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Missy Yavasile is Helping Students to Succeed

Sep 27, 2018 11:00AM ● By Jordan Venema

Reaching New Horizons

October 2018
Story by Jordan Venema
Photo by Kelli Avila

IN THIS 21ST CENTURY, and the fast pace of social media and access to information, children seem to be getting older sooner, but that doesn’t mean the transition into young adulthood isn’t difficult. Thankfully, one Visalia woman has started a program to help graduating seniors soar.

Even while children seem to be getting older sooner, Missy Yavasile seems to suffer from the opposite problem, and is growing younger with age. At least retirement isn’t slowing her down. After Yavasile returned from education in 2009, she started SOAR College Planning a year later. 

“I wasn’t even home a year and I knew I couldn’t retire,” Yavasile says with a laugh. “And even though I’m retired from the public schools, I still consider myself to be an educator.” 

Having already dedicated her life to students, Yavasile is helping students navigate the application process to four-year universities. 

Originally from Tulare, where she was Miss Tulare County in 1967, Yavasile studied in the Bay Area, where she met her husband and began teaching in Pleasanton. 

“But I always wanted to come back because I didn’t like being cold. I liked being barefoot in the evenings,” says Yavasile.

In the 1970s she and her husband returned to the Visalia area, where she began teaching elementary school at Willow Glen. But
she later found her niche, she said, when she started teaching
middle school.

But Yavasile was not a woman to stay in one place very long. “Whenever I got tired of doing something, I just did something different. So the natural progression was middle school to high school.” 

Yavasile became a high school counselor, but soon discovered she could counsel students better in the classroom than in an office, and Yavasile, a former dancer, used the opportunity to start a dance program at Redwood High School.

“I really like to start new things and build them up, and I get into a spot where I get bored and want to start something new and make things better. When I first moved to Visalia there weren’t many options for dance, so I started my own dance studio, which was Visalia Dance Center.”

She eventually sold the studio, which would become Dancers Edge, but during her tenure at Redwood High School, the principal approached her and asked if she would start a program.

“Well, yeah, of course,” said Yavasile, though her condition was to pick the teacher and curriculum. The program found immediate success.

“When it first started, Redwood would have kids from Golden West and Mt. Whitney to participate in the program,” says Yavasile, but today each Visalia high school has its own dance program. 

“That’s my MO,” says Yavasile. “I like to start things and build them big.”

After establishing a successful high school dance program, Yavasile met with superintendents to explore expanding the program to elementary and middle schools, but she was asked if she would consider starting an independent study program.

“Without even discussing it I said OK, and turned in my application and got the job,” says Yavasile. “I started with 12 students who were all from a group home. I had a secretary and one teacher, and by Christmas that first year we had 50 kids.” 

Yavasile says the independent study program gave her the opportunity to meet students’ individual needs. She started elective classes, guitar, choir, and of course a dance program. When a pregnant student dropped out after giving birth, she started childcare. 

“And since I retired they’ve done a really good job growing out of demand, and it meets the needs of a variety of kids” – kids, she says, who are the square pegs otherwise forced into a round hole – “and the traditional high school is the round hole.”

Even after having worked with students from across the spectrum, her students in SOAR are a new frontier for Yavasile.

“This is a whole different kind of kid,” she agrees, now that she is working with students aspiring to a four-year university.  “But I saw that it was always something kids needed.”  

Through SOAR, Yavasile reviews essays, advises on classes, matches students with schools and helps them prepare their expectations. And like many of the programs she starts, it grew from just a handful of students and “got bigger and bigger and bigger,” she says.

What comes next? “I’m old so I have lots of time to do different things,” she jokes. But really, she wants to finish what she started, while “I don’t want to have to say no to anybody.”

“So I don’t know what will be next,” she says, though she also admits that SOAR wasn’t on the horizon, either. But there’s a good chance that whatever Yavasile does, she’ll be dedicating herself to helping students succeed. • 

SOAR College Planning • 725 W. Main St., Visalia

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