Teachers Make a Difference, Says MUSD Community

March 23, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Cuts to teaching positions were supposed to be minimal, so when news broke last week that 235 Montebello Unified teachers had received layoff notices it sent shock waves through the school community, prompting students, parents, alumni and other school employees to take to the street in protest.

The cuts will have a devastating impact on the quality of education students receive, said protesters at campuses across the district last Thursday.

They demanded the school board explain its 11th hour decision to change its plan to shore up a $17 million budget deficit from one that would have seen the layoff of nearly 500 mostly non-teaching positions, to one that now calls for over two-thirds of the layoffs being teachers.

News of the cuts spread quickly on social media, in some cases postings listed names of teachers being laid off, encouraging the community to protest the cuts.

A petition to save the 235 teaching jobs is currently circulating and will be presented to the MUSD board at their next meeting April 6 and to the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE). As of Wednesday, the change.org petition had received over 2,200 signatures.

“As a student of a MUSD school, I see how full the classes already are with some having more than 40 students, and can only imagine how much fuller the classes will get with this cut,” wrote Angelo Carrasco, the Bell Gardens High School student who authored the petition.

Under pressure to quickly get district finances in order or risk county education officials sending in someone to oversee their decisions, MUSD board members last month voted 4-1 to layoff close to 500 classified and non-classified employees — including plumbers, attendance technicians, custodians and administrators on special assignment. It was a jump from about 317 positions on the chopping block less than two weeks earlier.

 Parents, students and alumni join Montebello Unified teachers outside district headquarter to protest the layoff of 235 teachers. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Parents, students and alumni join Montebello Unified teachers outside district headquarter to protest the layoff of 235 teachers.
(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

That number of layoffs has dropped to 333, but most of the cuts are now to teachers of English, social sciences, art, music, physical education and health. Layoff notices, often referred to as pink slips, were delivered to impacted teachers on March 15, the deadline for MUSD to notify employees of an impending job loss as required under agreements with its bargaining units.

In a statement, the current board blamed previous boards and administrators for MUSD being “on the edge of insolvency if drastic action is not taken.”

“Consequently, the current Board has had to work with staff to minimize the impact to our employees and to ensure the District remains solvent.”

The last minute decision sparked anger across MUSD, which has schools in Montebello, Bell Gardens, Commerce and a small number of campuses in other cities.

Hundreds of students walked out of Bell Gardens High School the next day, including 17-year-old Ceshia Palos Castellanos.

“These teachers are the foundation of our future,” she said. “I want to go to college and I’m scared this will hurt my chances.”


About a dozen teachers at Bell Gardens High have received layoff notices, including the school’s beloved band director and the only teacher of the Advance Placement Comparative Government course. These are our mentors, role models, students lamented.

MUSD representative Ricardo Mendez told students layoffs were based on the district’s overall needs and program objectives, not an individual teacher’s performance.

Many teachers noted the pathway programs and the Applied Technology Center were left untouched. Cuts were not based on seniority, a change from past staffing cuts, when it was usually “the last person hired is the first person fired.”

“They are taking away the few aspects of this school that make it worthwhile,” Castellanos’ mother Victoria told EGP in Spanish. “Soon they will only offer the bare minimum,” she complained, not satisfied with Mendez’ effort to reassure the group.

At some schools, nearly half of all teachers received a pink slip, leaving many to wonder what the impact to student-teacher ratio will be.

“They won’t be able to run a school … let alone a district” with this many cuts, said Christine Alcala-Snee, who’s been laid off after 13 years with MUSD.

In neighboring Commerce, about a dozen students from Rosewood Park School held their own protest.

Holding signs and chanting, “Students and teachers here to fight, education is our right,” students said they want to keep their favorite AVID teacher from being laid off.

For young activists like Zoe Garate, 13, someone has to step up to make sure teachers aren’t cut.

“Can’t the city do something? Don’t they have a lot of money?” she asked, referring to the many programs Commerce provides residents at little or no cost.

Amber Cabreros, 13, told EGP she and her classmates wanted to show just how much their education and teachers matter to them. “They respect us for who we are and show us how far we can go,” she said.

Students at Rosewood Park Elementary School in Commerce protest teachers cuts March 16. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Students at Rosewood Park Elementary School in Commerce protest teachers cuts March 16. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Later that afternoon in Montebello, alumni and parents marched with former teachers from the Montebello Teachers Association headquarters to the district office, hoping to “put a face on” the cuts.

“They pushed us to do more, mentored us as we applied for college and kept us out of trouble,” remarked Erendira Zamudio, who graduated from Schurr last year.

Former Montebello High School student presidents Christopher Jimenez and Jennifer Gutierrez regularly attended school board meetings and were shocked to learn of the district’s current financial mess. They blame the board members they once looked up to for not getting help sooner.

“This could have been prevented,” said Gutierrez. “That is why we need more transparency.”


These kinds of cuts violate student rights, according to 2nd grade teacher Patricia Meneses, a 17-year district veteran on the verge of losing her job.

“We set the foundation, and what happens when you break the foundation, the house comes down,” she said.

Maria Navarette has two children at Winter Gardens Elementary in East Los Angeles. She told EGP that district officials must realize that parents see the cuts as an attack on their children.

“These are the people who take care of our children from 8 to 3 and who we entrust with their education,” she said in Spanish. “They are the ones that make it possible for our children to obtain a better future.”

Culinary Students Build Gingerbread House Village

December 22, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

In what’s become an annual tradition, Bell Gardens High School Culinary students kicked off the holiday season by showing off their baking and cake decorating skills by building an entire village of gingerbread houses.

Over 80 students attending the Culinary Hospitality Opportunity Pathway (CHOP) participated in the 5th annual fundraiser held Dec. 9, where more than $1,000 was raised to buy chef jackets and uniforms for students in the program.

The fanciful creations filled an entire classroom, creating a towering neighborhood made out of gingerbread, cookies and colorful frosting.

Some of the creations were as tall as a wedding cake; others took over a month and a half to bake and build.



“These students are doing much more than just cooking,” said Elizabeth Kocharian, lead teacher for CHOP. “Our students use geometry and algebra skills to calculate the sizes of the gingerbread walls, engineering to keep them up and design skills to decorate the house.”

BGHS CHOP senior Cynthia Bernal said she really enjoyed making her house and knowing she could create something like this by herself.

“Our houses are all different because we put some of our own background and heritage into it,” Bernal said.

The top three gingerbread houses will be displayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Montebello. Winners include: Alexander Castillo’s “Peppa Pig Village” in first place; Jazmin Ramos’ “Farm Stand and Bakery” in second place, and in third place, Dominic Jimenez’ “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”


MUSD Holds Mock Election

November 10, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Over 2,500 Montebello Unified high school students cast ballots for president, U.S. Senator and seven statewide measures during a district-wide mock election last month, ahead of the real election.

After studying their custom-made student voter guides and participating in assemblies and debates, students headed to the booths at each of their respective high school.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton beat out Donald Trump in the mock presidential election, receiving 72 percent of the teenagers’ votes. Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez received 68 percent of the votes, beating out Attorney General Kamala Harris for a seat in the U.S. Senate, according to the results.

In addition, all seven propositions, 51 (School Bonds), 54 (Legislative Transparency), 55 (Tax Extension), 56 (Cigarette Tax), 58 (Multiligual Education), 59 (Political Spending) and 67 (Plastic Bag Ban) all received over 59 percent approval.

“Very soon, our students will be full partners in the American democratic process, and it is imperative that they know how to diligently process the flood of information being disseminated by media outlets,” said Bell Gardens history teacher Joseph Lianoz said.

The mock election was held Oct. 11 and was sponsored by Secretary of State Alex Padilla who wanted to expose youth to the democratic process. After casting their ballots, students received their own “I Voted” sticker.

“The next time they vote, it will be in an actual election and they will know exactly what to do,” said MUSD Program Specialist Laura Quintana

Distrito Escolar de Montebello Demanda a Contratistas Por Contaminación Mineral

August 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

El Distrito Escolar Unificado de Montebello (MUSD) está demandando a dos compañías por un total de $3.5 millones, alegando que trabajadores, no calificados, propagaron materiales de amianto en varias escuelas en 2015 durante las instalaciones de iluminación de ahorro energético.

El amianto se refiere a un grupo de seis minerales que se usan en materiales de aislamiento de paredes a prueba de fuego. Sin embargo, la exposición a estos minerales puede producir cáncer pulmonar conocido como mesotelioma pleural, al igual que otros problemas de salud.

La demanda nombra a los acusados a las compañía como Evergreen Energy Solutions LLC y a Enveniam LLC, con sus oficinas centrales en Roswell, Georgia.

Los representantes de Enveniam no contestaron de inmediato para comentar acerca de la demanda, la cual los acusa de negligencia, violación de su contrato e incumplimientos de completar su labor de manera capacitada. Sin embargo, el portavoz de Evergreen dio una declaración.

“Evergreen no estaba al tanto del asunto en cuestión, y por consiguiente estamos decepcionados”, dijo la declaración. “Hasta la fecha, el distrito aun no se a comunicado con nosotros al respecto. Nosotros averiguaremos inmediatamente con el distrito acerca de esto”.

Según la demanda que se presento el martes, 16 de agosto, el MUSD y las dos empresas firmaron un contrato en febrero del 2015 en el que Evergreen era de “consultar y procurar” y en el que Enveniam era responsable de instalar las luces de eficiencia energética en la Escuela Intermedia de Montebello, en la Escuela Elemental Montebello Gardens y en la Escuela Secundaria de Bell Gardens. Por los servicios, el MUSD accedió a pagar $2 millones, de acuerdo a la demanda.

Antes de que el trabajo empezara, los dos grupos se reunieron en abril del 2015 y discutieron el cómo lidiar con los materiales que contuvieran amiantos en las escuelas al igual que en la oficina distrital, según la queja.

Durante la reunión, según los relatos, se enfatizó que era critico que el contratista condujera un entrenamiento de capacitación de ocho horas mínimas en como lidiar con las sustancias químicas.

En mayo, el trabajo empezó en la Escuela Intermedia de Montebello y fue en agosto cuando empezaron las dudas de la calidad de trabajo. De acuerdo a la demanda, el coordinador de materiales peligrosos del MUSD empezó a sospechar de que los trabajadores no trataron con cuidado los materiales con fibras de amiantos en dos aulas, declara la demanda.

“El MUSD inmediatamente cerró toda la construcción y empleo un consultor para examinar si se encontraban los químicos”, dice la queja.

Una inspección posterior por el Distrito de Manejo de la Calidad del Aire de la Costa Sur mostró que Enveniam “había usado métodos descontrolados realizados por trabajadores sin entrenamiento que propagaron materiales no solo en la Escuela Intermedia sino que en otros lugares también”, declara la demanda.

Para asegurar la seguridad de los estudiantes, el MUSD “inició una operación de limpieza masiva con la ayuda de al menos cinco contratistas para aplacar la contaminación”, según las alegaciones.

El plan de reparación fue completado el 20 de agosto del año pasado y costó $3.5 millones de acuerdo a documentos del tribunal.

Bell Gardens Students Receive Prestigious College Scholarships

May 26, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Four Bell Gardens students will be pursuing their dreams this fall at prestigious universities across the country, all at nearly no cost to them or their families.

Erik Herrera, Leslie Luqueno, Omar Morales and Ainslee Preciado received hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships to attend college from the universities themselves, the California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators and special scholarships including the Dell Scholar and the prestigious Gates Millennium Scholar program.

“These four Bell Gardens High students, along with their peers across the District, represent the high-quality education offered and received at Montebello Unified,” MUSD Superintendent Susanna Contreras Smith said.

(Left to right): Bell Gardens High School students Omar Morales, Ainslee Preciado , Leslie Luqueno and Erik Herrera. (Photo courtesy Jesse Melgar)

(Left to right): Bell Gardens High School students Omar Morales, Ainslee Preciado , Leslie Luqueno and Erik Herrera. (Photo courtesy Jesse Melgar)

Herrera, who will serve as class valedictorian during next month’s graduation, will attend California Institution of Technology where he will study mathematics and music theory. He boasts a 4.37 GPA and serves as Bell Gardens drum major. Herrera received a scholarship from CalTech, which is expected to cover nearly all his tuition.

Preciado plans to attend UCLA this fall and will have her entire undergraduate and graduate school costs covered after being selected as a Gates Millennium Scholar. This is the second consecutive year that a Bell Gardens high school student is a recipient of the unique scholarship. Preciado is interested in pursuing law after attending the Yale Young Global Scholars program last summer. She is a singer, violinist and active member of her church youth group and is poised to graduate with a 4.02 GPA.

Morales will attend the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor on a full-ride scholarship from the California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators. He hopes to study aerospace engineering. Morales has a 4.23 GPA and is an active member of the cross country and track and field teams.

Luqueno is one of 350 Dell Scholars selected in the country. She will be attending Haverford College in Pennsylvania this fall to pursue her interest in political science. As a Dell Scholar, she was awarded a $20,000 scholarship, a laptop, textbook gift cards and support throughout her academic career. Luqueno serves as editor in chief of Bell Gardens high school’s Lancer Scroll and has a 4.11 GPA.

Clínica de Salud Abre en la Preparatoria Bell Gardens

October 8, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Los alumnos de la preparatoria Bell Gardens que tengan una cita con el médico puede que ya no tengan que perder un día de clase, ahora que una nueva clínica de salud ha abierto sus puertas en el campus.

Desde el exterior, la nueva clínica parece cualquier salón de clase regular, pero en lugar de pupitres, pizarras y libros, el bungalow azul alberga una sala de espera de 16 asientos, laboratorio clínico, seis salas de examen y un médico profesional atendiendo pacientes.

Read this article in English: Health Clinic Opens in Bell Gardens Campus

La clínica basada en la escuela es operada por la organización no lucrativa Centros de Cuidado de la Salud Familiar de Los Ángeles (FHCCGLA), que opera clínicas de salud comunitarias en el área circundante.

“Tenemos la capacidad para servir a jóvenes estudiantes, sus padres, maestros y la comunidad en general”, dijo Yeryca Ramos, directora financiera de FHCCGLA.

Los chequeos regulares, exámenes físicos para deportes o visitas al médico para el resfriado común o gripe podrían ya no requerir que un padre que trabaja se tome el día libre ya que los estudiantes pueden ser revisados en el campus. Y si un estudiante se enferma o se hiere en el campus, ahora pueden ser tratados por lesiones menores en lugar de esperar a que uno de los padres los recoja, explicó Helen Van, una enfermera en el sitio.

La investigación realizada en 2005 mostró que los centros de salud en las preparatorias disminuyen el número de alumnos absentistas. Desde entonces, ha habido una tendencia creciente para abrir centros en las escuelas en los campus, dijo Ramos.

Estudiantes y funcionarios del distrito realizan la ceremonia de apertura del Centro de Salud Familiar en Los Ángeles dentro del campus de la preparatoria Bell Gardens el 15 de septiembre. (MUSD)

Estudiantes y funcionarios del distrito realizan la ceremonia de apertura del Centro de Salud Familiar en Los Ángeles dentro del campus de la preparatoria Bell Gardens el 15 de septiembre. (MUSD)

FHCCGLA colaboró con el Distrito Escolar Unificado de Montebello (MUSD) para transformar dos bungalows portátiles de la preparatoria Bell Gardens en un centro de clínica y de la salud de los recursos. El operador de la clínica se encargará de supervisar la operación y se ha comprometido a poner $500,000 para comprar equipo médico. También han recibido una subvención de $333.000 de New Access Point del Departamento de Salud y Servicios Humanos de EE.UU., que se espera sea renovado cada año, siempre y cuando la Ley de Cuidado de Salud Asequible continúe siendo financiada, explicó Ramos.

La alta tasa de embarazo en adolescentes de la ciudad de Bell Gardens jugó un papel en la apertura de la clínica que abrió a unos pocos pies del centro infantil de niños de la escuela y las aulas del programa padre adolescente.

“Hubo una creciente población de adolescentes embarazadas en la comunidad de Bell Gardens, así es como se abordó la necesidad de esta clínica”, dijo Van.

El Distrito de Montebello ya proporciona cuidado de niños gratis, clases para padres, asesoramiento y alienta a los menores a graduarse mediante el programa Familias de California de Edad Escolar (CAL-SAFE).

El doctor Albert Pacheco—CEO de FHCCGLA—previamente le dijo a EGP que la ubicación del campus traería una clínica para un área de alta necesidad.

“En esta área en particular del condado de Los Ángeles hay una población grande de bajos ingresos sin seguro medico, así que hay una gran necesidad”, dijo cuando el centro recibió por primera vez la concesión en enero de 2013. También hay un gran número de inmigrantes en la comunidad predominantemente latina de clase trabajadora.

La cercanía de la clínica ofrece a los estudiantes un mayor acceso a las medidas preventivas, como preservativos y las pruebas para enfermedades de transmisión sexual (STDs) y el embarazo sin un padre presente.

Si una estudiante está embarazada, será referida al Centro Médico Familiar de Bell Gardens FHCCGLA para la atención de seguimiento.

Hasta ahora, muchas de las visitas de estudiantes a la clínica han sido durante los exámenes físicos necesarios para practicar deportes, Van le dijo a EGP.

Ella dijo que la clínica está viendo una buena mezcla de estudiantes y personas de la zona para todo, desde visitas de niños hasta el tratamiento de enfermedades crónicas y agudas como la diabetes y la hipertensión.

La tasa de obesidad en Bell Gardens está en aumento, Van señaló.

Eso corresponde con los hallazgos de un estudio de 2015 de Investigación del Centro de Políticas para la Salud de la UCLA que encontró que más del 32 por ciento de los adultos latinos en California son obesos y el 40 por ciento de los adolescentes latinos tienen sobrepeso o son obesos.

Otro estudio encontró que las bebidas azucaradas son la mayor fuente de azúcares añadidas y se asocian con mayores tasas de obesidad y otras enfermedades crónicas, como la diabetes tipo 2.

La enfermera Helen Van, (der.) revisa a una paciente en la nueva clínica en el campus de la preparatoria Bell Gardens. (EGP foto por Nancy Martínez)

La enfermera Helen Van, (der.) revisa a una paciente en la nueva clínica en el campus de la preparatoria Bell Gardens. (EGP foto por
Nancy Martínez)

Para combatir el problema, FHCCGLA se asoció en el pasado con la preparatoria Bell Gardens y MUSD para alentar a los residentes a comer más sano a través de la creación de huertos en las escuelas, los mercados de agricultores y otros proyectos como parte de la Campaña para una Vida más Saludable en Bell Gardens.

Los servicios ofrecidos en la clínica se proporcionan en una escala móvil basada en los ingresos del paciente y no requiere ningún tipo de seguro. Los honorarios comienzan en $30.

“Tratamos de dar cabida a todos los pacientes”, dijo Ramos, explicando que el personal de FHCCGLA trabaja con los pacientes para determinar qué programas pueden calificar para reducir los costos. Algunos pacientes no pueden ser obligados a pagar nada si califican para el programa del condado My Health LA, que proporciona atención primaria de la salud, sin costo para los residentes del condado de Los Ángeles elegibles que no tienen seguro o no pueden ser asegurados basado en los ingresos o estatus migratorio.

El estatus de inmigración de una persona nunca es revelado, dijo Ramos.

Casi todos los estudiantes en la preparatoria Bell Gardens califican para comida gratis o reducida, un estándar federal que se utiliza a menudo como un indicador de la pobreza. Como resultado, Ramos le dijo a EGP que la mayoría de los estudiantes y los pacientes califican para algún tipo de ayuda.

La clínica está actualmente abierta de lunes a viernes, de 1 a 5pm. Ramos le dijo a EGP que el objetivo es abrir finalmente la clínica de 8am a 5pm.

Desde su apertura, la clínica tiene un promedio de cerca de 6 pacientes por día, pero tiene la capacidad de ver hasta tres pacientes por hora. Ramos le dijo a EGP que la organización sin fines de lucro espera en un futuro próximo ofrecer vacunas en la clínica.

“Tener una clínica en el campus ofrece fácil acceso a la comunidad”, dijo. “Traemos los servicios de atención de salud a nuestros pacientes”.

Twitter @nancyreporting

Health Clinic Opens on Bell Gardens Campus

October 8, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

Students at Bell Gardens High School who have a doctor’s appointment may no longer need to miss a day of class now that a new health clinic has opened its doors on the campus.

From the outside, the new clinic looks like any regular classroom bungalow, but instead of desks, white boards and books, the blue bungalow houses a 16-seat waiting area, clinical lab, six examination rooms and a medical professional seeing patients.

The school-based clinic is operated by the nonprofit Family Health Care Centers of Greater Los Angeles (FHCCGLA), which operates community health clinics in the surrounding area.

Nurse practioner Helen Van, pictured right, checks the pulse of a patient at a new school-based health clinic at Bell Gardens High School. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Nurse practioner Helen Van, pictured right, checks the pulse of a patient at a new school-based health clinic at Bell Gardens High School. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

“We have the ability to serve the young, students, their parents, teachers and the community at large,” said Yeryca Ramos, FHCCGLA’s chief financial officer.

Regular checkups, sports physicals or doctor’s visits for the common cold or flu could no longer require a working parent to take the day off from work since students can now be seen on campus. And if a student gets sick or hurt on campus, they can be treated for minor injuries instead of waiting for a parent to pick them up, explained Helen Van, a nurse practitioner at the site.

Research conducted in 2005 showed that high school based health centers decrease the number of absentee students. Since then, there has been a growing trend to open school-based centers on campus, Ramos said.

FHCCGLA collaborated with the Montebello Unified School District to transform two portable bungalows at Bell Gardens High School into a clinic and health resource center. The clinic operator will oversee the operation and has agreed to put up $500,000 to purchase medical equipment. They have also received a $333,000 New Access Point Grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is expected to renew annually as long as the Affordable Care Act continues to be funded, explained Ramos.

The city of Bell Gardens’ high teen pregnancy rate played a role in the opening the clinic opened a few feet from the school’s infant toddler center and teen parent program classrooms.

“There was a growing population of pregnant teens in the community of Bell Gardens, that’s how the need was addressed for this clinic,” said Van.

Montebello Unified already provides free childcare, parenting classes, counseling and encourages minors to graduate from high school though the California School Age Families (CAL-SAFE) program.

Dr. Albert Pacheco – FHCCGLA’s former chief executive officer – previously told EGP the campus location would bring a clinic to an area of high need.

“In this particular area of Los Angeles County there’s a big uninsured, low-income population so there’s a big need,” he said when the center first received the grant in January 2013. There are also a large number of immigrants in the predominately Latino working-class community.

The clinic’s close proximity gives students greater access to preventative measures such as condoms, and testing for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and pregnancy without a parent being present.

If a student is pregnant, they will be referred to FHCCGLA’s Bell Gardens Family Medical Center for follow up care.

So far, many of the student visits to the clinic have been for the physicals required to play sports, Van told EGP.

She said the clinic is seeing a good mix of students and people from the area for everything from well-child visits to treatment for chronic and acute conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.

The Family Health Care Centers of Greater Los Angeles school-based health center is now open at Bell Gardens High School. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The Family Health Care Centers of Greater Los Angeles school-based health center is now open at Bell Gardens High School. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The obesity rate in Bell Gardens is on the rise, Van pointed out.

That corresponds with the findings of a 2015 UCLA Center for Health Policy Research study that found more than 32 percent of Latino adults in California are obese and 40 percent of Latino adolescents are either overweight or obese.

A separate study found that sugar-sweetened beverages are the largest source of added sugar and are associated with increased rates of obesity and other chronic health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes.

To combat the problem, FHCCGLA in the past partnered with Bell Gardens High School and MUSD to encourage residents to eat healthier through the creation of school-based gardens, farmer’s markets and other projects as part of the Campaign for a Healthier Bell Gardens.

“The unique value of BGHS’s school-based health center illustrated the creative collaboration of educators and health care professionals working together to address the multifaceted needs of our children, youth, and families,” said MUSD Board Clerk Lani Cupchoy during the clinic’s ribbon-cutting ceremony Sept. 15.

Services offered at the clinic are provided on a sliding fee scale based on the patient’s income and does not require any form of insurance. Fees start at $30.

“We try to accommodate every patient,” said Ramos, explaining that FHCCGLA staff work with patients to determine which programs they may qualify for to reduce costs. Some patients may not be required to pay anything if they qualify for the county’s My Health LA program, which provides primary health care at no to cost to eligible Los Angeles County residents who are uninsured or un-insurable based on income or immigration status.

A person’s immigration status is never disclosed, said Ramos.

Nearly all students at Bell Gardens High School qualify for free or reduced lunch, a federal standard that is often used as an indicator of poverty. As a result, Ramos told EGP most students and patients qualify for some type of aid.

The clinic is currently open Monday through Friday, 1p.m. to 5p.m. The wait time “is not bad at all” and walk-ins are welcome, said Van. Ramos told EGP the goal is to eventually open the clinic from 8a.m. to 5 p.m.

Since opening, the clinic has averaged about 6 patients a day, but has the capacity to see up to three patients an hour. Ramos told EGP the non-profit hopes in the near future to offer immunizations at the clinic.

“Having a clinic on campus provides easy access to the community,” she said. “We bring health care services to our patients.”

Updated 10-16-15: To clarify Dr. Albert Pacheco is the former executive director of FHCCGLA. Raquel Villa is the new CEO.

Communities Near Exide Put DTSC on Notice

June 25, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

Only a few dozen people showed up last week for a meeting billed as a chance for residents to learn more about the process to clean up contamination at the shuttered Exide plant in Vernon, prompting several people to again criticize the Department of Toxic Substance Control for its “poor outreach.”

The low-turnout is just another example of DTSC’s failure to keep residents informed about the hazardous waste polluter, several speakers complained.

“There’s a long history of injustice in this whole Exide issue,” Mark Lopez, of East Yard Communities told EGP. “There is a continuance of frustration over the inclusion of the community and the inadequate outreach by DTSC.”

Excide Technologies, a lead-acid battery recycler and smelter, was forced to close down in order to avoid federal charges related to its long history of hazardous waste violations. They have been fined millions of dollars to pay costs associated with the clean up of toxic chemicals at their Vernon plant and contaminated properties in surrounding communities.

Dozens of residents from Huntington Park to Boyle Heights attended DTSC’s scoping meeting June 18 at Maywood City Hall.  (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Dozens of residents from Huntington Park to Boyle Heights attended DTSC’s scoping meeting June 18 at Maywood City Hall. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Before that process starts, however, DTSC must prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) to identify the potential impacts and mitigations expected to take place during the closure process.

Last week’s scoping meeting was a chance for residents in Maywood and other communities to tell state regulators what they want included in the report.

However, it’s the middle of graduation season and Bell Gardens High School, where many local families send their children to school, has their graduation ceremony tonight, so they are not here, Lopez pointed out.

“This could have easily been avoided had [DTSC] done their research on the community,” he said. “It’s DTSC’s job, they have the staff for outreach.”

It should not be so hard for people to get their voices heard, echoed Jessica Prieto of East Los Angeles.

According to DTSC, the agency has held six meetings in Boyle Heights and Maywood since Exide was closed.

Most people at the meeting are already informed and involved, and regularly attend meetings on Exide, said frustrated residents, accusing DTSC of not doing enough to reach out to the people who don’t already attend meetings.

“It seems like you are just going through the motions,” said Aide Castro, a Maywood business owner and aid to Assemblyman Anthony Rendon.

She wanted to know why local business owners like her, and the nearly 40 members of the new Advisory Board overseeing the plant closure were not notified about the meeting.

“I didn’t say anything [before the meeting] on purpose, to see if you would send it,” she said. “If we’re not receiving a flyer it’s hard to phantom the community outreach is being done effectively.”

According to DTSC, however, board members were given a list of meeting dates during their first meeting on May 28 and the scoping meeting was discussed in depth during the June 11 advisory group meeting. DTSC spokeswoman Tamma Adadamek told EGP the agency enlists the help of members of the Community Advisory Group to share information discussed at our monthly meetings.

Site Project Manager Su Patel said DTSC mailed the meeting notice to 2,700 area residents and that hundreds of others on the agency’s email blast received an electronic notice.

That’s why it’s always the same people attending the meeting, complained Maywood Councilman Oscar Magaña, That number is much too low given that as many as 375,000 people live in Boyle Heights, Commerce, East Los Angeles, Maywood, Huntington Park and Vernon.

“I’m sure you’ve heard enough from these people,” he told regulators; you have to do something different. “The schools are usually a great place to pass out information around,” Magaña said.

But in addition to mailing out and emailing information according to DTSC, representatives have called and visited the homes of dozens and dozens of residents in the area. Adamek added that the agency regularly updates their website with new information about the Exide cleanup and closure.

The agency also holds a conference call every two weeks with community leaders to share information on the project, she added.

Boyle Heights resident Doelorez Mejia attends nearly every meeting related to Exide. She said holding the meeting in the southeast city of Maywood shows DTSC is starting to listen to the community, but pushed the agency to do much outreach.

“Put yourself on the agenda of the local school districts,” she suggested.

Magaña also recommended DTSC reach out to environmental justice groups, especially those already involved with the fight against Exide.

“Those people have experience canvassing, I bet you they would be more than willing to help,” he said, prompting applause from the audience.

Many of the people living in the neighborhoods and cities surrounding Exide are undocumented and fear retribution if they speak out, said Lopez, who is community co-chair of the Exide Advisory Board. He believes some people fear they will be forced to move if DTSC or other agencies get wind that they live in homes with unpermitted improvements, such as converted garages.

“This has led everyday residents and organizations to step in and fill the role of organizing the community,” he added. “There have been some improvements by DTSC, but a lot of that has been a result of pressure from the community.”

In an email to EGP DTSC officials said all the comments and questions raised by the community are being considered.

“We are happy to have suggestions on how to better reach the community. We want them to be informed about the closure, and they know best how they can be reached,” said Adamek.

Residents have until June 29 to submit comments regarding the Notice of Preparation. They will get a second chance when the DEIR is presented sometime in September, as well as have a chance to comment on the closure plan once it is approved.

The agency said the first phase of closure will take between 19 to 22 months and will include removing equipment and contaminated soil and demolishing buildings “down to dirt.” That phase is expected to take place sometime in Spring 2016.

Bell Gardens Teen Mom Overcomes Adversity

March 19, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

When 15-year-old Shantell Gomez found out she was pregnant, she was scared. She felt lost and all alone.

“How am I going to do it? How am I going to finish school? How will I provide for my baby?” she asked herself.

Fast-forward two and a half years and Gomez is now the recipient of a $60,000 academic scholarship to attend Mount Saint Mary’s University in Los Angeles this fall where she will pursue a nursing degree.

Despite the many obstacles young girls in her situation face, Gomez is proof that being a teen mother does not have to mean your dreams are over or academic success out of reach.

She is on track to graduate on time with a 3.5 grade point average, and will be the first person in her family and the first graduate of Bell Garden’s teen parent program to attend a four-year college.

“I never thought it was possible to go college,” said Gomez Monday, still in disbelief.

The road to where she is today has not been easy. In fact, it’s been very hard.

Shantell Gomez plays with her two-year old son Aidan outside the Infant toddler center at Bell Gardens High School.   (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Shantell Gomez plays with her two-year old son Aidan outside the Infant toddler center at Bell Gardens High School. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Both of Gomez’ parents work so the luxury of free, grandparent provided childcare while she continued high school was not an option, and the grandmother she and her son now live with is too elderly to be a full-time caretaker.

“Some mothers get help at home, but some just don’t get [any] help at all,” explains Carmen Herrera, a counselor with Bell Gardens High School’s program for pregnant teens.

That’s when special programs like Montebello Unified’s California School Age Families (CAL-SAFE) program at Bell Gardens High School can make a difference.

For Gomez, the program has been her savior.

Like many teen mothers lacking resources, support and guidance, she quickly fell behind at school. Figuring out how to stay in school and care for a baby at the same time was complicated, she said.

Then there was the stigma that comes with being a teen mother.

“…People assume that we are not going to graduate,” says 18-year-old Karla Fuentes, another of the teen-aged mothers in the program.

But Gomez wanted to graduate and enrolled in the CAL-SAFE program, which provides childcare for her son Aiden, now two years old, while she attends class. Started in the 1990s, the state program – also available at Montebello High School – offers free childcare, parenting classes, counseling and encourages the minors to graduate from high school.

“The struggle is balancing being a mom and being a student,” says Herrera.

On average, the program enrolls 50 teens a year, including several young fathers. The program has helped many young mothers from Bell Gardens, “… a city with great need,” says Jennifer Gonzalez, a three-year program instructor.

Bell Gardens’ teen pregnancy rate has been high for years, at one time the highest in the country.

Fuentes told EGP that when she was pregnant she felt “everybody was getting pregnant. I see a lot more teen moms now,” she observes.

When Fuentes started her junior year after delivering her baby, she only had 30 class credits, the equivalent of a freshman.

She said before getting pregnant she didn’t care about school and often ditched class. That changed after her child was born, and she is on track to graduate on time.

“I feel getting pregnant was a good thing for me,” it changed my priorities, says Fuentes. “I see the world in a different way because I’m a mom,” she said.

For some of the girls it’s like a light bulb went on, says Herrera. “They become self-driven.”

CAL-SAFE offers an independent studies track that allows the teens to take extra classes to catch up.

Graduating high school is important, but getting them into college is the real goal, says  Gonzalez.

Most of the teen mothers are taking the technical studies pathway that could lead to better employment opportunities, she said. Although none of last year’s graduates went on to college, many of this year’s seniors plan to attend community college, she said.

Since having Aidan, Gomez strives to be above average. She is enrolled in the nursing pathway, takes honors classes and interns two days a week at Beverly Hospital in Montebello. The former “C” average student now wants nothing less than an “A.”

“Some of my classmates are surprised when they find out I’m a mom” and still doing well in class, she said.

In 2014, Generation Her, a non-profit dedicated to promoting support and motivation to teen mothers, named her Teen Mom of the Year.

“She’s definitely self-driven,” Herrera said. “More than just doing it for her child, she is doing it for herself.”

The counselor said being a teen mother forces them to grow up quickly and to “deal with the lack of support, feelings of isolation and changes in routine.”

“They can’t relate to other students,” adds Gonzalez.

Other students have a whole afternoon and evening to get assignments done, but Gomez must spend much of that time caring for her child, waiting until the energetic toddler falls asleep to crack open her books.

“I’m always so tired,” says Gomez, who does everything on her own. “Sometimes I just want to go to sleep, but I know I can’t.”

Shantell Gomez, a senior at Bell Gardens High School, was recognized as “Teen Mom of the Year” last year by the non-profit Generation Her.  (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Shantell Gomez, a senior at Bell Gardens High School, was recognized as “Teen Mom of the Year” last year by the non-profit Generation Her. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

She can’t help but laugh to herself when she hears her fellow classmates complain that an assignment kept them up late. “I think to myself ‘I do that every night,’” she said. “They don’t know how much easier it is for them.”

Fuentes, on the other hand, has the support of her family and says she never felt alone. She is still with her baby’s father and has his support, unlike 80% of the girls in the program.

“I feel really bad for some of the girls who talk about how their ‘baby daddy’ doesn’t want to help out. I can’t imagine the stress they go through and how hard it is not to have support,” she said.

Having childcare is a major benefit, but there are times when a sick child or doctor’s appointments will disrupt the school day, forcing the teen parents to miss class.

“The biggest trouble for our students is attendance,” acknowledges Herrera. “But don’t think they get special treatment…they still have deadlines like everybody else.”

“Do you get the looks and stares… yes,” says Fuentes, who explains she lost many friends after becoming pregnant, but adds for the most part her fellow students make it a point to not treat the teen mothers differently.

As one of the younger mothers, Gomez says it is harder for teens like her. Looking back at her struggles to raise her child and her grades, the 17-year old understands the significance of the example she has set for others in the same position.

“I feel very proud of myself,” Gomez admits. “It makes me feel good that people are acknowledging my accomplishment.”

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