Scenes from Schools: Valor Academy

September 28, 2011

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"Scenes from Schools" is an occasional piece on the CCSA News Blog that offers a glimpse at the tremendous work taking place on charter school campuses across California. Today's "Scenes" take place across the state, in the form of sleep-away camps organized for students by Valor Academy in Arleta.

Part of Valor Academy's mission is to expose our students to the wonders of the world. Accordingly, at the culmination of our school year, each grade level participates in an exciting sleep-away field trip.

Astrocamp, high in the San Jacinto Mountains, was the destination for 75 of Valor's 5th grade scholars who braved a long bus ride up steep mountain roads to start 3 days of fun, science, and nature education.

The scholars played teambuilding games, leapt off the power pole and slid down zip lines. The aim was to build trust and teamwork among students and to foster confidence by taking them out of their comfort zones. "The zipline was so much fun because I got to go down with my friend, Alondra," said Maria Diaz. " I also liked the power pole because I conquered my fears."

Building on their science learning, students constructed and launched rockets. At night, they took an Astronomy hike and got to peer into telescopes at stars, galaxies and planets including Saturn. "We got to look at the stars and planets, and we all hugged each other to stay warm," said Sophia Castaneda. "I'll never forget it." Many thanks to Ms. Vawter, Mr. Scaife, Mr. Zuiker, Ms. Valenzuela and Ms. Jasmine Rivas for leading the trip and making sure our Valor scholars were safe and sound. Ms. Vawter reported that the Astrocamp counselors told her that our students are among the smartest 5th graders they see all year!

During the same weekend, seventy five 6th grade scholars journeyed to Santa Catalina Island, 22 miles by boat from Long Beach. The giant ferry was just the beginning of the fun for our students, who stayed for 3 nights at a beautiful shoreline camp called Fox Landing. The trip exposed Valor 6th graders to a host of fun and educational marine activities. The kids kayaked and snorkeled in the chilly Pacific. They hiked in the hills towering above the ocean, and learned about marine fish and mammals from staff biologists. Students received hands-on biology training by dissecting a squid--experiences that got to be arms-on and face-on in their enthusiasm to touch, wear and even eat the raw meat. "I never knew there were so many parts to a squid!" Nathan Herrera said.

Many students had never been kayaking or swimming in the ocean but they used team-building techniques to dive into the new challenges. "I felt like the trip was all about working together," said Jasmine Pinto. Many thanks to the adults who accompanied our students: Ms. Lee and Ms. Trae, and Mr. Akel, Mr. Sugay, Mr. Magana, and parent Doug Martinez. The trips are so important to expose our students to new places, new ways of learning and broader perspectives of travel. As Raul Martinez (now 7th grader) noted enthusiastically: "It's the first time I've ever felt like I was outside of California--like in Hawaii!"

Valor Academy is a 5th through 8th grade charter school for the communities of North Hollywood, Arleta, and Panorama City. The school was chartered by the Los Angeles Unified School District in April of 2009 and opened in August of 2009 with a class of 5th graders. The school is committed to putting every child on a clear path to college using proven techniques that include a longer school day, excellent teachers, free tutoring, a disciplined school culture that teaches self-respect, frequent communication with parents, an intense focus on literacy and math and enriching after school programs. For more information, visit

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