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 Testing Tailgate Builds Culture at La Mesa School Site

It may sound strange for students to be pumped up to take a test, but that's exactly what happened Thursday at a San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) school site in La Mesa.

Students at the Juvenile Court and Community Schools (JCCS) site ate a warm breakfast before taking an assessment test and enjoying a tailgate-style celebration in the parking lot afterward that featured games, music, and team-building exercises.

"This is really nice because other schools don't do things like this," said Noemy Linares, a student at the site. "It makes me feel thankful."

The site on Hercules Avenue in La Mesa is home to three JCCS programs: La Mesa Community School, Reflections Central School, and Youth Day Center – Central.

The event was a way to build a culture at the site that values testing and a sense of community, Principal Valentin Escanuela said.

"We really want to make this a big deal," he said. "We want to celebrate, to bring the community together to support our kids."

It also served as a kickoff for new assessments the students will take every three months. These exams will help the schools build individualized learning plans and goals for each student as well as celebrate their progress throughout the year, Escanuela said.

Student Julian Lopez said the celebration motivated him to try harder on the assessments.

"Once you do your work, you're able to relax and take your mind off of the testing," he said.

Students at the small campus don't often get opportunities that peers at larger schools get, such as dances, clubs, and pep rallies, said Aimee Trevino, a teacher at the school who helped organize the event. The Testing Tailgate celebration was a way to give them the opportunity to connect with each other and the staff members at the school, she said.

 "It's really important to promote community-building," Trevino said. "Any time we can create an atmosphere that helps them build a community, it really brings smiles."

There were even family members who volunteered to help serve breakfast and organize games.

Rosie Bankhead frequently volunteers at JCCS events. She has a grandson at a JCCS site.

"I think this is a positive motivation to a lot of the children here," she said. "It shows them how much they're loved."

Patricia White's daughter has only been attending school at the La Mesa site for a few weeks, but she has been impressed enough that she wanted to do all she could to support the event.

"This school has done more for her than any since she was in kindergarten," White said. "This school is absolutely amazing."

JCCS provide a fully accredited educational program for school-age youth who are either wards of the court or have been referred by social services, probation, or one of the 42 school districts in San Diego County. Services are provided to students who are incarcerated, pregnant or parenting, in foster care, expelled, chronically truant, in drug treatment centers and group homes for neglected or abused children, and experiencing homelessness.

The program serves nearly 5,000 students per year at more than 20 sites across San Diego County.