to not only “come back” to school in person, but also “come back” to our behavior and school climate and culture.
We started strategizing. I threw out several ideas and many more were added in the meeting. We assigned staff and deadlines, turning the ideas we had into a plan of action. After initiating our plan for students, we turned to the teachers and staff, setting up support and social-emotional training for the teachers.
After implementing our plan, we saw a clear difference in the school. It looked and felt different. Though we all wore masks, it was like our old school again — caring, loving, accepting, goofy, artsy, safe — and we had no problems in the restrooms!
These are some things we implemented:
  • Return of Link Crew (peer mentoring program).
  • Return of our Extra Mile Awards Assembly/Program.
  • Senior Night for the football and spirit teams.
  • Activities and music at lunch every day including teacher/student games.
  • New murals/paintings/banners.
  • Increased use of our hallway info system with photos and videos.
  • Increased use of social media.
  • Suicide awareness and reporting for teachers.
  • Teacher Self-Care Workshop.
It was the week before Thanksgiving break. After our community circles/teacher self-care workshop Monday morning, we had our Gratitude Chalk Street Art event, Unity Tree event, Extra Mile Awards Ceremony, Parent-Teacher Conference Night, Senior Night Event for Football/Spirit Teams and Thanksgiving Luncheon.
We presented our vaccine incentive give-away prizes at lunch. Students were super excited and won Starbucks cards, drones, Apple AirPods, an electric scooter and a Nintendo Switch game system. I had the opportunity to be in the middle of this, helping to plan and facilitate all of these events, and walking through the buildings and quad playing my bagpipes in full Scottish regalia, including a kilt and Sporran. It was wonderful.
The events were captured in photos and shared through our social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and SmugMug. Our community noticed. Posts are up 343 percent and post engagements are up 264 percent compared to last month, and that is just on Facebook.
We’re keeping this going for the rest of the year with a beautiful new mural we commissioned to be installed in the next few weeks, three holiday concerts, a community caroling day when we visit and sing for thousands of kids in the community at local elementary schools, our 10-year Anniversary Event in the spring, along with many other activities and events.
At the Extra Mile Awards, we honored many students and had performances from our mariachi ensemble and cast of Frozen and a featured 9th grade soloist. The songs they sang tell the whole story. From the “Frozen” Broadway musical, the song “Dangerous to Dream,” and from “Dream Girls,” the song “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” And we’re not. As our seniors said at the assembly, “VAPA is back!”
Here are some examples of what VAPA Legacy High School is doing to improve school climate:
New School Video: Banners: Logos: Gratitude Video: Toy Drive: Vaccine Video:
Classrooms at VAPA Legacy HS decorated their front doors during the holidays for a competition.
Contact Us
© 2022 Association of California School Administrators