Students Hit the Books and Road in Mobile School

Date: 1987-04-26
Source: LA Times

Students Hit the Books and Road in Mobile School
April 26, 1987|Associated Press

SANTA CRUZ — The 15-year-old Traveling School takes kids who feel like misfits to Oregon, Canada, the Deep South or the Southwest, teaching them to like themselves and get along with others.

"I had been frustrated as a teacher," said the school's founder, Steve Myers. "I couldn't seem to make what kids were learning useful or exciting." It seemed a good idea to start a school that would allow the students to learn about themselves as well as about the areas to which they traveled, he said.

The school operates out of a classroom at Mission Hill Junior High School in Santa Cruz. This semester, there are 35 students, ages 11 to 18, in the class.

They spent a week last month traveling to the Oregon Shakespearean Festival to see the plays, study with the actors and get used to living and working together around the clock.

Southwest Tour

For six weeks this month, they are touring the Southwest--attending a world affairs conference at the University of Colorado in Boulder, meeting with former President Richard M. Nixon's convicted aide, John Ehrlichman, in Santa Fe, N.M., and interviewing San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros.

They will read, write, study history and the environment along the way. But most important, Myers said, they will take a long look at themselves, how they function in the group and how they relate to their parents and school.

The program started in 1971 when Myers was teaching at Crittenden School in Mountain View. That summer, he took 14 seventh- and eighth-graders and two adults in two station wagons on a six-week tour of the Northwest.

The school followed Myers to Colorado, where he was a principal for three years, then to Santa Cruz, where he became principal of Branciforte Junior High in 1981.

Three years ago, armed with an anonymous gift of $50,000 for start-up costs, he persuaded the Santa Cruz school board to operate the rolling school during the September-June academic year.

The school board must vote each year to continue the program, which runs on regular school funds plus parent contributions of up to $1,500 per student, and class fund-raising activities.

The school covers academics, with students reading, memorizing speeches and writing their own plays. But the emphasis, Myers said, is on personal growth.

"It's not that it's not academics," he said. "It's more than academics."

The students themselves are a mismatched group. Some were brilliant students bored by standard classes, and chronic truants who detested school. Others were future dropouts, dopers and straight kids just looking for a change.

Myers said the students on average have shown larger gains on the California Test of Basic Skills during their semester with Traveling School than during a semester of traditional classes.

Ken Sowden was near the top of his class at Soquel High School and had gained early admission to the University of California, but he dropped out after he realized he didn't quite fit in.

"I'm always an extremist," he said. 'I went from super-achiever to super-nothing."

Students, parents and school officials have high praise for the school.

"I think initially people were very skeptical and doubtful of its value, but as time has gone by, the people who have participated in it have been its best proponents," said Dale Kinsley, superintendent of Santa Cruz City schools.

"It's just been the best positive influence we could have had as parent and child, mother and daughter," said Barbara Leichter, whose daughter spent two semesters with Traveling School. "We're gaining respect for each other."

"I gained a lot of self-love that I didn't have before," said one female student. "I changed the way I dress, the way I do my hair. My self-esteem really went up."

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