- August 19, 2021
The brand-new-school smell at Lake Buena Vista High won’t last for long, but it was evident the week before school started as hundreds of Vipers and their parents descended on the hallways for the first time.
There’s usually a buzz of excitement surrounding a new school year, but it’s multiplied tenfold when you factor in the excitement of opening a new school.
Lake Buena Vista High officially opened its doors to students Tuesday, Aug. 10, but students and families had multiple opportunities to get acquainted with their new stomping grounds before the big day arrived.
The inaugural Vipers had their first chance to check out the new school July 27, when staff hosted a new-student orientation called Strike Zone. For a few hours, students were invited to tour the campus, meet classmates, get to know their teachers and grab their schedules.
Next, it was the entire community’s turn to get to know its new school Aug. 2 at the community sneak peek. Students also had the opportunity to walk the campus and meet their teachers — as well as enjoy a welcome and orientation presentation — Aug. 5.
Inaugural principal Dr. Guy Swenson has been waiting for the building to come to life ever since it was move-in ready. The hallways and courtyard are decked out in blue and red, the band and athletics programs already are underway, and the staff has spent months preparing for all of it. Their main goal, Swenson said, is getting the incoming freshmen, sophomores and juniors connected to their new school. New high schools don’t open with seniors.
“The truth is freshmen are excited to be here — they don’t know any different, and the sophomores were in COVID heaven last year, so they don’t know what ‘real (high school)’ looks like,” Swenson joked. “But the juniors would rather be at their home school they’ve been at for two years. That has nothing to do with LBV, that’s just the nature of things: ‘Why am I going to this different school?’
“We’ve been thinking a lot like, ‘How do we win them over?’ knowing full well we’ll probably win a lot of them over but there will be some that are stuck for a while,” he said. “The fun is just, ‘How can we create something from scratch where we aren’t held to whatever that tradition is?’”
That’s where finding unique offerings and establishing a robust and diverse curriculum came into play. Lake Buena Vista High offers most everything other Orange County Public Schools high schools do, from rigorous academics to a host of extracurriculars, but something that really sets it apart is its social-justice academy.
When Swenson and his team first began forming the shell for Lake Buena Vista High, he knew they would be serving a diverse group of students. For him, fostering an environment of equity and inclusivity is a key player in each student’s success. One piece of that is the Viper Social Justice Academy.
“It’s just really important that the school as an institution represents and mirrors the students who are going to the school,” Swenson said in a December interview.
The VSJA is a humanities-based interdisciplinary program that seeks to examine the world we live in through the lens of social justice. The overarching goal is for students to learn to recognize and respond to the inequitable nature of today’s world.
Staff will assist students in applying the lessons of tolerance, fairness and equality to the texts and topics of study. The hope is that students will further instill within themselves a lifelong commitment to becoming responsible, caring, open-minded citizens devoted for the betterment of the community.
It follows a cohort concept in which students will be cohorted for English and social studies — two subjects they will study through the lens of social justice. Specific cohorted courses include AICE English language, AICE English literature, global perspectives, world history, AICE U.S. history, Advanced Placement government/economics, and AICE General Paper.
Those enrolled in the VSJA program are expected to complete 140 hours of outreach to help better the community. Other benefits to the academy include fostering a greater understanding of the community in which we live, experiential learning, exclusive field trips, and a college and career focus.
“I think so often in our current society that people just don’t value other people’s cultures, and that’s a message I want to get across: I value every single one of the cultures that’s going to be here,” Swenson said. “We have white and black students, we’ll have Haitian, we will have Hispanic. We’re going to have all of it, and I’m really working hard to make sure that they understand that they’re all my students — every single one — and we want to create a place here where they can all have a seat at the table.”