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How Simi Valley Unified School District Prepares Students For Real Life

By Pamela Sosnowski

As the second largest school district in Ventura County, Simi Valley Unified School District (SVUSD) educates most of the area's students from their first day of kindergarten to their high school graduation. There are 21 elementary schools alone in SVUSD, in addition to three middle schools, four high schools, one adult school, and one independent study school.

However, it's not just its size that makes the district impressive; it's the commitment to help its students excel in college and beyond. Jake Finch, SVUSD's Public Relations and Resource Developer, says, "Our district is focused on having our students leave our schools ready for colleges and careers. Over the years, our students have consistently graduated from our high schools and gone into the best colleges and universities, [and] have become physicians, dentists, attorneys, business executives, industry leaders, politicians, scientists, educators, writers, entertainment professionals, and more."

Its vast size has awarded the district multitudes of state and federal grants, which go directly into supporting an array of specialized student programs. One of these programs, Pathways, enables students to explore a career path in more depth by taking dedicated courses that focus on an industry - such as health sciences, engineering, business, or the performing arts.

"These courses all have local industry professionals involved, who provide lectures, field trips, work-study options, internships, and general networking," says Finch. "We connect with area colleges and universities to develop seamless transitions from middle and high school into colleges and universities and then careers."

SVUSD also offers a Junior Air Force ROTC program, International Baccalaureate courses, Advanced Placement Seminar, and Honors classes. Additionally, the schools offer the Ronald Reagan Citizen's Scholar Institute, a partnership with the former President's library, which encourages students to participate actively in their community by fostering service opportunities, including individual projects. The program also invites lecturers, such as Senators Olympia Snowe of Maine and Cory Booker of New Jersey, to meet with students, and requires participation in the governments of both the school and the city.

The district's students and staff also make positive contributions to the surrounding communities. Elementary school students perform seasonal songs for local senior citizens each holiday season, and community service projects, scout troops, and clubs enable students of all ages to get involved with their neighborhoods. "Our schools are a direct reflection of our community, and we are proud of what we do," explains Finch.

Throughout the year SVUSD hosts several volunteer-run events and fundraisers that benefit the individual schools. The Simi Valley Education Foundation also raises money through galas, parties, golf tournaments, special fundraisers and private donations that are returned to the student community in the form of scholarships and teacher grants that help instructors obtain additional needed materials for their classes. Many community organizations also regularly support the district including the town's three Rotary Clubs, Kiwanis, Boys & Girls Club, Chamber of Commerce and others.

"The bottom line," says Finch, "is that we have a community that values public education, and it works hard to prove it."

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