Public Safety

Probation School Educator Among Teachers of the Year

There is a place for some of the county’s most high-risk teenagers to go for all sorts of help. It’s a school called Reflections and it’s run by the County Probation department. Reflections is also a day treatment center for the youth who suffer from mental illness, are on probation and have a family in crisis. For their own good, the court orders the teenagers to attend Reflections.

Imagine teaching there. That’s a tough job and yet, one stand-out educator was named one of five County Teachers of the Year. Her name is Alicia McBride and she has a way with these troubled kids. She was given her award at the annual Salute to Teachers event on Oct 1.

“This program is really exceptional,” said McBride. “I work with some of the most at-risk students in San Diego County. Many of these students have given up on the system. They have given up on themselves. It is my mission to provide these students with the necessary skills and confidence to reengage in learning,” McBride said on her application.

Initially McBride said she was flattered by the nomination but didn’t take it seriously until a probation officer changed her mind. The officer told her that while she was certainly deserving of the award, it was not only about her, it was about the Reflections program and the important work they do with troubled adolescents. 

The court-ordered school provides wraparound services for the teenagers by providing medication, addiction counseling and other services. The campus is in an unmarked office in a business park in La Mesa and has a maximum of 55 students enrolled at one time.

One day in the classroom, the students filed in and greeted McBride respectfully as she began the day’s lessons. Their first assignment was to write in their journals a response to a quote about judging others. McBride discussed the topic with them briefly and encouraged them to write about an instance where they were wrongly judged or when they wrongly judged someone else.  

Certainly, it is a topic close to their hearts. . Usually when they start the program, the adolescents are at the end of their rope in the educational system.

Success for these students isn’t necessarily about high standardized test scores and can’t be measured the same way as a traditional school, she said. When students are mandated to attend this school, they usually resist at first. They don’t want to take the medication, and they don’t like the program or the staff.

Some of them came from violent street gangs or were accustomed to smoking spice, a legal herb that mimics cannabis.  

McBride said she looks past that all that and makes it her personal mission to connect with each student so that they will be successful.

 “Success comes in very small pieces … I have students who have never come to school five days straight before and now they come here every day,” McBride said. “The big successes are when we get a call from a student who came here three years ago and they are graduating from high school and have plans to go to college.”

Once a student connects with the staff and the program, they don’t want to leave because they’ve never had this much support before, McBride said.

Making a positive difference in the lives of these students is why McBride loves her job. Certainly, it can be challenging at times, but she reminds herself that it is even harder for the students to connect with others.

“It’s a specialty (working with these students). The people who do it, love it, and then we have substitute teachers that come in here and work a half day and say ‘I’ll never come back,’” she said.

Often, the students who leave the program are virtually unrecognizable from the person they were when they arrived.

“Now this amazing person is there that they never knew was inside of them,” McBride said.

Yvette Urrea Moe is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact