Sierra School of San Diego2024-06-14T09:31:02-04:00

Sierra School of San Diego

Sierra School of San Diego (formerly Sierra Academy & Springall Academy) provides an intensive, structured, individualized special education program aimed at strengthening each student’s academic and organizational skills, social and emotional abilities, sense of responsibility, job skills, and self-esteem. Our goal is get our students to the point where they can successfully reenter “mainstream” schools and the community. All students are encouraged, nurtured, respected, and supported in achieving their full potential in an enriching, positive environment.

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  • (P) 619.460.5090
  • (F) 619.460.5091
  • 6460 Boulder Lake Avenue
    San Diego, CA 92119
Home > Our Locations > Sierra Schools of California > Sierra School of San Diego

The Perfect Fit!

I have never seen a kid more excited to go to school every day…I am proud to call Sierra School of San Diego Christopher’s home away from home. The program is amazing. The staff is exceptional. The administration is easy to deal with and so supportive. It is truly the perfect fit.

Chris' Mom, Sierra San Diego Parent
Sierra School of San Diego has been around since 1972. We have great relationships with the districts and a great success rate of transitioning students back to the district. Our rotation model, behavior/level system works well with our population. We provide an intensive, structured, individualized special education program aimed at strengthening each student’s academic and organizational skills, social and emotional abilities, sense of responsibility, and self-esteem. Our goal is get our students to the point where they can successfully reenter “mainstream” schools and the community. All students are encouraged, nurtured, respected, and supported in achieving their full potential in an enriching, positive environment.

We teach social skills, life skills, transitioning from school to life, and small group instruction. We collaborate with speech therapists, occupational therapists and counselors to ensure students receive the instruction and interventions they need.

Our Students

Students are referred by their school district and are generally in grades 1–12 (aged 6 to 21). They face disabilities in a variety of areas, including Autism, Intellectual Disability, Emotional Disability, Other Health Impairments, Specific Learning Disability, and more.

Our Staff

We are proud to employ certified special education teachers and provide Occupational Therapy, Speech and Language Therapy, Counseling, Job Coaching, BCBA, Behavior Specialist, and PRO Act Training (Crisis Intervention).

Founded in behavioral science, SESI’s CASE (Considerate, Accountable, Safe, Engaged) approach uses a multi-tiered, positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS)* framework to increase socially appropriate behaviors for all students in our standalone schools and in-district classrooms, regardless of their behavioral needs. We define what it means to be considerate, accountable, safe, and engaged across all settings, and use these expectations to guide all aspects of behavioral support.

Students and staff are considerate of their environment, themselves, and each other. Everyone is treated with kindness, patience, and respect.

Students and staff are accountable for their actions and own their behaviors by taking responsibility for their decisions.

Students and staff are safe and engage in behaviors that keep themselves and others secure and calm.

Students and staff stay engaged and complete tasks and activities when asked. Everyone takes pride in their work and gives their best effort.

By focusing on key areas — academics, behavior modifications, support services, and transition / life planning services — we are able to meet the individual needs of all students through these varied approaches to instruction. Through collaboration with a student’s IEP team, we are able to choose the most appropriate learning model based on a given student’s present levels of performance, social capabilities, motor coordination, and ability to learn in a group setting.

Utilizing four specific instructional rotations, students are assessed academically, gain self-regulation skills, learn with district-aligned academic curriculums, and utilize integrated technology.

Serving students with significant autism and developmental disabilities, our model takes learned skills and practically applies them to the multiple environments in which a student would use those skills. Students spends portions of their day rotating through different modalities of instruction, the length and the frequency of each rotation is individuality designed for each learner and based on their current skills and future goals.

Each student enrolled in the model has individualized behavior programming which is driven by Functional Behavioral Assessments (FBA). We aim to identify the behaviors that continue to disrupt our student’s ability to access their environment and learning. We then use the data collected from the FBA and classroom data to device strategies that get to the root function of the students disrupted behaviors.

Sierra School of San Diego offers therapeutic supports on many different levels. Students are supported in and out of the classroom with a full range of therapeutic interventions that address social/emotional needs. We provide a safe space for all students to learn academically, behaviorally and social-emotionally.

Our school counselor focuses on helping students develop age-appropriate social and emotional skills, especially those that pertain to improving classroom functioning. Further, our counselor concentrates on the personal development of each student to increase self-esteem, improve interpersonal interaction, and enhance school and community performance. Our focus on the acquisition of appropriate social skills utilizes activity-based lessons to teach students how to cooperate with others, make positive choices, accept responsibility, and peacefully resolve conflicts. As part of our program we offer Individual Counseling, Group Counseling, Social Skills/Team Work Group, and a School Wide Behavior Modification Program.

Individual Counseling:

Our Counselor meets with individuals on a weekly or bi-weekly basis per their Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Individual counseling focuses on a variety of topics such as coping strategies, social emotional development, problem solving and effective communication skills. This supportive, confidential environment provides a safe place for students to feel heard. In addition, students can make appointments to see the Counselor. Students have the option to discuss at anytime their IEP, 4 year High School Plan, credits, job placement, dual enrollment or just to problem-solve.

Group Counseling:

Group Counseling may be conducted in the classroom environment or in the counseling office. Our Focus groups include students whom are placed together to work in similar areas of need. Some of our focus group topics include: social skills, character counts, anger management, teamwork, goal setting and self-advocacy. Groups may be conducted in collaboration with our Speech and Language Pathologist and our Occupational Therapist.

Social Skills/Team Work:

Students attend a social skills/team work group on a weekly basis. Our specialists incorporate games and physical activities to help students in these groups develop pro social skills and cooperative play behaviors with an emphasis on teamwork.

School-Wide Behavior Modification Program:

A school-wide behavioral program forms the basis for promoting positive school behaviors and the development of appropriate social skills. Our staff members are trained in crisis intervention and behavioral modification, with the goal of maximizing students’ feelings of personal efficacy and self-management abilities. Through our behavioral program, students learn to exhibit positive behaviors, which allow them to be available for academic instruction.

To enable our students to make the most of learning opportunities, Sierra incorporates various support services to supplement our core programs. These services, combined with our highly specialized, state-approved academic curriculum, provide a comprehensive educational experience that is individualized to optimally meet the specific needs of each student.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy (OT) helps students with sensory, perceptual, and motor skills so they can better meet the daily demands of their environment. The specific areas the Occupational Therapist addresses are self-care skills, sensory processing skills, fine and gross motor skills, handwriting skills, visual perceptual/visual motor skills, keyboarding skills, and self-regulation. The majority of students who receive OT services are seen on an individual basis. However, group therapy treatments do occur. Our Occupational Therapist is also responsible for educating, training and collaborating with teachers and staff so that everyone understands the students’ individual OT needs.

Sierra School of San Diego has a school wide sensory motor program. This program is a very important asset, as it has allowed children the freedom and ability to take sensory motor breaks throughout their school day, helping them function better in the classroom. Students are encouraged to take sensory breaks and to use the sensory tools or other sensory strategies. This program has helped the children who require a sensory diet the freedom to use sensory strategies as a part of their daily schedule.

Students who have communication goals will participate in our Communication Program. They will have scheduled sessions with the Speech and Language Pathologist, and they might be seen individually or within a small, peer group setting. Most communication students have a session one or two times each week. Some of them will also have a communication session in their classroom (push-in), where the objective is to work in collaboration with the staff while implementing effective learning strategies and tools that coincide with the curriculum. The Speech and Language Pathologist strives to work closely with other paraprofessionals to help achieve students’ social and academic success.

Targeted Skills

We work on a lot of different skills in the program. Each student’s goals determine which skills will receive concentration. Skill areas in our Communication Program include but are not limited to: vocabulary and categories; grammar; creating stories; learning to describe and explain things students know; sequencing (learning how to put things in order, like relating a story or experience in linear/chronological order); problem-solving; conversation; teamwork and social thinking skills; speech sounds; stuttering reduction; organized thinking; and improved memory (especially via visualization, or learning make “memory pictures” in one’s mind).

Speech and Language Therapy

What Students Can Expect

When students meet program goals, they are granted bonus sessions called “earned activity days,” when they get to pick the activity for the session themselves—this can be a game, a puzzle, or just talking with each other, going for a walk in the community, even shooting hoops or playing at the local park.

Students can expect the Speech and Language Pathologist to have a sense of humor and be willing to listen (when there is enough time, or even later if need be). Students can also expect her to be fun, yet strict, and to work with them to meet their full social and academic potential. The Speech and Language Pathologist will do her best to make the instruction worthwhile and personally meaningful for each of the students—letting them know that their efforts are appreciated, whether or not they get everything exactly correct. And, as described above, there will be incentives for students who try to meet program expectations. The Speech and Language Pathologist will help out if students are having a hard time communicating something, and will always try to see the student’s point of view.

Extracurricular activities are what make us extra-special! Available opportunities change based on the interests and needs of the students, but here are a few examples from the recent school years.

Meet & Greet

One day at the beginning of the school year, we hold our annual Meet & Greet Day. This is an opportunity for caregivers, families, and friends of students to tour the campus and see the classrooms. Our staff is available to answer questions, and we usually host a short presentation to introduce the program as well.

Senior Week

Senior Week consists of four days of special activities just for our student graduates. Students vote on which activities to have each day. Past graduating classes have decided to have a Senior Picnic on the beach, Movie Day, and a trip to Disneyland! These activities can get expensive, so the senior class held a car wash and snack sales throughout the year. They successfully raised all the money needed for these special events.


On Graduation Day, students completing their high school program participate in graduation ceremonies. Families and friends are invited to celebrate this special occasion. Caps, gowns, and tassels are provided by Sierra School of San Diego. Participating in the ceremony is very special to all of us.

CAPSES Sports League

We are one of the founding schools that participate in the CAPSES (California Association of Private Special Education Schools) Sports League. We are proud to have a flag football team, a basketball team, and a softball team that compete against the other teams in our league. Many of our students are outstanding athletes, so joining a team is a wonderful way to showcase their talents.

Girls’ Group

Girls’ Group is about the fun, friendship, and empowerment that result when girls band together. This group is so enjoyable for our girls that they don’t realize it’s also a learning experience. Group pursuits include: participation in the Big Sister/Little Sister program, peer tutoring, cheering on our teams at sporting events, and bi-monthly meetings. This is an incredible platform that allows girls to connect to female staff and form lifelong relationships with other girls in the school.

Community Garden

Sierra School of San Diego is the home of the San Carlos Community Garden. This partnership allows us the opportunity for an outdoor classroom, rare-fruit tree orchard, herb garden, quiet work area, composting bins, pumpkin patch, and everything else you can imagine a garden has to offer. Each classroom has their own garden bed to grow vegetables and spices. The crops are used in cooking lessons in our student kitchen. Even if you don’t have a green thumb, you might enjoy working in our community garden!





Spirit Week

At Sierra School, we believe it is never too early to create a concrete plan for generalizing the learning that takes place on campus to the greater community! Because a “transition” can happen at any time in a student’s life, all students participate in our Work Experience Program.

Our Work Experience Program encompasses many areas: classroom instruction, community activities, and links to support services. Specific examples include but are not limited to: field trips, guest speakers, independent living skills instruction, cooking, budgeting, college tours, and much more! After being in our Work Experience Program, our graduating seniors leave with a transition portfolio, encompassing all of their successes in this program.

One of our students’ favorite activities, our Work Experience Program provides practical experiences and skills through on-campus jobs, in preparation for off-campus employment. Having firsthand work experience under their belts is a critical component of teaching students what is required to be a good and productive employee. For the 14th year in a row, Sierra was awarded a WorkAbility 1 grant to support our transition efforts.

WorkAbility 1 Program

WorkAbility 1 (“WorkAbility”) is a state program that was established in 1981 as a result of a successful two-year pilot study to help special education students gain work experience and skills. Its mission is “to promote the involvement of key stakeholders including students, educators, employers, and other agencies in planning and implementing an array of services that will culminate in successful student transition to employment, lifelong learning, and quality of life.” Sierra School began to participate in WorkAbility program in 1997 because of our similar philosophy – taking a holistic approach to educating students, and assessing each one as a whole, helping student reach their goals both on and off the school campus. As part of the WorkAbility Program, each student has a transition binder that is kept in the Guidance Center. The binder holds a collection of transition-related documents and work that each student can use as a tool, and take with them after they leave Sierra and enter the workforce.

What exactly is the WorkAbility all about?

WorkAbility promotes independent living and provides comprehensive pre-employment, employment, worksite training, and follow-up services for special education students who are making the transition from school to work, postsecondary education, or training. Specifically, WorkAbility provides special education students (aged 16–22) with the opportunity to complete their secondary education while also obtaining marketable job skills.

How is WorkAbility funded?

WorkAbility is funded by a federal grant administered by the California State Department of Education.

How does Sierra School personnel offer assistance to the students in the WorkAbility Program?

The school provides the following staffing in the form of a Vocational Education Team (VET) to implement the program: Transition Coordinator, Transition Assistant, Curriculum Coordinator, Guidance Counselor, Specialist Teachers, and Job Coaches.

What does WorkAbility offer prospective employers?

  • Students who have been screened and prepared for employment
  • Ongoing monitoring provided by Sierra personnel
  • 30–90 hours of training that can be subsidized by Sierra
  • Future trained employees who have proven themselves

What are the advantages to our students?

  • Job development/placement services
  • Support and encouragement from staff
  • Pay for job training
  • Opportunity to gain work experience
  • Assessments of vocational interests and skills

What are the possible outcomes/goals of participating in WorkAbility?

  • Students will obtain competitive employment
  • Students will become successful, productive, and contributing members of the community
  • Students build self-esteem through reinforced positive behavior

Listed below are current and past employer partnerships with Sierra School:

  • Sea World
  • GameStop
  • Original Pancake House
  • Foot Locker
  • Albertsons
  • Einstein Bagels
  • Jo-Ann Fabrics
  • Mission Trails Park and Recreation

Recent School Events & Stories