BRENTWOOD -- Edna Hill Middle School teacher Traci Kemper takes comfort in knowing that some students will remain with her during all three years at the school.
Through the school's daily advisory class, Kemper said that Edna Hill teachers and students form a close bond that is similar to a family because they remain in that class from the sixth through eighth grades. Kemper has been on the downtown Brentwood campus for 13 years and said that it didn't used to have a class that addressed life skills, study habits and character building.
"At one time, we were missing that student advocacy and developmental responsiveness piece," said the language arts and social studies teacher. "It gives kids someone they feel they can connect with."
The advisory program is one of the reasons that Edna Hill has been selected as a California and National Schools to Watch Model Middle School for the third time. The school's first designation with this honor occurred in 2007, and it has been re-designated every three years since then, in 2010 and recently for 2013.
Edna Hill Principal Kirsten Jobb said that Schools to Watch campuses are those that strive for excellence by utilizing the most researched educational practices. Only 36 California schools were awarded this honor, and the nearest one is in Castro Valley, Jobb noted.
"We keep building that momentum. We have an exceptional culture at our school that we want to keep getting better and reflecting on what we want to work on," she said. "This program is built to recognize high-performing schools that want to build the whole child piece."
Jobb added that Edna Hill has done that through promoting school pride, teachers and staff modeling positive character traits, setting both behavioral and academic goals and providing an adult advocate for every child on campus through the advisory class.
She said that leading an advisory class is one of the best parts of her day in being able to talk about character and encourage journal writing and reflection for the students.
"Kids come to school with multiple backgrounds. Our expectations are high. We know you are going to learn and excel at school," Jobb said.
Not only have standardized test scores risen at Edna Hill, but administrators and teachers also base their ongoing success on discipline data and attendance rates, with students meeting 98 percent attendance goals several times this school year, according to Jobb. There have even been fewer incidents of bullying in recent years.
"Middle school can be a challenging time developmentally," Jobb said. "We know that kids want to be here. We know that those pieces are working because we see integrity and kindness when they think that we are not watching."
Now, all three of the Brentwood Union School District's middle schools have advisory programs. Jobb said that Edna Hill could not have achieved this without supportive parents and district staff.
In 2013, some teachers and staff will travel to the Schools to Watch national conference in Washington, D.C. Both Jobb and Kemper agree that Edna Hill is unique because of its dedicated teachers, who often work more than eight hours per day to build a unique culture on campus.
"Edna Hill works so very hard," Kemper said. "We have teachers who really care about kids and are willing to try new things."
Paula King can be reached at 925-779-7174 or firstname.lastname@example.org.