Cate Guempel: ‘Through NOVA, I have found joy in learning again’

by Cate Guempel, editor

My sophomore year at San Marin, I heard about NOVA Independent Study and decided to look into it. The more I learned about NOVA, the more I saw it as my way out, my way of reviving my creativity and joy in learning. As long as I handled the transfer process completely by myself, my mom allowed me to leave San Marin and the STEM program I was in.

I officially transferred into NOVA for my junior and,now, my senior year of high school. Changing my form of schooling, which is a large component of my life, has allowed me to transform  drastically as a person.  

“NOVA is an alternative, K-12, public, educational program, offered through the California Department of Education and supported by NUSD …  Students fulfill the same course requirements as any other traditional high school and earn the same high school diploma by meeting individually or in small groups with their instructors weekly,” said Ms. Amy Ferhart, my teacher for NOVA. A student is assigned one teacher for most of the classes they take. Each student gets a list of assignments from all of their classes to complete independently. The teacher and student meet one-on-one once a week to check-in and go over the assignments of the previous week, as well as discuss the next set of assignments for the coming week. By consistently meeting one-on-one, students and teachers can design a more personalized education that works for both parties.

Students are required to take a minimum of five classes through NOVA and are able to co-enroll in neighboring high schools for up to two classes. This way, I was  allowed to take my five classes with NOVA; French 5 and Journalism at San Marin; an online math class; and an Illustrator class through SRJC. Being expected to teach myself my NOVA classes, as well as taking classes through other platforms, has forced me to be completely responsible for my own education.

When I was first thinking of transferring, I felt very irrelevant at school. I was just another kid who did well enough in her classes to go unnoticed by most teachers and staff. While I had personal troubles that deeply affected me, I had good grades and no reason for anyone to look deeper into my situation. It seemed none of my teachers noticed what I was dealing with, and so I felt further isolated and irrelevant. It might be unreasonable to hope a teacher who has hundreds of students to notice when one of them is struggling, especially if their schoolwork looked just fine, but I felt replaceable.

I hated going to school every day to sit in classes filled with work meant to keep students busy, rather than to educate us. I saw too often a divide between students and staff that was usually deepened by miscommunications on both sides. Teachers who said they care about teaching and about their students would attempt to discipline students when they obviously needed compassion and understanding. I also saw students show up to class only to disrespect their teachers and refuse to participate. I understand now that both sides seem to misinterpret the intentions of the other, but at the time San Marin had not seemed like a place that would prepare me for life and college.

Through NOVA, I have found a joy in learning again. When I may have had a tough week, my teacher tends to notice and follow up with me. Without other students to compare myself to, I have only my own standards to work towards and a teacher to push me to do my personal best work. Having fewer classes to attend everyday, I have had the opportunity to take classes at Santa Rosa Junior College to prepare myself my for my future years in college by first hand experiencing a college level class with full-time college students as my classmates.

Transferring to NOVA has allowed me to find a balance of independent study and traditional education where I feel that I am actually being properly prepared for my future. I found an administration really dedicated to supporting their students to push them to their fullest potential.