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AAUW hosts guest speaker Stacey-Larson Everson

AAUW of Tehachapi

The Tehachapi branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) began in 1980 when two women proposed an annual scholarship program for university-bound girls at Tehachapi High School.

Each year since, scholarships have been given out to THS students of either gender to pursue bachelors programs and vocational schools. They also offer cash awards for middle school students who show particular academic excellence in math and science during a week long “Tech Trek” S.T.E.M. camp for specially-nominated girls going into 8th grade, and scholarships for adult women starting or restarting college after working or raising children.

By 1984, the Tehachapi AAUW grew large enough to form its own branch instead of functioning as a Bakersfield satellite, as it initially had been. Today, about 75 members in Tehachapi are dedicated to promoting equality in education for women and girls. The nonprofit organization has handed out over $250,000 to Tehachapi’s university and vocational-bound students and women, $15,000 of it in the last year alone.

Each month they host a general meeting for AAUW members, usually with a special guest speaker. February’s speaker was Tehachapi Unified School District’s (TUSD) Superintendent Stacey Larson-Everson, who came to speak about the advances the district has made in supporting students’ academic success, as well as some of the challenges the schools are facing today.

The COVID-19 pandemic had an unfavorable impact on children across the state, nation and globe. Since returning to in-person schooling, many students have experienced a pause or regression in the development of their social skills. Social anxiety is higher than ever and students are lacking a general sense of self-confidence. Additionally, many students fell behind academically during the pandemic and are still struggling to catch up to state standards today.

TUSD has been working tirelessly to support students in rising back up to the social and academic levels appropriate for their age. One advantage of the pandemic, as the superintendent pointed out, is the massive increase to technology access. Each student is now able to use two laptops for study, one at home and one at school. The ability to switch to and use remote learning programs is a useful skill students and teachers have now developed. Using newer online benchmarking software, the district has been able to gain insight into each student’s academic level and advancement over each school year, allowing parents and teachers to identify and tackle academic deficits both individually and on a larger, school and district-wide scale.

Superintendent Larson-Everson also talked about the social workers and personal tutors at each school who are working one-on-one with students to help their social and academic performance. An additional program called Capturing Kids’ Hearts was implemented last year which focuses on students’ social-emotional development. As a part of the program, teachers greet students at the door each day and start the class off by allowing students to share positive things. Also, instead of presenting students with a list of rules at the beginning of the year, teachers build a social contract with their class, allowing each student to have an active and consensual role in forming the behavioral expectations of themselves and their classmates for the year.

All in all, the Capturing Kids’ Hearts initiative is seeing success and district efforts to support the academic and social growth of Tehachapi’s students are persistent and ongoing. Superintendent Larson-Everson told the AAUW that these are all forces behind TUSD’s theme of the year: “It’s Today.” It’s today that we see our struggling students and take action.

For more information about the AAUW, please visit tehachapimountain-ca.aauw.net/.