LIVINGSTON -- It's hard to convince a high school freshman that his English class is a critical part of his life, Livingston High School Principal Ralph Calderon believes.
But he has seen too many students sealing their fates as 10th-graders by not doing their best in school.
That's why Calderon believes strongly that his 1,110 students must be fully involved in campus activities along with academics. When students are engaged in their education they naturally do better.
Although they don't get anything tangible, such as a diploma, until four years later, all the things leading up to graduation matter. There is a very small window of time to hook students into excelling in school, Calderon said.
"There's a whole philosophy with research that says kids who have developed areas of interest find more immediate feedback," Calderon said. "These kids are buying into what's happening."
Calderon cites a number of activities that hold students' interest. These include the Key Club, Punjabi Club, Hispanic Youth Leadership Club, Future Farmers of America, band and athletics.
When students are involved in activities like these, he said, their academic performance improves.
Scott Weimer, Livingston High School's associate principal for guidance and activities, cites the Victory With Honor program as a key element in students' academic commitment and success.
Embracing parts of the Merced Union High School District's "Character Counts" effort, Weimer said, Victory With Honor tries to incorporate sportsmanship and leadership into the athletics program.
Being role models
The school's Captain's Club has 34 members who nominate fellow athletes for sportsmanship awards at periodic assemblies.
Mandy Ballenger, the associate principal for testing, accountability and athletics, said she goes over the six pillars of character in "Character Counts." She also explains to students just how to apply those traits in situations they might encounter while playing sports. One example, helping up a player who has been laid low by a rough tackle.
"We have really held to that standard of being role models," Ballenger said, "not just here but in the community. The process has taken four years to get where we are. Three- quarters of the kids follow the example of the role models; they haven't disappointed us at all."
Senior Adriana Morales, 17, is on the cross-country, wrestling and soccer teams. Also a member of the Captain's Club, she said that without sports, she wouldn't have the motivation to get good grades.
"You need a reason or you will fall back into troublemaking habits," Morales said. "A lot of kids don't realize how much sports can impact your life, beyond techniques. Our teams are a family, and we don't leave anybody behind. I got a lot of help and like to give some of that back."
Juan Zuniga, 17, is a senior who plays varsity football and is on the track team. He plans to attend college and possibly pursue a criminology degree.
"The football coaching staff and administration helped me a whole lot during my freshman and sophomore years," Zuniga said. "I like talking to other kids if they need any sort of help or encouragement."
In another program, Weimer said, the school's 98 Link Crew leaders meet with freshmen each month. Some help at-risk students every other week, talking about what they want their future to be like and what they have to do in high school to make that happen.
The school's FFA program now has a couple of hundred participants and the band has gone from 27 to 90 members. There are 408 students participating in athletics now, four times the number from several years ago.
Calderon always wants his teams to win and bring honor to the school, but there is more to it than just trophies.
"It's more of a vehicle to make kids disciplined, team players and problem-solvers," Calderon said. "If these things get taught, winning takes care of itself."
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.