West Campus beats the odds again on new statewide tests

Video: High school students at top-notch West Campus beat the odds

Students at high scoring West Campus discuss what makes their school unique.
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Students at high scoring West Campus discuss what makes their school unique.

West Campus High School regularly defies the odds.

Nearly 60 percent of students live in low-income households, one of the factors most closely tied to poor academic performance. Yet a higher share of juniors at the small college prep school met new state math standards than at any other high school in the Sacramento region.

The school keeps student body performance high by identifying high-achieving students through an application process and then “disenrolling” low-performing students who, after academic probation, don’t make the grade.

Students expressed a tremendous drive to succeed, and several talked about their strong family support. All seemed committed to excel.

“This school has definitely put me at my limits,” said Josetina Alvarado, 16. “I am working really hard.” Alvarado said the school “is showing me what the real world is going to be like and how you need to fight and struggle just to get to where you want to be.”

West Campus opened in 1983 as a magnet program for students throughout the district; at the time, it was known as Hiram Johnson West Campus because of its proximity west of the Hiram Johnson High School. The school cut ties with Hiram Johnson in 2000.

For years, West Campus students have outperformed counterparts in the Sacramento City Unified School District. U.S. News & World Report in May ranked the school as the 83rd best in California in a field of more than 1,300 high school campuses.

That has long made it an anomaly among public high schools – a campus with 865 students that reflect both diversity and large share of low-income students who, nonetheless, regularly beat out students in the county’s most affluent neighborhoods.

Students are asked to complete rigorous courses to prepare for four-year colleges, strive for A’s and B’s, tow the line in dress and conduct, participate in extracurricular activities and support one another to prevent bullying. The aim, campus administrators said, is to have a collegelike, safe atmosphere where each student takes ownership of life on campus and where parents are involved.

Administrators review the 450 to 550 annual applications, many of them from the surrounding neighborhood near Fruitridge Road and Stockton Boulevard. The school then identifies applicants whose academic achievement and extracurricular activities meet West Campus’ standards, and those students are placed in a lottery to determine who can enroll.

It’s not just an empty threat. It definitely makes (students) work harder than they had before.

West Campus junior Josetina Alvarado on the district’s involuntary disenrollment policy

The emphasis is on college preparation. For some classmates, going to college will be a first, said Isabel Chapman, 17, senior class president.

“Everybody in our class is applying to college,” said Chapman, who wants to study nursing at Seattle Pacific University. “You hear a lot of people saying, ‘My parents didn’t go to college. I’m the first person to apply.’ 

The college theme starts in the ninth grade at assemblies and other gatherings, Chapmansaid. “By the time you’re a senior, it doesn’t feel like everything is happening this year.”

In the first round of statewide tests based on Common Core State Standards, 76 percent of West Campus seniors met or exceeded state expectations in math, according to data released last month. That was the highest percentage among high schools in the region that includes Sacramento, Yolo, El Dorado and Placer counties.

Granite Bay High School was next with 74 percent. Though that school is not a magnet program, only 12 percent of students at Granite Bay qualify as economically disadvantaged.

The West Campus student handbook summarizes the school’s academic dictates.

Any student whose semester grade point average drops below 2.0 – the equivalent of a C average – is placed on academic probation, which triggers tutoring and other assistance. If the next semester GPA is not restored to 2.5 or above, the student may be “involuntarily disenrolled” from West Campus. A 2.5 GPA is the equivalent of three B’s and three C’s.

Generally, 1 percent to 2 percent of the student body, mainly freshmen, leave because of academics, administrators said. Some choose on their own to transfer to another school.

Alvaradosaid the disenrollment policy is not lost on students. “It’s not just an empty threat,” she said. “It definitely makes them work harder than they had before.”

But the focus, and perhaps the main stressor, is coursework designed to ensure success in college, including Advanced Placement courses in biology, physics, world history and English.

“There are nights where you barely get any sleep and you have to take a test the next day. There is no time for family and friends outside of school,” said Alvarado, whose course lineup includes AP English, AP U.S. history, geometry and anatomy. “The payoff at the end – that’s what we look forward to. We’re going to get into college, and it will all be worth it in the end.”

Ezzie Uwadiale, 15, said plenty of students push themselves to succeed.

“We’re all very academically motivated and take it upon ourselves to get done what we need to be done,” Uwadiale said. “We don’t need anyone pushing us. I know in other schools teachers tell students to do the work. At our school, it’s very different. Everyone wants to be the best. They want to be at the top.

“Once you come on this campus, there is no, like, playing around. Once you see everyone around you, you don’t want to be the one who is falling behind.”

Uwadiale’sGPA last year was 4.0, she said.

At our school, it’s very different. Everyone wants to be the best. They want to be at the top.

West Campus sophomore Ezzie Uwadiale

Her schedule requires lots of organization. This year, she arrives at school by 7:10 a.m., when the Associated Student Body meets. Uwadialeis one of its three treasurers. She heads to advanced English class for the first period, then to an engineering class, on to Spanish and, for her fourth period, AP world history.

During lunch, Uwadialesaid, she typically works at the student store or spends time with a club. Among her memberships: moot court; California Scholarship Federation; Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement; and Black Student Union.

After lunch comes chemistry, then geometry. Then, at the end of the school, perhaps more work on a club.

Home is a 25-minute ride away, leaving her four to five hours more time to do homework. “I stay up pretty late to finish that,” she said.

The next morning, Ezzie is up by 5:30 a.m., the better to catch her ride back to the campus.

“I wouldn’t say I get enough sleep,” she said. “But I try to catch up with it on the weekend.”

Assistant Principal John McMeekin said the efforts pay off. About three-quarters of the seniors in the last two years have reported being accepted into a four-year college.

“We have a very strong student-driven population where the students have high demands on each other and themselves,” McMeekin said. “They demand an environment in which the students are actively achieving academic success. And they expect everyone else to be doing the same thing.”