Gilbert High School’s Sports Intervention Program provides a pathway for students to re-engage with school through sports.
Why we started a sports intervention program in alternative ed
Gilbert High’s Sports Intervention Program transforms student lives
May 13, 2024
The following article was written by Jose Lara, principal of Gilbert High School in Anaheim Union High School District.
Catering primarily to 11th and 12th grade students who struggled in traditional high school settings, Gilbert High School found that numerous students were passionate about sports, but faced obstacles such as low grades and attendance preventing them from joining school teams. These obstacles often stem from complex issues like family difficulties, housing instability, underemployment, mental health and community violence. When they come to continuation, educational options and alternative education schools and programs, they find that few, if any, offer sports programs.
Gilbert High School in Anaheim has undergone a significant transformation by adopting the community school approach, prioritizing student input and democratizing education. Recognizing the importance of addressing students’ needs and motivations, particularly in a community where many face socioeconomic challenges, our school has focused on leveraging sports as a tool for engagement and academic success.
In response to student’s voices and needs, the school’s educators and administrators developed the Gilbert High School Co-Ed Sports Intervention Program (SIP) to provide a pathway for these students to re-engage with school through sports. Recognizing that traditional approaches to eligibility might not suit their students’ needs, the SIP team opted for a more flexible model centered on continual improvement. Student athletes earn playing time based on their progress in academics, attendance, attitude and effort with weekly opportunities to demonstrate improvement. This gives student athletes short goals they can build on, and every week becomes another opportunity to participate again. The SIP team collaborated on a philosophy and policy to help guide their work.
The focus of the SIP extends beyond sports; it aims to foster meaningful relationships, rekindle students’ enthusiasm for learning and school pride, and cultivate essential skills like resilience, teamwork, communication and citizenship. One student, Miguel “Mikey” Huitron, exemplifies the program’s impact. Mikey’s journey is significant because he was formerly incarcerated. He learned from his mistakes but stopped coming to school and felt hopeless. Despite facing personal and academic challenges, including health issues and family hardships, Mikey found renewed purpose and support through the SIP, ultimately overcoming obstacles to graduate and enroll in community college. Mikey is the captain of the soccer team and has earned the Most Valuable Player award.
Under the guidance of dedicated educators like Veronica Ortega-Gamez, Jenni Camerna and Monse Avila, whose vision founded the SIP program, the SIP continues to yield tangible outcomes. A recent grade analysis demonstrated that participating student athletes at Gilbert High School achieved an average GPA increase of 1.2 points and improved attendance rates. Through regular meetings, tutoring and goal-setting sessions, the SIP team and administrators provide personalized support to the student athletes, fostering a culture of academic growth and empowerment. The SIP is far more than sports.
Currently, we have five other alternative high schools participating in games across Orange County. We first competed in games with Lorin Griset Academy in Santa Ana, La Vista HS in Fullerton, Brea Canyon HS in Brea and have now expanded to include Hare HS in Garden Grove and Back Bay HS in Newport-Mesa USD. Based on student interest, we currently compete in soccer, flag football and basketball.
A lot can happen when we take the time to listen to student voices and are willing to take action on what they ask for. We hope to continue and develop our SIP and leverage its power of relationship building, progress monitoring and play to re-engage with our most disengaged students in school.
Jose Lara is the principal of Gilbert High School in Anaheim Union High School District and leads an amazing team of relentless optimists, hope dealers and equity champions.
Student athletes earn playing time based on their progress in academics, attendance, attitude and effort with weekly opportunities to demonstrate improvement.