Students at Bell Gardens Intermediate may be happy to learn that Literary Coach Kris Hood, fifth grade English and social studies teacher Evelyn Barba and sixth grade math and science teacher Lynette Gutierrez, all want to “have fun” and “play” too.
These Bell Garden Intermediate teachers are just a few of the hundreds of Montebello Unified School District (MUSD) certified and classified staff who crowded into the Bell Gardens High School auditorium on Monday to kick-off the school year and get better prepared to help their students.
“Students spend so many hours in our care,” said MUSD Superintendent Edward Velasquez. “You know, certified and classified employees truly make our school sites a student’s home away from home—and I believe it is our obligation as MUSD employees to make sure we do everything in our power to provide learning environments that are at the high quality our students deserve.”
MUSD Board President Gerri Guzman said back-to-school is a busy and hectic time, and noted that MUSD has faced challenges of declining enrollment and the budget crisis.
“It is not easy making the decisions we have had to make,” said Guzman. “We have put in countless hours in meetings determining what needs to be done to keep our District thriving. And all the while—our staff—our MUSD family—has been among the top priorities…you always have and always will be,” she told the gathered staff.
Guest Speaker Clay Roberts, of the Search Institute, discussed the 40 Developmental Assets he says can help them better serve students during the school year, and take-on the individual challenge to help, support, and to inspire a young person.
The assets discussed are both external and internal characteristics and behaviors that aim to promote positive behaviors and attitudes, and protect youth from high-risk behaviors.
Teachers were encouraged to be aware of their behaviors and attitudes that could negatively impact students—a strategy Roberts called “feed the staff so they don’t eat the kids.”
Roberts acknowledged the loss of good staff members due to early retirements targeted at avoiding teacher layoffs. He encouraged staff to take better care of each other and foster a healthy environment for each other as well as for students.
Part of the presentation included a film with “gems” staff members jotted down to remember later.
Karla Flores, Cesar Chavez Elementary Instructional Assistant, wrote on a post it “It’s not [about] being the Best in the World, but the Best for [the] World.”
Roberts told the audience anecdotes of teachers that have had an impact on student’s lives.
“One day she [my sister] was at the office, she wasn’t feeling well. And the nurse said ‘why a nurse, why not a doctor,’” Roberts said about his sister who is now a physician. “It’s the little things you do that really change their behavior for ever.”
Roberts encouraged the audience to look back in time for someone in education who made a difference in their lives; he received a good showing when he asked the audience to raise their hands if they could remember someone.
“I want you to talk about the people who made a difference, why do you remember them?” Roberts said prompting them to tell the person seated next to them. “Why would you remember someone like that [snaps fingers] somebody from 30 years ago, they must have done something powerful… we want to be that someone for our students.”
Ester Flores, from Wintergarten Elementary School, told EGP she remembers her Garfield High School English teacher, Dr. O’Callaghan.
“I remember it was the first time I got excited to read and discuss what we were reading,” Flores said, adding that she encouraged her classmates and told them they had the potential to be anything they wanted to be.
George Flores, a campus security officer at Suva Elementary School for 21 years, told EGP he remembers his homeroom teacher Mr. Serrano at Belvedere Jr. High.
“I was a big clown, so I can relate to the students [at Suva], I remember he [Mr. Serrano] pulled me aside to talk, he said I could be more than a class clown.”
The MUSD event was partially funded by MUSD’s Safe Schools/Healthy Students Grant Initiative, which is providing $9 million in federal funding to the district over four years to enhance, or create, programs that promote school safety and health among students, according to an MUSD press release.