Skip to main content

March 2014

MUSD Students Promote Health at Farmers Market

Farmers Market

Event Featured Organic Produce from Student-Run School Gardens

Gardening for the 500 students across Montebello Unified School District is more than just an after-school project; it is movement intended to grow beyond the classroom and into the homes of the community. As a part of that effort, garden club students and advisors work together to assemble seasonal Farmers Markets to sell their harvests to neighbors, friends, fellow students and those who are interested in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

The first Farmers Market of the year was held at Bell Gardens Intermediate (BGI) on Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. Participating schools included Garfield Elementary, Wilcox Elementary, Bell Gardens Elementary, Cesar Chavez Elementary, Suva Elementary, Winter Gardens Elementary, Bell Gardens Intermediate, Suva Intermediate, Macy Intermediate and Bell Gardens High.

Students sold tomatoes, celery, sugar peas, onions and a variety leafy greens, fruits and herbs, as well as organic cleaning supplies. Profits from sales at the Farmers Market went directly back into the individual clubs to continue the its long-term success.

Students in the club are equipped with knowledge regarding nutritional food choices, water conservation, at-home gardening tips and are taught about ingredients and how to read food labels. Additionally, students are able to take home whatever they plant and harvest during the school year.

Wilcox Elementary fourth-grader Nikki Mehl also found that the garden club allowed her to identify plants on a recent field trip to the San Juan Capistrano mission, while teaching her where vegetables come from.

"As educators, it’s our priority to provide not only rigorous academic instruction, but also with educational opportunities that support their well-being and personal growth," said MUSD Superintendent of Education Susanna Contreras Smith. "We know that when students are eating right and making healthful choices, they feel better and are more prepared to learn in the classroom."

The District is also collaborating with program directors and advisors, as well as Nutrition Services, to possibly incorporate garden club items in school cafeterias.

"Our gardening clubs are really focused on education beyond the classroom," said Co-Director John Garza. "This program has not only brought nutritional awareness to our students, but has brought many school communities together in health, including their families."

The event also featured free health and wellness services by Family Health Care Centers of Greater Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services’ Health and Nutrition Mobile Unit and Altamed. Compost recycling demonstrations were conducted by Athens Services and planting demonstrations were provided by Home Depot.

Entertainment was provided by DJ Andres Hortua, the BGE ICES Marching Band & Stomp and the BGI Generation Dance Team.

Two MUSD Schools Recognized for Closing the Achievement Gap

Honor Roll’ Highlights High-Performing Schools in California

Two Montebello Unified schools are being honored for their impressive work in helping their students reach higher levels of achievement.

California Business for Education Excellence (CBEE) has named La Merced Intermediate and Montebello Gardens Elementary to the 2013 Honor Roll, which recognizes elementary, middle and high schools for demonstrating consistently high levels of student academic achievement, improvement in achievement over time, and a reduction in achievement gaps. Specifically, the two schools have been designated as Star Schools, schools that are classified as high-poverty, yet continue to close the achievement gap.

The CBEE Honor Roll is a growing resource for schools to learn about best practices that increase student achievement. Schools are evaluated on several success factors that include having high expectations for all students, ongoing collaboration among teachers, targeted use of data to improve achievement, continual intervention for struggling students and mastery of content knowledge and best practices.

“The entire staff, administration and student body at these schools deserve so much credit for what they have done in terms of academic achievement,” said MUSD Superintendent Cleve Pell. “Our top priority is to best prepare our students for success beyond our classrooms and I am confident that is happening here.”

Both schools over the past few years have showed continual growth and have out-performed schools with similar demographics in the areas of English-language arts and math.

“Our teachers work collaboratively on a daily basis and meet in teams in order to plan their rigorous and interesting lessons for children,” said Montebello Gardens Elementary School Principal Norma Perez. “At the same time, they’re teaching students from a young age to be critical thinkers by requiring them to explain and justify their answers. I’m very proud of my entire school community because this really is a team effort.”

This is the seventh time the school has received this recognition. Montebello Gardens was also named to the CBEE Honor Roll in 2006 and 2008-2012.

From an Academic Performance Index (API) score of 785 in 2007, the school has improved by 100 points over the last six years, to a score of 885 last year.

La Merced Intermediate has also seen positive progress over the last few years. API scores at the school show a growth of seen continual improvement, from 655 in 2007, to 799 in 2013.

“We hold high expectations for our students and evaluate data to provide additional support to struggling students as well as our children who are English-learners,” said La Merced Intermediate School Principal Michael Ladjevic. “Our staff and teachers work collaboratively to ensure that our students have the rigorous instruction, assistance and encouragement they need to reach their potential.”

MUSD Families Learn About, Sign Up for Health Care

Informational and Enrollment Event an Overwhelming Success

With health insurance enrollment deadlines fast approaching, Montebello Unified School District teamed up with the ALL IN For Health Campaign and Covered California to provide MUSD families with information and enrollment options under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on Saturday, March 22. Over 200 families attended the event, with 77 individuals effectively enrolling for health care coverage.

The event, held at the Montebello Teachers Association Conference Center, addressed questions regarding the ACA, Medi-Cal, and Families of Mixed Immigration Status. Additionally, because of the community's extensive interest and attendance, MUSD coordinated follow-up appointments with families who attended, but were not able to enroll during the allotted hours. The event provided information in both English and Spanish, and offered free child care for attendees.

Covered California staffed the event with six Certified Enrollment Counselors, who were able to effectively enroll attendees and students. Participants were asked to bring a valid driver's license, social security numbers for all enrolling family members and W2 or tax return; non-U.S. citizens needed to bring their permanent resident identification/green card, naturalization certificate or passport.

“Enrolling in health care can be daunting and confusing for some of our families, especially with all the changes in effect this year,” said MUSD Superintendent Cleve Pell. “This event provided families with information, options, and enrollment assistance so that every last student can receive comprehensive health care."

The ALL IN Campaign, a project of The Children's Partnership, also provided information about Kaiser Permanente's Child Health Program (CHP).

“This program is for children who do not qualify for government programs,” said Melissa Vargas, ALL IN Campaign Manager. “It provides a great option for students in this community previously without health care. ”

Assemblywoman Visits her Former Elementary School for ‘Read Across America’ Event

assembly woman

A group of students at Bandini Elementary School had a special visitor on March 14, when Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia returned to the classroom of her former teacher to read to kindergarteners as part of the “Read Across America” campaign.

Every year, many schools within MUSD take part in “Read Across America” by hosting assemblies, special guest readers and other events. The nationwide initiative coinciding with the birthday of beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss, encourages reading out loud and celebrates the lifelong joys and benefits of reading.

“I am very excited to be able to share my love of reading with our future leaders. I have a lot of fond memories of reading time at Bandini Elementary and it is a big part of who I am and what I do,” Garcia said. “It was particularly awesome to be able to share with them how their teacher, Ms. Ponce-Edgington, was also my teacher and the positive impact she had on me.”

During her visit, Garcia provided every Bandini student with a coloring book promoting safety, which was produced by the State Legislature.

MUSD Superintendent of Education Susanna Contreras Smith called the annual initiative an important and exciting event for everyone involved – students, staff and the community.

“We’re proud to be part of this initiative, which truly aims to inspire a love for reading in our children,” said Contreras Smith. “Reading is such an important element of our students’ long-term growth and is something we encourage them to do on a regular basis, both at school and at home.”


Above and Beyond

P JiminezCongratulations to Patricia Jimenez, Environmental Science teacher at Bell Gardens High School!


On Thursday, March 20, Ms. Jimenez was honored for her environmental advocacy efforts on campus and throughout the community. She has written grants for environmental awareness, volunteered for the community and at local beaches, established an organic kitchen, advised environmental clubs, and developed a GREEN Pathway to be launch in 2015. Ms. Jimenez is one of those rare teachers who is committed to extending learning beyond the classroom, and has acted on her convictions.

Thank you, Ms. Jimenez, for leading the charge on environmental awareness.



Kk akiyamaevin Akiyama, ROP teacher at Schurr High School, also received an Above and Beyond award at the March 20 board meeting.


Four years ago, Mr. Akiyama spearheaded a campus program that donates holiday dinners to disadvantaged SHS families. As a result of last year's overwhelming success, which garnered over $4,000 to feed 70 local families, the "Dollars from Scholars" program has also been expanded to the MAI and ATC communities. Mr. Akiyama also recognizes all the teachers and staff involved in the program with an annual holiday luncheon.

On behalf of the District and our students, we congratulate and thank Mr. Akiyama for his hardworking and big-hearted fundraising efforts.

Schurr High School Receives $50,000 STEM Grant

Award to Fund Engineering & Design Materials and Teacher

Schurr High School’s Engineering & Design Pathway has been awarded a $50,000 grant that will provide the program with vital funding to purchase classroom materials and technology, as well as create professional development opportunities for teachers.

The grant given by Chevron Corporation aims to expand and continue the development of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs, particularly those with partnerships with Project Lead the Way (PLTW), which provides K-12 curriculum, high-quality teacher professional development and partnerships within STEM education.

Engineering & Design is a project-based learning pathway where students enter as a cohort in grade nine and remain until graduation. Students receive a comprehensive approach to education that includes individualized support, work-based learning, and rigorous academics integrated with Career Technical Education starting with the introduction to engineering design, progressing to principles of engineering and then visual electronics. Next year, the school will launch its first 12th grade engineering class.

“To participate in Project Lead the Way, and ensure we have training for teachers, we need to pay a fee,” said Catalina Garcia, the lead teacher for the school’s Engineering and Design Pathway. “This grant will go far in helping us to provide intensive training for our educators, as well as important technology and software, such as a 3D printer, to provide a realistic engineering education experience for students.”

The Pathway is one of 10 pathways offered throughout Montebello Unified’s high schools. Each of them serves to give students a competitive edge in both college and career.

MUSD Students Receive Surprise Visit from Father in Army

Sgt. Carlos Torres surprised his children at morning assembly

WTorres Reunionhile it has felt like forever since siblings Alexa, Bella and Carlos Jr. Torres last saw their father, a U.S. Army sergeant stationed in Korea, the trio got the shock of a lifetime when he surprised them during a Spirit Assembly at Washington Elementary School on March 14.

After Alexa, 9, Bella, 7, and Carlos Jr., 5, were called to the front to speak to classmates about how they miss and love their father, Sgt. Carlos Torres, decked out in his camouflage garb, slid out of the school's library, where he had been hiding with family, to surprise his children in front of the student body.

"I could not be more excited to be here," said Torres said. "I've always wanted to do this, but never had the opportunity until now. My family means everything to me."

Torres had been stationed in Osan, Korea working in aviation operations since June of last year after spending time in Afghanistan. While Skype and telephone calls have allowed him to communicate with his kids throughout his seven-year stint in the Army, he always dreamt of surprising his children at school.

"He called me months ago from Korea asking if he could surprise each of them in their classrooms," said Principal Lili Atoyan. "However, since we hold our Spirit Assembly every week, when students sing patriotic songs and learn more about our American history and traditions, I suggested he surprise them during the assembly."

All three children, students in kindergarten, first- and fourth-grade, were delighted to see their father, as was his youngest daughter, Kathryn, who is 17 months. Tears, hugs and smiles were abundant during the reunion, and many extended family members joined in to celebrate with the students.

Torres, who comes from a family of armed service men, is on a 30-day leave from the Army. He arrived last night and stayed at his parents' home in order to keep the surprise from his children. He has plans to take his family to Legoland and Disneyland while home.

Montebello Unified Serves as Model for Career

MUSD Hosts Local School Districts at Linked Learning Exhibition

As one of nine Linked Learning demonstration school districts in California, Montebello Unified recently hosted several Southern California school districts so that they could see exactly what MUSD is doing to present effective project-based learning through its 10 College and Career Success Pathways.

Pathways offered to students at its four comprehensive high schools include: culinary arts, public and legal services, automotive technology, engineering and design, health services, child development, construction management and green technology.

On February 26, teachers and school site and district-level administrators from Chino Valley Unified, Upland Unified, Barstow Unified and Colton Unified attended an event in which teachers, administrators and students from Montebello Unified presented how the District is presenting instruction in ways that allow students to come up with solutions to real-life problems in the areas of each pathway.

“Our goal was to really show our guests what we’ve learned through the years as we’ve implemented these innovative educational opportunities for our students,” said Ayele Dodoo, MUSD Director of Curriculum and Instruction for grades 9 through 12. “These workshops and roundtable discussions allowed local school districts to see how we present project-based learning that is aligned with both the Common Core State Standards and what students might see in the workplace.”

The local school districts were also able to see how Montebello Unified creates professional development opportunities for teachers, and how teachers in turn come up with projects that present realistic scenarios for students. In addition, the event presented information on how Montebello Unified develops student job shadows and teacher externships using their own district resources and departments such as its Nutrition Services Department, Maintenance and Operations Department, and Head Start Program.

Several visitors, as well as MUSD pathway students, took tours of these departments, including the District’s Maintenance and Operations Department. There, they discussed real-world projects that Maintenance and Operations is currently grappling with, such as prototyping a standard security door that would be complaint to the requirements of American with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines, but is also impenetrable to outside intruders. All visitors, including students, brainstormed not only solutions but also ways in which Engineering students might engage in this project.

“Montebello Unified has a great model for how the future might look for education,” said Dave Hodgin, an educator from Upland High School. “This is what students need, to be treated like adults, and provided with these types of opportunities.”

Following MUSD department tours, districts had the opportunity to tour the Applied Technology Center (ATC) High School, which features several state-of-the-art classrooms and technology, including a driving simulator for the school’s Public and Legal Services pathway and a full-service kitchen for the culinary and hospitality pathway.

“I am proud that Montebello Unified is taking the lead on this revolution that is Linked Learning,” said MUSD Superintendent of Education Susanna Contreras Smith. “These educational programs are providing our students with great insight into what they may want to study in college, or go on to do in their careers. It’s great to see so much interest from our local school districts so that hopefully more students have access to these types of programs.”

Top Spellers Compete in District-Wide Spelling Bee Winner to Move on To Regional Competition

spelling bee winners

Forty-six students from across Montebello Unified gathered on the Bell Gardens Intermediate School stage on Wednesday, Feb. 26, to vie for the title as MUSD’s top speller during the District’s seventh annual competition.

In more than two hours and five rounds of competition, that included several challenges and unique situations that required a review of spelling bee rules, students successfully tackled words such as “precocious,” “synthetic,” “caricature,” and “statistician.”

Montebello Intermediate sixth-grader Miguel Castelan came out on top by winning the final round, and will go on to represent Montebello Unified in a regional competition on March 26 that will feature competitors from across Los Angeles County. Anthony Olivarez, a fifth-grade student from Wilcox Elementary, came in second, after correctly spelling three consecutive words in the last round.

Every student who participated in the Spelling Bee was awarded with a medal and the first- and second-place winners received trophies, as well as gift cards in the amount of $50 for the first place winner, $25 for the second place winner and piggy banks from sponsor Camino Federal Credit Union.

Each school in Montebello Unified held their own Spelling Bee competitions earlier this school year and the top two finishers went on to the District-wide competition on Wednesday.

“Each student showed tenacity and bravery -- it took a lot of hard work and preparation to get to this point,” said Superintendent of Education Susanna Contreras Smith. “I am so proud of each student that participated in this year’s Montebello Unified Spelling Bee."

The popular event is put on annually by the District’s English Learner Program/Curriculum and Instruction K-8 under the direction of Silvia Krespan, the District’s coordinator of Student and Parent Support Services.

The event featured an hour of entertainment by student dance groups beforehand, as well as an intermission with snacks and drinks. This year's judges included Superintendent of Education Susanna Contreras Smith, Deputy Superintendent Arthur P. Revueltas, Assistant Superintendent Jill E. Rojas and General Legal Counsel David E. Kenney, Esq. Doug Patzkowski, a fourth-grade teacher at Bella Vista Elementary, was this year's Spell Master.

Two MUSD School Awarded Grant to assist students struggling with reading


Two Montebello Unified schools are leveraging competitive grant funding to expand a program that serves to raise achievement for students struggling with reading and English-language arts skills.

Suva Intermediate and Montebello Intermediate were two of only 40 schools throughout the state to be awarded with competitive Project READ grants totaling approximately $320,000 over a three-year period. The money will be used to expand an existing program that has been proven to be successful in helping to close the achievement gap for sixth- through eighth-grade students on the campuses. The money will be used for instructional materials and technology, professional development for teachers and additional support for families and parents.

The Read 180 program is designed to assist students who are two or more years behind in their reading level, providing individualized instruction for children, and data to enable teachers to further cater to students’ specific needs.

“Our District and our schools make it a priority to find creative ways to support our students’ success,” said MUSD Superintendent of Education Susanna Contreras Smith. “We are excited to see our students’ growth under this instructional program, which has already proved to be successful in Montebello Unified.”