Sam H. enrolled at the Sierra School of East Valley soon after the school opened in 2021. Now a student for nearly two years, the 18-year-old says she likes her teachers, the staff and that she’s also learned a lot.

“And I’m not talking academically. Don’t get me wrong, I did learn a lot of new material that I didn’t know before. But I mostly learned how to cope, grow and mature as a person,” Sam said. “It wasn’t easy, as I was very bitter and angry when I first got here, but the staff is relentless and they kept pushing and trying with me no matter how hard I pushed back. It taught me to be more open and that not everyone is against you.

One of the special roles Sam has taken on at school is that of a “big buddy”, which allows her to visit the B.E.S.T. (Broad-based Education Services & Therapies) classroom and assist students with activities, help them with work or read to them. Sam said she wanted to be a big buddy because she could empathize with the students who have trouble communicating and wanted to understand them more and offer help any way she could.

“It feels nice being a big buddy and being able to help people who can’t communicate that well or at all,” said Sam. “It brings me joy when I start to slowly see progress in them or seeing them do something they couldn’t do before.”

With graduation on the horizon for Sam, her goal is to get a job for about a year and then head to college. She sees herself living in her own apartment one day with her cats.

“I mostly want to be able to be more independent and to live a more peaceful life,” said Sam.

In looking back at how the community at Sierra has played a role in her life over the past couple of years, Sam said that she wouldn’t be the person she is now without the school.

“Some days are way harder than others, but the community we have with each other is what I look forward to each day. I cannot express my gratitude enough to all the things the teachers and staff do for the students and what they have done for me,” she said.

Sierra School of East Valley’s programming is designed to meet the unique academic and social-emotional learning needs of each individual student. All students are encouraged, nurtured, respected, and supported in achieving their full potential in an enriching, positive environment.