San Lorenzo Valley High students learn team building

By:  Erin Kelly-Allshouse, Santa Cruz Sentinel

So much of life is about balance — falling out of balance — then getting up again and maintaining that balance to be successful.

This was the message that San Lorenzo Valley High School Principal Karen van Putten imparted to 55 students with the Advancement Via Individual Determination elective program. The students were dressed in wetsuits and poised to learn stand-up paddleboarding at Cowell Beach on Tuesday.

“Learning to stand up on a paddleboard is very metaphoric for me in life,” van Putten said. “I want these students to understand that any discomfort they have is part of risk taking.”

“Our first challenge is to paddle out to the kelp beds and pop up on our feet,” van Putten shouted to a circle of students who were standing by their boards and preparing to head out in the ocean.

With leashes in hand and boards in tow, the students ventured out for their first time and started to paddle their way to the kelp beds as a group. Two instructors and 10 volunteers were close by to assist.


San Lorenzo Valley High students stroke for deeper water on their stand-up paddleboards Tuesday. (Dan Coyro — Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Katelyn Shelton, a ninth-grader said she was sure the experience was going to help because it meant taking a risk. “I’m ready to take this risk and more risks in my life, too,” she said.

Remi Dirck, a 10th-grader who just joined the elective program last week, said it’s all about perseverance. “Getting in the water is like going into high school; getting up on the board is like getting through high school then going to college. It’s a challenge but I’m up for it,” Dirck said of stand-up paddleboarding as he headed out into the ocean.

The elective program is a global nonprofit organization with the goal to hold students accountable to high academic standards and give social support for college readiness and success. It builds on a more than 30-year history and impacts thousands of students in the U.S. including more than 1,400 schools in California.

The elective program at San Lorenzo Valley High targets middle “B,” “C” and even “D” students — who have the desire to go to college and the willingness to work hard. “Typically these kids will be the first in their families to attend college and are capable of completing a rigorous curriculum but are falling short of their potential,” van Putten said. The program challenged them to enroll in their school’s toughest honors and AP classes.

After two hours in the ocean and even spotting a whale up close, van Putten said she felt very proud of the students. She said she hoped the students would have more of a growth mindset about overcoming the unknown in the future. “It was an epic day of fun and learning; they really bonded out there,” van Putten said. “Their mindset now is: ‘I can do it.’”

The group of enthusiastic underclassmen exited the water to process their experience and celebrate together over a brown bag lunch on the beach.


San Lorenzo Valley High Principal Karen van Putten lays down the basics to her students for a stand-up paddleboard session at Cowell Beach on Tuesday morning. (Dan Coyro — Santa Cruz Sentinel)

“I was expecting it to be really difficult,” said 10th-grader Ben Murphy. “I was surprised how easy I was able to pop up and stay balanced. I just kept paddling and kept going toward the kelp beds.”

Van Putten said she wanted each of the students to know they have a program “tool box” for when their lives fall out of balance. “Life is a balancing act and high school is a perfect crucible in terms of practicing balance. Learning takes risk and that takes trust,” van Putten said.

Rile Hoagland, a 10th-grader, said it was a really fun experience. “I overcame the challenge of getting up on the board and trying my best to stay balanced. Even though I fell in, I still felt a sense of accomplishment because I climbed right back up because I knew what to do. After today, I am able to overcome obstacles in school and personally,” Hoagland said


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