Education center offers alternative resources for independent study

This classroom at the Sierra Hills Education Center in San Andreas offers students resources for independent study from kindergarten through grade 12.

Since 1980, the Sierra Hills Education Center has provided local students with the opportunity to earn their high school diplomas through independent study at their own pace.

But until this year, Sierra Hills never had its very own learning space.

When Gold Strike High School recently moved to the Calaveras High School campus, its old facility became available. Sierra Hills has now made Gold Strike’s former facility its very own.

On Aug. 2, Sierra Hills held an open house to celebrate the grand opening of its new learning space just off of Gold Strike Road in San Andreas.

Principal Rene Malamed pulled chocolate chip cookies out of the oven of the center’s full kitchen as the crowd filtered into the building. These were placed on a counter along with fruit smoothies for guests to enjoy as they admired the new facility.

“(We’re) very excited,” Malamed said. “We’ve enrolled some new families this week, and our families that have been with us in years past are showing up, and they’re excited to see the facility and happy that (students) can come here and do their work.”

Calaveras Unified School District board member Sherri Reusche also attended the grand opening.

“There’s all kinds of resources here for students to be successful,” Reusche said. “It allows students to come and be a part of our district, and still do sports, and still have all of the benefits of the campus.”

Malamed explained how the independent study program will work.

“It’s an alternative school, and it’s a kindergarten through 12 independent study, so we’re still part of Calaveras Unified. Students are still learning based on the Common Core State Standards, the district-adopted curriculum,” she said. “We also offer an online curriculum, so they can do online coursework. They have to meet with us at least once a week and complete their 20 hours of schoolwork minimum to earn their attendance.”

Enrollment is open to any student in the area, Malamed said.

“Anyone can attend here, (kindergarten) through 12, it just depends on if we have an opening, and we usually have a waitlist,” she said. “We have students with disabilities, IEPs, health needs, or they work part-time and they need a flexible schedule, or they just want to work at their own pace, rather than in a traditional classroom setting.”

Malamed said that Sierra Hills students frequently graduated earlier than their peers.

“We have less elective requirements, so students are able to do their diploma requirements with us at a quicker pace, and it’s self-paced, too, so they can work ahead,” she said.

Malamed was excited that students now have a place to gather.

“It’s always been independent study students working at home on their own, so this is the first year where we have an actual education center for students,” she said. “They can come here and have a place to be, a place to work with others, a place to have Wi-Fi; access to Chromebooks; access to meals.”

The center will be open Monday through Thursday, Malamed said.

“We follow basic school bus hours, so pretty much 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., because they’re able to access transportation as a CUSD student,” she said.

Malamed also teaches at Sierra Hills.

“It’s just myself teaching part-time and one full-time teacher, so (this year) we’ll be able to carry about 40 students,” she said.

Teacher Kari Goldsmith, who has taught independent study for about six years, was also excited about the new facility.

“I’m super excited about this,” Goldsmith said. “It’s the direction that we have wanted to go for awhile, and we finally just had the opportunity presented to … make it all happen.”

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Reporter

Noah Berner has lived in Calaveras County most of his life, and graduated from University of California, Santa Cruz with a degree in history.

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