Canyon Springs changes course

Second-year principal Monica White is implementing several new programs at Canyon Springs High School, designed to encourage students to discover their talents, become better citizens and take pride in themselves and their school.

“The ultimate goal is to add meaning to their lives – to give them a reason to come to school,” White said.

The two biggest additions for the 300 students at the Caldwell alternative school are a youth court where students are the judge and jury for their classmates, and a self-discovery program. Staff also has added a music class, new uniforms, a new mascot, new school colors and a school mural to improve morale.

“We hope that every kid that leaves us is a contributing member of society because we’ve helped them figure out their talents and feel good about themselves,” White said.

Youth court

Principal Monica White (lower right) stands with members of Canyon Springs youth court and teacher Heather Ramos (top left) and Vice Principal Matt Strong (top left).

Canyon Springs has developed its own internal court system where student judges minor infractions committed by classmates.

Kids were hand-picked for the class — those who could most benefit from the learning process and could also turn into positive role models.

The 15 kids learn civics and learn how a justice system works. They will take field trips to courtrooms. They then become the judge, attorneys, bailiff, jury and clerk for their own courtrooms.

The students — not the principal — decide the punishment.

Teacher Heather Ramos has orchestrated this new project. She studied criminal justice in college and has served as a dropout prevention specialist before turning to teaching.

“Many of these kids have been through the juvenile justice system and this puts them on the other side,” Ramos said.

The principal and vice principal will continue to evaluate major violations such as fighting. The youth court will handle infractions such as dress code violations, disrespecting teachers and truancy.

“These kids have never had the opportunity to be leaders over something positive,” Ramos said. “They are working very hard and they don’t want to miss class. That’s a victory right there.”

The first youth court was for a student who was disrespecting teachers and regularly late for class. The judge and jury had punishment options, such as writing a letter of apology, community service or taking a walk through jail.

The high school is partnering with Canyon County prosecutors, juvenile probation and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

“If we partner, we can share services like counseling,” White said. “Our first case went well and this will serve not only as a learning tool but an avenue to help kids see a better path.”

Finding talents

Canyon Springs, one of Idaho’s largest alternative schools, is the first to implement a self-discovery program. The program is designed answer the questions: What are students’ talents and how can they be applied to the real world?

“Kids are disengaged with school,” White said. “This will make a connection between their talents and developing those talents to become a contributing citizen in society.”

Each student spends about 15 minutes a day studying the program, looking at six objectives:

  • Discovering the core components of identity.
  • Putting a language to talents.
  • Encouraging students to plan their education and career around their talents.
  • Teaching students to apply their talents in core employment functions (leadership, management, sales, innovation).
  • Learning how to navigate through common talent inhibitors (negative past experiences, habits or behaviors).
  • Learning how to multiply their talents.

The program includes long-term planning and financial components.

“It’s about attaching value to the kid’s strengths,” White said. “It’s discovering who I am and why it’s important.”

This is a pilot program for an Idaho school. It was first implemented in Utah with refugee students.

“We are applying the discovered talents to a school path and then applying those skills and habits in the work place,” White said.

That’s not all, folks

Canyon Springs and its 24 teachers are trying several other ideas this year to encourage students to respect themselves, others and their school.

  1. Tiger Bucks are awarded for good deeds. Every staff member, including cooks and custodians, has “bucks” to hand out to students. Enough bucks buy shirts or swag from the school store.
  2. White started a music program.
  3. A go-on campaign helps students create a career path. Canyon Springs is beginning to track students beyond graduation — of last year’s 62 graduates, 33 were placed in trade schools or colleges.
  4. Arts teacher Amber Powers took a year to paint a giant portrait, using students as models. “It’s a visual tribute to our school and I hope it inspires students,” Powers said.
  5. Students used to be required to wear all black. That changed. Collared shirts are required but school colors are now bright shades of orange and purple. School T-shirts are preferred dress on Fridays.

“This school is full of the greatest people I’ve ever worked with,” White said. “We are facilitators of learning and focused on building the habit of going to school.”

Canyon Springs mural
Art teacher Amber Powers (second from right) spent a year creating this mural of students at Canyon Springs.






Jennifer Swindell

Jennifer Swindell

Managing editor and CEO Jennifer Swindell founded Idaho Education News in 2013. She has led the online news platform as it has grown in readership and engagement every year, reaching over two million pageviews a year. Jennifer has more than 35 years of experience in Idaho journalism. She also has served as a public information officer for Idaho schools and as a communication director at Boise State University. She can be reached at [email protected].

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