From the outside, Southland Community School doesn't look like much. The nondescript storefront tucked into a shopping center doesn't even have a sign.
But once you walk in, you instantly see the pride that Southland students and employees take in their school.
About two months ago, Southland's teachers and staff started working on a project to fix up the campus while also improving the school culture and spirit.
"It makes you feel more motivated to come to school," said Roman, one of the students. "It makes it feel like a school."
As part of the project, students picked a mascot and school colors. The first thing you see when you enter the school is a large image of a sabretooth tiger, the school mascot, on a navy blue wall. The teachers created an online survey that the students used to pick their mascot and colors, which are blue and silver.
"The students said it didn't feel like a school," said teacher Denise Young. "We worked with them to find out what they were looking for. We're reimagining the spaces to be more what the students would like to see."
Southland is one of the San Diego County Office of Education's (SDCOE) Juvenile Court and Community Schools. It's a is a classroom, blended, and independent-study program for students in grades 7 through 12 who were referred by probation, social services, or school district officials.
SDCOE's Maintenance and Operations department helped paint some of the walls, and the Creative Services and Graphics departments worked together to create the mascot icon that was installed earlier this month at the school's entrance. Young, students, and family members also volunteered to do some of the painting.
As they focused on school culture, students came up with words to represent the acronym PRIDE: positivity, respect, integrity, determination, and excellence. They also created a pride wall that features photographs they took as part of a partnership with the AJA Project, a group that aims to transform the lives of youth and communities through photography.
One student is even planning to paint a mural on one of the classroom walls.
It feels really good to see that work brighten up the campus and to give the students a chance to express themselves, Young said.
"We have some very wonderful students that put forth this really gruff exterior, but it's a protective instinct for them," she said. "They're very talented and very intelligent. It's just that they don't feel that they have gotten a chance."