Walking into their brand new school in 2007, students at Dougherty Valley High School realized they'd be creating a legacy. Three years later, they've set some things in motion, and hope their "new traditions" will remain.
Ask any student, parent or teacher about those traditions and it's likely the first thing they'll mention is academic excellence. With good reason, too: with an above average academic performance index (API) of 905 out of a possible 1000, Dougherty Valley is not only the top scoring high school in Contra Costa County -- it's one of the 20 highest scoring schools in the state.
Beyond those scores, however, the seniors at DVHS had a unique set of opportunities and challenges. When they walked through the doors as sophomores, recalled senior Joey Aiello, there were no existing student organizations of any kind. They and the freshmen that entered the school at the same time had to build everything from the ground up.
"There was no president of this club or that club," Aiello said. "There were all these responsibilities that had to be filled and we just had to step up."
Medina Akbar, for example, made the tennis team, even though she'd never even touched a tennis rackuet before.
"We had these opportunities, things we couldn't even think about doing," Akbar said.
Aiello became captain of the water polo team without ever having played.
Arya Minaie said being part of fledgling activities of every sort -- from clubs to sports to academics -- made everyone work harder. Minaie called that a "contagious vibe."
Those first two classes, now juniors and seniors, laid the groundwork for a campus of inclusion. The sophomores who walked through Dougherty Valley's doors two years ago had been through the usual treatment of freshmen at other high schools, where being "egged" is a ritual, and decided to not carry that with them.
"Traditions can be good or bad," Minaie said. "I can't think of any tradition we have that undermines anyone."
While most high school students gravitate into cliques, those first students at Dougherty Valley were all in the same boat -- new kids at a new school -- and made friends outside their usual circles.
Aellio, for example, is president of the school's National Honors Society. Minaie is captain of the football team, and Akbar comes from the artsy side of the spectrum, but their shared experience has brought them and their classmates together.
"If we were at Monte Vista, we probably wouldn't be here talking," Minaie said.
That's something they've tried to pass along.
"No one's afraid to be who they are at this school," Akbar said. "At other schools, kids just want to fit in."
"You don't know what class a kid is in," Aiello added. "The kids meld a lot better. I have friends that are freshmen and sophomores."
The school's campus is immaculate, and the students mean to keep it that way.
"It was kind of an institutional tradition that kids at other schools would just throw their trash anywhere," Aiello said. "When the first guy did it here, we said, 'Hey!'"
There's also a sense of friendship between the students and teachers. Some of that, Minaie explained, is because the teachers are young. Plus, he said, "they listen -- that's weird."
Teachers are younger and tech-savvy, the three seniors agreed. Technology is everywhere at the school, with smart classrooms equipped with ceiling-mounted video projectors. PowerPoint presentations have become routine, and the school that was once ridiculed by others who said Dougherty isn't a real high school -- because it hadn't had any graduates -- is now the one they envy.
"We are like the role model," Akbar said.
Being the first generation at the school has given the seniors an opportunity to pick the traditions that they hope will be passed down. Minaie said he's not afraid of borrowing from other schools.
"I take every good idea, put it together and try to bring it here," he said.
The school is racially mixed: 30 percent Caucasian, 20 percent Chinese, 18 percent Asian Indian, 7 percent Hispanic, 7 percent African American and 2 percent Japanese.
"I think the minority is the majority here," Minaie joked, adding, "You don't even think about it now."
And, like all schools, it's not without its disciplinary problems, as witnessed one recent morning when two students were sent to Principal Denise Hibbard's office. Still, high standards are the norm, and Hibbard gives much of the credit to the seniors and juniors.
"They've set some of their own standards about what is acceptable and what is not," Hibbard said.
The school will graduate 238 seniors, a far cry from the five students who graduated in 1914 from the San Ramon Valley Union High School, with classes held in a cottage, then upstairs at the local Odd Fellows Hall. San Ramon Valley High School opened in 1917, and all students in the San Ramon Valley attended that Danville school until Monte Vista High opened on the Danville/Alamo border in 1965. Del Amigo High in Danville opened its doors in 1969 and California High opened in San Ramon in 1973.
Those are established now and Dougherty Valley is the new kid on the block, with all the possibilities for success and failure those other schools have already been through.
Aiello is off to UCLA this fall, with Minaie headed to UC Berkeley and Akbar starting at Diablo Valley College, with plans to transfer to Berkeley. They're already planning to come back to the school, and although it's a long way off, they're already looking forward to their 10-year reunion, to see which of their new traditions are part of the school.