15 Years of Vista: A Reflection on its History and Growth



Vista’s inaugural staff in 2007.

Elena Martin, Gavin Martinez, and Drew DeAnda

The first day of school is always stressful for students. But what about when it’s the very first day for the whole school? 

In 2006, Folsom was a town with just one high school, but as the city grew larger with more families moving in, a lack of room in the schools became concerning. “It was a big deal getting the school board to agree to a new school,” said computer science teacher Douglas Lewin. “They [felt] that it was not a good idea to have two high schools in the city and that it would create conflict.  But the community felt that having a high school with potentially 5,000 students was not a good idea. Thus, they had to find a place to put it, and there was not a lot of land in the city that was not already spoken for.” 

However, construction was more difficult than most expected. “This site, it turned out, had a lot of naturally occurring asbestos on it, so they had to do a lot of additional work to get it built.   For example, there are about 10 feet of topsoil and then a plastic barrier under the grass areas around the campus.  There are huge storage tanks under the parking lots and roads that catch all the rain runoff. These tanks hold the water so that any dirt will settle to the [bottom] of the tanks,” said Lewin. The tanks prevented the asbestos from running off and potentially polluting the local water bodies.

But before the school opened its doors, the new principal, Dr. John Dixon, had to hire a staff. Christie Wilkerson was the first teacher hired at Vista, working as a science teacher before eventually becoming the principal of Cordova Villa Elementary School.

Many of Vista’s original teachers—including Sue Baker, Kelly Hillesland, Lisa Johnson, Mark Keeton, Douglas Lewin, Vince Martini, Meggan McCall, Brian Van Velzer, and John Lusk—still teach at the school 15 years later.

Dr. Dixon and the original administration decided upon the iconic Eagle for the school mascot and navy blue and silver for the colors before much of the staff was hired. “The Vista del Lago (View of the Lake) name was a contest put on by the school board. Funny thing is that there is really only one place you can actually see the lake from campus, which is the second floor of the H [building], northeast side,” said Lewin.

“When the school first opened, our joke was “Vista del Costco,” but Dixon didn’t like that,” said Janice Johnson, a teacher who arrived in the second year.

The Early Days

On August 13, 2007, Vista del Lago High School opened its doors to teachers and students into a school not even fully completed. “Part of the campus was still being built and not open—the G building was not ready…and other classes like art were in a science classroom…We had the opportunity to build something new and special,” said the current principal Dr. Kimberly Moore. 

The first students to ever step foot in the student union

If you walked onto Vista’s campus in its first year, the number of students you would see would be much smaller. For its initial year, Vista allowed only freshmen and sophomores. However, the choice for 10th graders to come to Vista was not always easy. “All of these students had a choice to either stay at Folsom High School where they started their high school career, or they could choose to come to Vista del Lago and be a part of the new campus,” said Moore. “I know there were some students who really struggled with making that decision. In the end, I think many of the students that chose to come to Vista in those early years were really proud and excited to be a part of building the new school and traditions.  It wasn’t always easy without the upperclassmen and some of the fun traditions that exist with a full campus of 9th-12th grade students, but it was definitely memorable.” 

The small size of the school created a school very different from ours today. “Rallys that first year were not competitive at all – the students weren’t really sure how to compete in a rally – no seniors were strange. No flex times were happening. We had advisory for an hour on Mondays. We were establishing travel days (now flex). No computers were taken to school. Class sizes were smaller. Teachers weren’t hot-seated. No A/B lunch – all the same lunch. Student parking lot [was] empty – no one [was] driving yet,” said PE teacher Meggan McCall.

Despite the lack of upperclassmen and the number of teachers, the small nature of the school allowed for a unique shared high school experience for all of those attending. “We had freshmen and sophomores, and we knew almost every kid by name because we were so small. It felt like a family. There [were] about five English teachers, so we worked together closely. We all had the same vision for what we wanted Vista to be,” said English teacher Kelly Hillesland. 

The Spirit guardians watch over one of Vista’s first rallies.

First traditions

However, even the smallest schools need traditions too, from spirit weeks and parades to holidays. 

Within the first year, the administration tried to garner school spirit by having large sports games as well as a first dance called the Up and Coming Dance, a temporary substitution for homecoming because the school was brand new. On top of those, a Pasta Feed with live music from local radio station 107.9 ‘The End’ was hosted, and the first time capsule was put in, containing I-pods, coins, VHS tapes, Vista PE clothes, and staff signatures.

Yet for Vista, many of the most prominent traditions began in 2009-2010. 

For the occasion, the first homecoming parade was held that year. On Oct. 1, 2009, traveling westbound on Broadstone Parkway from Russell Ranch, a new tradition was born.

The first junior float for Vista, class of 2011

This earlier version of the homecoming parade was very different from the ones we’re so used to today. These parade floats were, to most, not a pretty sight. They were set up with whichever supplies were there and generally did not follow a theme. These are heavily contrasted to the floats that have been used in recent years, following a theme with elegant supplies. However, whether it’s a cute or ugly float, it was the school’s first chance to interact with the community.

The class of 2013 created their first float with the theme of Lucky 13. Featured on the float are Gage Huber and Arjiana Sanfilippo, two of Vista’s graduates. 



This also marked the first year of upperclassmen being present at the school. In the prior years, the school only had grades 9 and 10. After a couple of years, when the original 10th-grade students became 12th graders, Senior Sunrise got its start in the 2009-2010 school year as well, and it’s a different type of tradition since it’s student-organized. Seniors participate on the first day of school, wearing white and taking photos with each other at the lake with—you guessed it—the sunrise in the background. The reasons why they wear white are vague, but some claim that it was a challenge to Folsom High School, the rival school.

Vista’s second Halloween was a hit with Connie Lemon, Janice Johnson, Kelly Hillesland, and Kelly Baquero playing adorable old ladies.

Halloween quickly became a tradition at the school as the annual Halloween Challenge began. The challenge consists of many teachers from various departments dressing up, following a theme, and a friendly competition to see which department did it the best. The themes ranged from Back to the Future (with an actual Delorean on the campus) to Batman and even Super Mario Bros with go-karts in the school.

October of 2009 marks the first-ever Halloween celebration on campus.

Believe it or not, like many other schools, Vista has a fight song too. However, it’s a distant memory for most people due to its complexity. Gayle Losh, former teacher and activities director, wrote the song. The lyrics are:

“All hail to Vista del Lago

Overlooking City and lake below

Where skies are always bright

The Eagles will take flight

Or hearts are filled with glee

As we all sing our praises to thee.

Our Alma Mater is our creed

As students grow and learn to lead

Our spirit is strong and true

Cheering for our silver and navy blue.

We’ll pledge our loyalty to thee

As we forge ahead with dignity.

We stand tall with respect and pride

Friends and Teachers by our side

Our Alma Mater is so dear

We’ll never forget our high school years

Our voices will echo through the sky

As we sing all hail to Vista del Lago High.”


As Dr. Moore has been part of the Vista del Lago staff since 2007, she taught in one of the first Advisory classes. Present day, all students have Advisory every Monday, but why? “When we opened Vista del Lago, the staff felt that it was important that we try and support students feeling connected to school,” said Moore. “…we wanted to make sure that students had a consistent caring adult on campus for all 4 years.”

Considering the placement of the Advisory, Moore said it was scheduled carefully. “If an Advisory occurred at the beginning or the end of the day then students with late arrival or early dismissal would be at a disadvantage.” She believes that FlexTime & Advisory are too important for students to miss.

“I think it is better to break up the day a bit and give students a chance to do something different,” said Lewin, arguing that Advisory doesn’t start the day for student opportunity. 

While Advisory has evolved over the years and will continue to do so to meet the needs of students, Moore believes the goals of Advisory can be met with just one day of the week, “We don’t believe Advisory needs to be every day to make an impact.”

It exists for the benefit of students. Moore believes the growth over the four years is an intriguing factor. “Some of my fondest memories are from the lessons and experiences I shared with that group,” said Moore, “…I was there to support them, and would come to me for support on many different things as they went through high school.”

Additionally, Vista del Lago has a separate schedule for Wednesdays, making it shorter than the rest. “Every school has a collaboration day in the district,” said counselor Debbie Burns, “we use this time for staff meetings, collaboration, and how to best serve students.”


On the days students do not have Advisory or Wednesday’s early release, Flextime occupies the 11:26 am to 12:02 pm window. The Flextime program is designed to ensure that every student receives the additional time and support necessary for academics. According to Vista del Lago’s Flextime homepage: “Students are required rather than invited to devote the extra time and handle the extra support necessary to gain the essential knowledge and skills imperative for content mastery. Students that do not require intervention will have the opportunity to participate in virtual enrichment activities, collaborate with teachers on current course work, or access other services provided by staff and community (club meetings, speakers).” 

Input on what students think about flextime proves that it is being utilized for what is intended. “It’s very convenient, and I’m grateful that we get the privilege of it at this school, so that we have the chance for extra work time, help, or just have time to relax for a while,” said sophomore Bella Zelaya. 

“It’s chill, I like the extra time to work on something,” added student Bailey Reis.

For Advisory, it seems to be more of a source of home ground. “It may make things easier for some students still navigating high school,” said Zelaya.

“I love it so much,” said Hannah Steele.

School ranking

Vista is a competitive school in various academic rankings with other regional schools. For state test scores, 80% of students at Vista are proficient in reading, and 69% are proficient in math. The AP exam passing rate is 70%,  as Vista offers 20 AP classes, and 53% of students participate in these classes. Students are most interested in majoring in business, biology, nursing, and psychology. According to USNews.com, the national ranking of Vista del Lago is 1,169, and the ranking as a California high school is 175.

Notable Alumni and Current Students

Even though the school hasn’t been open that long, Vista has had its fair share of notable alumni as well, one of the most prominent being actor Lecina Kebede. She played Angelica in the traveling musical “Hamilton”.

Lencia Kebede plays Angelica in the touring “Hamilton” musical.

Keenan Davis, another graduate, was a speaker at TEDxFolsom, a Folsom Teen Council officer, and a member of the Student Leadership Development Team Lakeside Church. 

Isaiah Mendiola is an up-and-coming musician. 

On top of those, current student, Rishi Ambavadekar, is a RISE Global Winner and was featured on Good Morning America.

Vista Uniqueness and Growth

Today, Vista has many programs that most schools don’t; the guitar classes and CME are great examples. Started by Vince Martini, the program has four different guitar classes from Beginning to Masters and a class called Contemporary Music Ensemble, which highlights performance, song arranging, and songwriting of modern music. 

Additionally, events like Mista Vista, a talent show with senior boys, are something that is not often seen at other schools. 

However, the school’s most defining element has to be Vista’s 4×4 block schedule which allows students to have more credits than most high school students in traditional schedules. Vista Eagles can take more classes and electives and potentially graduate early if they chose. 

Vista del Lago now has over 1,85000 students in all four grades. It is only 15 years old and continues to grow and improve in various ways. “The school was just small and focused. It just felt like we all had each other’s back. We’ve just gotten bigger now, and we see faces we don’t know anymore. Things can’t hold like ‘in the good ol’ days,’ and I still love Vista. It’s just different,” said Hillesland.