Denair students and staff loving camp-based summer enrichment program

June 15th, 2021

There is way more activity than usual this summer around Denair Unified’s four campuses, thanks to enrichment programs and cool weeklong camps targeted at students of all ages.

Nearly 500 K-12 students are participating in various summer programs, which began June 7 and continue through July 2. Although there are some traditional academic classes for high school students who need to make up credits toward graduation, most of this year’s program is targeted at younger students.

The goals?

“Have fun. Build relationships. Light academics,” explained Superintendent Terry Metzger, who empowered her principals and their teachers to come up with fun, activity-based offerings that would appeal to a broad cross-section of students – many of whom were forced to learn via computer at home for more than a year because of the COVID pandemic.

The result is fewer hard-core math, English and science courses that require students to sit in the classroom and more interactive weeklong camp opportunities that build new skills, interests and curiosity.

Want to learn to fish? There’s a camp for that, complete with a chaperoned visit to a local lake.

Interested in animals? Try Dogs 101, which offers insight into the behavior and different breeds of man’s best friend. Or another class on the many species of animals found in the wild.

Into science and technology? Drone camp might be just the thing. Or a camp based on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

There are three floral courses, from the basics to creating arrangements for weddings. There is a culinary adventure camp to introduce cooking to kids as well as camps on gardening, life on a farm and shop skills.

For those with an artistic bent, there are camps on origami and doodling, music and learning folkloric dances from Indian and Colombia.

There is an America the Beautiful camp to teach patriotic songs and help students appreciate American symbols.

And there are plenty of sports camps, from softball, volleyball and basketball to dodgeball and recess games and strength training. “It has been absolutely amazing,” said Laura Cardenas, the learning director at Denair Elementary Charter Academy who has helped coordinate more than 30 camps across all grade levels. “The kids are really loving it and the staff is really enjoying it.”

She said students of like ages are grouped together in classes of no more than 20, though many are less than that. Students were required to register in advance and prioritize which camps they most wanted to attend. Many of the more popular camps have wait lists.

“The kids are excited,” said Cardenas, who is teaching the Baile dance class. “They come home excited and then wake up the next day and can’t wait to come to school again.”

Patty Morrissey, who has a small group of third- through fifth-graders in her America the Beautiful class, said she’s always wanted to be able to teach something like that.

“I thought it would be fun,” she said. “Kids need to realize what a great country we live in.”

She introduces students to patriotic songs like “America the Beautiful” and “This Land is Your Land,” and also focuses on U.S. symbols like the flag and bald eagle. Anything with a red, white and blue theme.

Ag teacher Holli Jacobsen put her life on a farm students to work building planter boxes that eventually will produce fruits and vegetables that will feed into the district’s food program.

In all, there are 262 students enrolled in summer enrichment courses at DECA, 57 at Denair Middle School and 26 at Denair High. That’s on top of 118 high school students who are in the credit recovery program. Camps and classes run from 8 a.m. to noon each day.

Metzger saw enough enthusiasm from students and staff in the first week that she’s already thinking ahead to next summer – when the COVID crisis hopefully has passed. She would like to see the enrichment program continue.

“It’s in the budget for next year,” she said. “I can see already it’s very popular with students and staff.”

Denair Unified outlines conservative 2021-22 budget, even as it expects $2.33 million in one-time COVID relief

June 4, 2021

For all the academic impacts the pandemic caused to students and staff in the  Denair Unified School District over the past year, the district has emerged in a relatively strong financial position thanks to an infusion of extra state and federal COVID relief money.

District trustees were presented Thursday night with a proposed $18.2 million budget for the 2021-22 school year, which includes $2.33 million in extra state and federal assistance because of the pandemic. Much of that will be spent on one-time expenses – like textbooks, school supplies and technology upgrades – over the next couple of years rather than be plowed into ongoing items like staff salaries, trustees were told.

The upcoming budget also anticipates California finally beginning to catch up on what it owes public schools in payments deferred during the pandemic. The Cost of Living Allowance – a “mega-COLA” in the words of Chief Business Official Linda Covello – is projected to be 5.07%, much higher than in normal years.

That still could change between now and when the state is legally required to pass its budget by the end of June. Denair, like all school districts, has to approve its own budget before July 1, which is why Covello said she planned conservatively when projecting for enrollment and other areas. It’s always easier to figure out what to do when revenue is higher, she said, as opposed to trimming expenses mid-year because of overly aggressive assumptions.

Still, the proposal 2021-22 budget – which trustees are expected to take action on at a special meeting June 10 – is quite a bit different from the bare-bones $14,539,016 spending plan enacted in June 2020 when all the financial implications of the COVID crisis were still uncertain. That budget projected spending about $800,000 less than the year before while dipping into reserves by $151,000.

Contrast that to the situation now, when Covello anticipates the district will finish the next school year with a fund balance of $1,471,443. 

“It’s likely we’ll have carryover COVID relief funds from federal and state since we won’t spend them all next year,” she said.

As in most years, most of the proposed 2021-22 budget is devoted to people – salaries and benefits account for 75% of the spending. If not for the extra government money, that share would be closer to 80%, Covello said.

Despite an uptick in new residential construction within the district’s boundaries, Covello is planning for an increase of just three students across the district’s four campuses. The proposed budget projects Average Daily Attendance will be 1,256 students.

“It’s a conservative number that doesn’t really account for any growth we may have,” she said. “We also know some students left the district last year because of COVID. We don’t know how many of them may come back.”

When classes resume in August, Superintendent Terry Metzger expects almost all students to return to campus. When Denair reopened classes for face-to-face instruction in mid-April, about 85% of students returned. The rest remained on distance learning.

In the next school year, distance learning for all grade levels will be coordinated through Denair Charter Academy, Metzger said. DCA offers home schooling for K-8 students and independent study for high school students.

Metzger also said bus service will resume in August for students who qualify.

In other action Thursday, trustees:

  • Held a moment of silence for the three family members killed in a house fire in the early morning hours of May 30. Sergio Inostros, 25, Mason Mulgado, 8, and Bennet Inostros, 3, lost their lives. Mason was a student at Denair Elementary Charter Academy.
  • Congratulated the Denair High Class of 2021, which graduated all 63 of its seniors on May 28. Principal Kara Backman said all the students participated in the Sober Grad night party that same night.
  • Voted 5-0 to spend $77,000 of lottery money on a new science curriculum for Denair Middle School and Denair Charter Academy.
  • Held a public hearing on the 2021-24 Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), a strategic document that lays out for parents and the community how the district will spend the millions of dollars it receives each year from the state. Metzger said the driving objective for the next three years is that all children will have a foundation for post-secondary success. That means preparing high school graduates to enter a two- or four-year college, or having the skills to go directly to the military, a trade school or another kind of vocational field in order to begin their professional careers. The 2021-24 LCAP will come back for board approval on June 10.
  • Added courses in kinesiology and anatomy/physiology to the Health Science Career Technical Education (CTE) pathway at Denair High.
  • Applied for a $20,528 Agricultural Incentive Grant from the state, which will be used to “to create and develop programs that motivate students to accept challenges, take pride in their achievements and work to their highest potential.” The district also received a $20,000 Farm to School Innovation Grant, which will fund a program in which students grow fruits and vegetables that will be used in the district’s food program.
  • Approved two upcoming student trips: June 22-25 to Disneyland for members of the football program and a FFA leadership retreat Aug. 5-7 in Camp Connell.
  • Heard a report on mental health services provided by district in the past year for students, their families and staff. Metzger said 341 students in all age ranges were helped with issues like anxiety and depression, substance abuse, anger, self-abuse and health/hygiene.


Top Denair High students Avila, Prock reflect on quality of education, academic success

Pureza Avila is the Denair High School Class of 2021 valedictorian thanks to her 4.09 grade-point average. The salutatorian will be Brielle Prock, who compiled a 4.03 GPA over four years.

Graduation is set for May 28 at Jack Lytton Stadium. Gates open at 6:30 p.m. and the ceremony begins at 7 p.m. This year because of ongoing COVID concerns, seniors and their families will sit on both sides of the stadium to space people out. All seating will be pre-assigned and printed on graduation tickets (each graduate will receive six tickets).

Avila and Prock recently took time to answer some questions about their high school experiences.

Question: Obviously, the Class of 2021 has had a much different educational experience because of the pandemic and a year of school held primarily via distance learning. How do you think that will shape you and your classmates?

Avila: During the pandemic, we all learned new skills and developed values that further shaped our character. This year definitely made us stronger, open-minded and more caring towards each other. These intangibles will help us be more successful in life as we enter adulthood. As I state in my valediction: “While we all have individual aspirations, varied skills and definitely different levels of motivation, we have learned that what we do possess is a boundless capacity to care for each other. We also found a way to dig deep, conquer our fears and achieve goals, even if those goals were just set yesterday.”

Prock: I think that this past year made our class realize what real life will be. Once we walk

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DCA eighth-graders honored at promotion ceremony

Denair Charter Academy celebrated nine home-school students Thursday night who were promoted from eighth grade. 

The students who were honored were Dalys Barragan, Angela Foulke, Ruby Gutierrez, Leah Lambert, Giselle Montes, Russell Myers, Juan Rossall, Lillyanna Vanwinkle and Aiza Zazueta. The ceremony took place in the Denair Middle School gymnasium.

DCA Principal Breanne Aguiar, district Superintendent Terry Metzger and eighth-grade home school teacher and advisor Victoria McFarlane presented students with their certificates.

Leah Lambert thanked parents for their support and all they do to educate their children. Guitierrez recited a poem entitled “Always Be” by an unknown author, Vanwinkle led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance and Giselle Rodriguez gave a student welcome address.

Unbeaten Denair boys basketball tops spring performances

It’s a different time to be an athlete at Denair High School. The COVID pandemic compressed all sports into a truncated schedule, with football and other fall sports starting in March Words and winter sports like basketball and wrestling overlapping now with baseball, softball, soccer and track. Here is a quick look at how some of the Coyotes’ teams are doing this season.

Boys Basketball

Denair, led by junior guard Mario Plascencia, a three-year starter, has won all five of its games and is in first place in the Southern League. The Coyotes played their best game of the season on Friday on the road at Hughson, routing the Huskies 78-52 behind Plascencia’s 24 points and 12 rebounds.

“He does it all,” complimented Coach R.J. Henderson. “He guards the other team’s best player. He steps up to every challenge. He’s terrific defensively. He’s the straw that stirs the drink.”

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