The Coast News Group
Monica Lee has taught responsibility training at Valley High School for more than 10 years. Courtesy photo
Monica Lee has taught responsibility training at Valley High School for more than 10 years. Courtesy photo

Valley High educator helps students change mindsets

ESCONDIDO — Monica Lee, a lead educator of Valley High School’s responsibility training program, has left a lasting impression on her students for over a decade.

As a teacher of the continuation high school’s program, Lee helps many students better value themselves, their education and the community by developing organizational skills, positive habits and other restorative practices that provide students with purpose in learning.

“It’s a mindset change,” Lee said.

Every student transferred to Valley High School must complete the 9-week course. Many of these students deal with factors outside of school that they can’t control, like family problems, poverty or pressure from gangs. 

“We teach them coping strategies,” Lee said. “We also teach them about mindfulness and self-care, that it’s okay not to be okay, and if you’re not okay, we’re going to support you here on our campus.”

Some of Lee’s students have made poor choices, but the course helps students overcome those mistakes.

“We talk about dealing with responding to failure,” said Lee. “We talk about our failures so that we know that we’re not alone. We aim to show students that somebody believes in them because sometimes they don’t believe in themselves.”

Many of Lee’s students learn a lot about themselves throughout the class. While the students may not have cared as much for school beforehand, many realize how much they want to graduate and move forward after taking the course.

Teaching the class has also helped Lee realize her passion for the course and what its lessons mean for her students.

After four years as a substitute in the class, Lee took over the responsibility training program in 2012 from predecessor Steve Atwood, who taught the program for years. Lee’s work in the course eventually earned her the California Continuation Education Association Teacher of the Year. 

Before taking over the program, Lee worked for eight years as an Advanced Via Individual Determination tutor at several school districts after graduating from San Pasqual High School. AVID prepares students, particularly those who are underrepresented, for college eligibility.

Though Lee felt she was a mediocre high school student who didn’t see much purpose in some of her classes, her path led her to earn a degree from the California State University of San Marcos and a teaching position at Valley High. She previously dreamed of becoming a Hollywood actress, but watching Atwood work with students inspired her to change pathways.

“There isn’t a day I don’t want to be here,” Lee said. “When I can’t be here, I still try to be here.”

Lee is currently mentoring Charlie Mejia, a new educator hired to help facilitate more responsibility training classes.

“It’s great to have a new teacher come in with the same passion,” Lee said.

The responsibility training program has also brought back former students as AVID tutors, many of whom are currently pursuing college degrees with intentions to teach at Valley High. Lee enjoys seeing former students out in the community thriving following graduation.

Outside of her work in the program, Lee runs the Rotary Interact Club on campus and a popular “All About Me” weekly cooking class after school. She has also coached football, basketball and soccer teams over the years.

“I’m always trying to get my students involved in the community,” she said. “I think it’s important to give back. I was brought up to do that.”