Denair Unified Excited to Begin Mentorship Program, Seeks Adult Volunteers to Work with Students

Submitted by Denair Unified School District

Be someone who matters for someone who matters.

That is the main thrust behind a mentorship program set to begin early next year in the Denair Unified School District.

Trustees were briefed about it by Superintendent Terry Metzger at Thursday night’s board meeting.

The goal, Metzger explained, is to identify community volunteers willing to meet one-on-one for an hour each week with a student. The program will be overseen by Sierra Vista Child & Family Services, a nonprofit based in Modesto that operates a similar system with the 30,000-student Modesto City Schools District.

Informational meetings for potential mentors are scheduled for Jan. 10 at noon and Jan. 15 at 5:30 p.m. at the Denair administration office. They will be a chance for those interested to learn more about the mentoring program from Sierra Vista officials.

“We’re very excited,” Metzger said. “We feel like we have a number of students who can benefit from another caring adult in their lives.”

She already has reached out to local service clubs and said the response has been positive. All mentors will undergo a background check and screening conducted by Sierra Vista, which also will provide training.

The weekly meetings will be held during school hours on the child’s campus. Students from all grade levels and mentors will be matched based on teacher referrals and Sierra Vista’s expertise.

“It could be a conversation in the library or shooting hoops outside,” Metzger explained. “Most often, these students just need someone to be there to listen. They need an adult. Sometimes they’re being raised by their grandparents or caring for their younger siblings. They need someone who can be there for them.”

The partnership is an extension of a larger mental health pilot program that began this fall, also in collaboration with Sierra Vista. A full-time mental health clinician is stationed at Denair Middle School to work with students and their families from all DUSD campuses.

The program is funded by the Legacy Health Endowment, whose mission is to provide financial and technical support to improve the health of people living in Stanislaus and Merced counties. The nonprofit was created in 2014 as part of Tenet Healthcare’s acquisition of Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock.

One of Legacy Health’s grants funds a program directed by Sierra Vista that focuses on the mental health of people living in southeastern Stanislaus County. Research by Sierra Vista shows that some children and teens in the area can be adversely affected by their socioeconomic status or rural living conditions.

“That can lead to greater risk of anxiety, depression and self-harm, including drug or alcohol use,” Metzger said.

With that in mind, Sierra Vista Executive Director Judy Kindle – who lives near Denair – suggested that the school district become an incubator for the pilot program. Metzger quickly agreed.

The mental health clinician provides services not just for Denair students, but also their families, Metzger explained. Referrals come from the students themselves as well as teachers, principals or even family members.

“Our goal is to help families in crisis who have long-term needs,” she said. “If our students can be assisted by our counseling staff, that’s what happens. But this opens up Sierra Vista resources for the students and their families.”

Metzger used a hypothetical example to describe how the mentoring program and mental health access might overlap.

“A high school student suffering from depression might see the clinician, but his or her siblings who need someone to talk to might see the mentors,” she said.

In other action Thursday, trustees:

  • Heard the first interim budget report from Chief Business Officer Linda Covello. Attendance across the district is 1.9% higher than expected, including an increase of 12 students at the middle and high school level. If that continues through the end of the school year, it will mean an additional $200,000 in revenue to the district, Covello said. Multi-year projections anticipate continued growth, with the elimination of deficit spending in the 2020-21 school year. “We remain cautiously optimistic,” Metzger said.
  • Reviewed the updated California School Dashboard results. Areas of strength include the district’s high graduation rate and the middle school’s low chronic absenteeism. The district will continue to focus on academic achievement, particularly in math.
  • Honored the state championship football team and coach Anthony Armas. The Coyotes thrilled local fans by winning the Division VII title Dec. 1, beating Santee of Los Angeles 42-14 at Jack Lytton Stadium.
  • Approved the addition of a college course at Denair High School. Beginning in January, an American sign language course taught by Modesto Junior College instructor Pam Martinez will be offered for up to 30 high school students each Thursday from 4:30 to 7:35 p.m. Students who pass the course will receive college credit.
  • Elected Trustee Reggie Gomes to be the board president for 2019. Crystal Souza was chosen as clerk. Board meetings will continue to be the second Thursday of each month.

Denair High Boys Host 20th Holiday Classic This Week

Submitted by Denair High School

Expectations have risen for the Denair High School boys basketball team.

The Coyotes have two all-league players returning from a squad that finished second in the Southern League last winter and qualified for the playoffs. They also have an athletic roster, including four players who still are riding high from winning a state football championship, plus a precocious freshman who already has flashed playmaking potential.

Seventh-year coach R.J. Henderson knows full well that expectations, potential and lofty goals are just empty talk in mid-December. The true measure of success will play out on the court between now and the end of February.

The Coyotes stand at 4-5 as they prepare to host their 20th annual Denair Holiday Classic Tournament this week. They will face Turlock Christian (a team that beat Denair 60-48 three weeks ago) at 8 p.m. Thursday, Big Valley Christian at 8 p.m. Friday and Escalon at 2 p.m. Saturday.

“The effort and athleticism on this team are by far the best of my seven years here,” assessed Henderson after Tuesday’s practice.

The Coyotes didn’t reach full strength until last week – after the football team’s amazing run that earned it a state title on Dec. 1.

Steffin Winston, Drew Pritchard, Elvis Silva, and Hunter Musgrave were all key members of the football team who only started practicing basketball last week. Henderson said they were on a minutes restriction as their bodies adjusted to a different sport, but that ended with Tuesday night’s 52-48 win over Livingston.

The two returning all-league seniors – Winston and Pritchard – led the way with 16 and 12 points, respectively. Mario Plasencia, only a freshman, sealed the win with an offensive rebound and left-handed put back off a missed free throw in the final minute.

“He’s ambidextrous,” marveled Henderson.

Winston and Plasencia also dominated inside – racking up 29 rebounds and nine blocked shots between them, though both are only about 6 feet tall.

“They’re both quick jumpers who play like they’re 6-4 or 6-5,” Henderson said. “They’re going to surprise some guys this year.”

Junior shooting guard Austin Upfold also has improved his game. He averaged nearly 17 points a game before the football players joined the team and presents another threat on offense.

Henderson is high on two other juniors – wing Elvis Silva (the football quarterback) and Turlock High transfer Hayden Feldman (the first big man off the bench).

“Elvis is just one of those glue guys every team needs,” the coach said. “He can guard three or four positions in the Southern League. And he’s very low maintenance. Just a super special kid.”

After this week’s tournament, Denair plays only two more non-league games – Dec. 20 at Soquel in Santa Cruz and Dec. 28 at home against Pacheco of Los Banos. The preseason schedule and tournaments all are geared to prepare the Coyotes for the start of the Southern League season Jan. 3.

Henderson says defending SL champion Mariposa still is the team to beat, but he expects the Coyotes to try and repeat their success of last season when they steadily improved and qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V playoffs. They lost in the first round to Summerville.

“We haven’t beaten Mariposa in my six years here,” Henderson said. “That’s got to change.”

Tip-ins: Henderson said the first Cajun Crab Boil fundraiser in November netted the team nearly $10,000. … The Denair Youth League basketball clinic begins on Jan. 12 and continues with games the next four Saturdays. The clinic is open to any boy and girl in grades kindergarten through sixth grade who lives in the Denair Unified School District.

Denair High Again Recognized for Red Ribbon Week

Submitted by Denair High School

For the second year in a row, Denair High School was honored for the enthusiasm, participation and content of its programs associated with Red Ribbon Week in October. The Coyotes finished third among all the high schools in Stanislaus County. In 2017, Denair was second.

Schools across the country celebrate Red Ribbon Week, which began in 1980 as a way to discourage drug use among children while promoting healthy behaviors. Former First Lady Nancy Reagan was one of the original proponents.

High school, middle school, and elementary campuses were evaluated by officials from the county Office of Education, who made site visits. They used a point system that factored in student, staff and parental involvement as well as decorations and signs associated with Red Ribbon events.

At Denair High, student members of the PHAST (Protecting Health and Slamming Tobacco) Club worked with staff advisor Melissa Treadwell to orchestrate an informative and fun series of events.

A wrecked car was placed on campus all week to demonstrate the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or texting and driving. Also this year, students could wear “Drunk Goggles,” which simulated what it was like to be impaired. Teens had to try to walk a straight line while wearing them.

Treadwell said the judges rated Denair perfect in three areas – parent and community involvement, activities schedule and portfolio (which featured aerial images taken by a drone flying above the campus).

“The drone footage captured unique angles and we could tell that a lot of work and effort was put forth by students, teachers, staff and parents!” read the report of the SCOE judges.

“The kids did a great job coordinating everything,” said Treadwell, who joined some of the PHAST Club members on Tuesday to pick up their award at the county schools office in Modesto.

Hughson finished first among high schools and Elliott Education Center was second.

Denair Principal Kara Backman said Red Ribbon Week is an important part of preparing teens for the future and teaching them to make good choices.

“We believe in providing opportunities for students through academic rigor and extracurricular activities,” she said. “We believe that awareness and grit help guide students emotional maturity toward a successful college and career path.”

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Denair Football Team Wins State Championship!

Submitted by Denair High School.

Decades from now, after the legend of this year’s Denair High football team has been passed down from one generation to the next, the people who know the story best – the players and their coaches – no doubt will remember this: this special season was possible because each of them believed in the other without reservation. It was a team without apparent ego, everyone willing to sacrifice a little of himself for the greater good.

Saturday night, with purple-clad parents and students and proud alums, gathered to watch on a chilly night at Jack Lytton Stadium, Denair capped a dream season with a dominating 42-14 victory over Santee of Los Angeles for the California Division VII title.

The Denair Coyotes are state champions.

Sunday morning – after maybe four hours of sleep – it still hadn’t quite sunk in for Coach Anthony Armas.

“It’s pretty awesome,” he said. “We always hoped for the best, but I don’t think realistically we ever thought this could happen.”

The title game against the best team from Southern California followed a familiar script: the Coyotes jumped out to an early lead, used their stable of multi-talented running backs to keep Santee’s defense on its heels and its offense off the field, and made enough big plays of their own on defense to ground the Falcons.

Denair (12-1) scored touchdowns six of the nine times it had the ball. It ran out the clock to end each half and turned the ball over just once on a fumble on a field slickened by rain earlier in the day.

That the Coyotes controlled the game minus one of their main offensive weapons – running back Hunter Musgrave, out with a neck injury – reflected the team ethos Armas has preached since practice began July 23.

“Do what we do and do it well. Play fast,” is what he told them before the game.

Mission accomplished.

Drew Pritchard – filling in for Musgrave – ran for 123 yards and two TDs, and Steffin Winston added 120 yards and two more scores to lead the Coyotes’ offense.

Denair led 28-6 at halftime and never was threatened in the final two quarters, despite facing the nation’s leading rusher in Santee’s Joseph Todd. He finished with 251 yards on 30 carries, and scored both the Falcons’ touchdowns on long runs, but mostly was kept in check by the swarming Denair defense.

The Coyotes played so well that Athletic Director Darrin Allen found himself thinking in the first quarter: “We’re going to win this thing.” Then he recalled something his father always told him: “Don’t celebrate too early. Don’t get too excited.”

By the fourth quarter, with Denair comfortably ahead and the outcome assured, the excitement and anticipation were amplified. More than 1,000 fans were screaming in Denair’s grandstands; others cheered from the warmth of their cars looking through the chain-link fence off Lester Road. “I saw former teachers and alums I had coached,” Allen said.

At that point, Allen’s biggest concern was making sure he got the state championship trophy – which had arrived earlier in the week – to the postgame ceremony at the middle of the field.

“Honestly, we set everything up and it just became a blur,” Allen said. “It was absolutely amazing. We’d asked our crowd to stay off the field and they did. … I thought they’d all come. We did the ceremony and kids and coaches had the trophy. They took pictures. Our kids did the senior tunnel like they always do and they took off to the stands.”

It was then that the community celebration – which eventually made its way to the Pizza Factory – truly began.

Armas, a 1997 Denair graduate who took over a program four years ago that previously struggled to win a few games a season, accepted the handshakes and hugs and congratulations. Later, he and his assistant coaches gathered at one of their homes, as they do after every game, to review what happened.

“We hang out and just try to decompress. We talked about the game and season as a whole,” Armas said.

What will he remember about this once-in-a-lifetime group of players?

“This team is the definition of special,” Armas said. “I always thought we had a special group of kids. The way they work together. They care about each other. We talk about family and that’s what they are.

“They have a great work ethic. We can go out and work hard and have fun doing it. It’s a big deal. It doesn’t get boring. They’re just a fun group. They have great personalities and great sense of humor.”

By the time he finally got to bed about 1:30 Sunday morning, the magnitude of being state champions had just begun to sink in for Armas.

“I know it means a lot for our community,” he said. “I know I had people contact me before the game that I hadn’t heard of from a long time. I heard there was a lot of attention on social media.”

Leave it to Allen – who grew up in Denair, graduated from the high school in 1985, and has witnessed firsthand all the highs and lows the town has experienced – to provide some perspective.

“During my lifetime, this is the biggest thing to happen to our community and to our school,” he said.

In Allen’s office, there are pictures of every football team dating back to the ’80s. Saturday night, after the last players and coaches and fans had left the stadium, Allen was alone with the state championship trophy in his office. He already had received more than 75 congratulatory texts and emails, but his mind was on everyone who ever had worn a purple Coyotes uniform.

He sat the trophy in front of those old team pictures, then took a new photo that he posted on social media with this caption: “This is for the Coyotes: past, present, and future.”

Allen, reflecting Sunday morning, credited this year’s players for never allowing any moment to become too big for them – even a state championship game.

“I would say it was their heart and their ability to have the attitude to go out and get the job done. They do their job and don’t panic. … They took it to a whole different level last night.”

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Denair MAC Meeting Agenda for December 4, 2018

Submitted by Denair Municipal Advisory Council.

The Denair Municipal Advisory Council has posted the MAC Agenda for their December meeting, scheduled for December 4, 2018. The meeting starts at 7:00 pm. The meeting will be held in the DUSD Leadership Center/Board Room.

I. Opening and Pledge of Allegiance

II. Introduction and Roll Call

III. Public Comment*

IV. Swearing-in of Municipal Advisory Council Member Kimberley Stokes

V. Approval of the minutes from the November 6, 2018 meeting

VI. Agency Reports and Updates:

A. Public Safety:

i. California Highway Patrol

ii. Stanislaus County Sheriff

iii. Denair Fire Department

B. Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors

C. Denair Public Library

D. Denair High School Leadership

E. Denair Unified School District (DUSD)

VII. Informational Items

VIII. Action Items

IX. MAC Comments and Topics for the Next Agenda

A. Provide a recommendation on the Honest Choice Use Permit Application to allow for commercial cannabis business operations.

X. Adjournment: Next regular meeting – Tuesday, January 8, 2019

*PUBLIC COMMENT: Please limit comments to five (5) minutes, or as directed by the Chairperson. Matters under the jurisdiction of the Council and not on this agenda may be addressed by the general public at this time and the Council may consider adding the item to the next month’s agenda for further consideration. However, California law prohibits the Council from taking action on any matter that is not on the posted agenda unless it is determined to be an emergency by the Council.

REASONABLE ACCOMMODATIONS: In compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, if you need special assistance to participate in this meeting, please contact the Clerk of the Board at (209) 525-4494. Notification 72 hours prior to the meeting will enable the County to make reasonable arrangements to ensure accessibility to this meeting.