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July 2013

Montebello Unified Celebrated Graduates With Commencement Ceremonies

Commencement ceremonies for more than 1,800 graduates from Montebello Unified's three comprehensive high schools were filled with tears of joy and cheers of excitement from parents and family who celebrated their teens' accomplishments.
 
Montebello, Bell Gardens and Schurr high schools each held their graduations on Thursday, marking the culmination of more than a decade of study and the opportunity for students to walk towards their futures with a diploma in hand.
 
"Our students have worked tirelessly to reach this life-changing milestone," Montebello Unified School District Superintendent Susanna Contreras Smith said. "We are proud of them, proud of their accomplishments and hope they continue on this path to further their education and make Montebello Unified proud."
 
Holding its ceremony at Heaman Field, Montebello High School graduated 701 students, making it the largest graduating class in the last 35 years. Of those, 58 students were recognized for having four or more years of perfect attendance, or 82,260 days of schools without a single absence.
 
“We are very proud of the class of 2013," Montebello High Principal Jeff Schwartz said. "They’ve worked hard and we’re hoping they continue in the future to gain further degrees.”
 
This year's valedictorian was Luis Apolaya Torres, who is attending Stanford University, and the Salutatorian was Diego Vasquez, who will attend the United States Military Academy at West Point.
 
About 30 percent of students have been accepted to four-year universities and 60 percent expect to attend a community college, Schwartz said.
 
Bell Gardens High School held its ceremony at the East Los Angeles College-Weingard Stadium. The school graduated 628 seniors.
 
Serving as Bell Garden's Valedictorian was Spielberg Michel, whose 4.18 grade point average is launching him to UC Irvine, where he plans on studying computer hardware engineering. The Salutatorian was Justin Carmona, who plans to attend the University of Southern California, where he will study graphic design.
 
A senior survey showed that 51 percent of students planned to attend a two-year or vocational college, while 38 percent intended on going to a four-year university. Some of the schools on the list include the University of La Verne, UCLA and California State University, Los Angeles. Additionally, college-bound students have also been awarded close to $100,000 in scholarships.
 
"It is amazing to see how much our students have grown and how much more potential there is for them to achieve their academic goals," Bell Gardens Principal Juan Herrera said.
 
This year's commencement ceremony at Schurr High School included 675 graduating seniors, 31 percent of whom will go on to four-year universities and 56 percent going on to two-year colleges.
 
The ceremony, held at Ken Davis Field, included two Valedictorians – Luzdary Ruelas and Sandy Tang , and two Salutatorians – Joeson Chiang and Benedict Salvanera
 
"They are a really special class. They are great students," Schurr High Principal Stacey Honda said. "I wish the class of 2013 all of the best in their endeavors on behalf of the school, faculty and staff."


Grads

School Garden comes to fruition

Grand Opening Commemorates Completion of Macy Intermediate’s GreenSpace

Four years ago, a vision began unfolding to transform a large dirt lot at Macy Intermediate into a beautiful school garden. After much collaboration between the District, the school and its community, the Montebello Unified community celebrated its recently-completed GreenSpace garden with a Grand Opening event and Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony on Friday, June 14.
 
“We couldn’t be happier with the result of this collaborative effort, which couldn’t have been possible without the help of the many individuals who came together to make this dream a reality,” said Macy Intermediate Principal and alumnus Sterling Schubert. “This is a place where our students can participate in activities that teach them about healthy eating, gardening and other standards-based curriculum.”
 
In 2009, several unused portable classrooms were demolished, leaving behind an empty, unusable space. With the support of Montebello Unified, the school staff, parents, students and community came together to turn this vision into a reality.
 
They had the help of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” Landscape Designer Eduardo Xol, who attended Macy Intermediate as a student.
 
“When we began this project, we asked students to put together a wish list of what they wanted to see in this space,” Xol said. “I think it’s an important reminder that great things can happen when you dream big.”
 
The garden features a large lawn, concrete garden boxes, planting rows and granulated rock walkways. It also includes a pizza garden, where students will pick fresh vegetables and participate in hands-on lessons with community partner Bollini’s Pizzeria in Monterey Park.
 
Macy’s GreenSpace will also serve as a “productive area,” where students can study, listen to music or perform other enriching activities. The entire school is getting involved, and various student groups have the opportunity to choose what is planted in their sections of the garden.
 
Students in Macy’s after-school program, run by the California Educational Centers, will be charged with maintaining and caring for the garden.
 
“By bringing this garden to Macy, we’ve created an area where students can work together to maintain the garden and take ownership and pride in what they’ve created,” said MUSD Superintendent Susanna Contreras Smith. “I want to thank everyone who had a hand in turning this dream into a reality.”
 
The event also featured remarks from keynote speaker Brian Tom, founder of the California Educational Centers, Monterey Park Mayor Teresa Real Sebastian and Los Angeles Community College Board Trustee-Elect Mike Eng. The District was also presented with certificates of recognition from Assemblyman Edwin Chau’s office and Congresswoman Judy Chu’s office.

 


macy garden

Spartan Speech and Debate Team for Success at National Tournament

The Montebello Unified School recently recognized the Schurr High School Speech and Debate Team for an outstanding showing at the 2013 National Forensic League’s National Championship, where one of the District’s own was crowned a national champion.

Tyler Tippings, a junior member of the Schurr High School Spartan Speech and Debate Team, beat out 375 students to win the first-place award in Prose Reading, one of 12 divisions that took place at what’s being called the largest academic competition in the world, drawing more than 3,400 speakers and debaters June 14-23 in Birmingham, Alabama.

 It’s the first time the 36-member team has had a national champion.

“This is a momentous occasion for Montebello Unified, its students and staff,” Superintendent Cleve Pell said. “We couldn’t be more proud of the time and dedication these students put into the team that resulted in their ultimate success.”

The team is – one of only two California teams to be named national champions – and congratulated them on their accomplishments at the June 25 board meeting.

The Schurr High School Spartan Speech and Debate Team was also named a Speech School of Honor and placed 29th out of 950 teams nationwide.

“This was a huge victory not only for an individual student, but for the entire community,” said Tony Ugalde, the Spartan Speech and Debate Team’s program director of 16 years. “The fact that my student won this award shattered a barrier that was always there because we thought it was not possible. This win expands on the notion of what’s possible.”

Montebello Unified Awarded Five-Year Grant to Administer Head Start Program

After a rigorous and competitive application process, the Montebello Unified School District is among the first in Los Angeles County to obtain a five-year grant to administer its own Head Start/Early Learning Program.
 
The California Department of Health and Human Services recently awarded Montebello Unified with the $7.2 million grant, which became effective July 1.
 
Typically operated by the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE), the District will now have the opportunity to work directly with the Office of Head Start to provide comprehensive developmental services for low-income children who are pre-elementary school age.
 
“This is a major accomplishment for our District and it shows our commitment to offering a high-quality early education program that truly impacts the children of this community,” said Superintendent Cleve Pell. “It is our priority to give our students the best possible start in life by preparing them for success in elementary school and beyond.”
 
In previous years, LACOE had exclusively run Head Start Programs as a grantee, with grants lasting for indefinite periods of time. However, due to new federal regulations, potential providers, including MUSD, were able to compete with existing grantees for continued federal funding for their Head Start Programs.
 
In order to attain grantee status, MUSD underwent a rigorous application process and demonstrated a strong program plan to best serve its community. There will be 12 Head Start grantees throughout Los Angeles County, with MUSD being one of the first to assume that role.
 
“Being able to have control over how we provide these early learning programs to our young children will be critical to the success they have when they enroll in our schools,” Montebello Unified Superintendent Susanna Contreras Smith said. “We couldn’t be more pleased about this grant and we will use these funds to continue nurturing and supporting the intellectual and emotional growth of these young minds for years to come.”
 
The MUSD Head Start Program has 39 classes at 11 school sites in Bell Gardens, East Los Angeles, Montebello, Pico Rivera and Monterey Park.
 
“As a recipient of this grant, MUSD will work directly with the Office of Head Start so that we can continue providing a wide-range of exceptional services to the children and families in the MUSD Head Start Program,” said Aida Ramos, Assistant Director of the District’s Head Start/Early Learning Program.
 
It is offered at no cost for low-income families who either receive CalWorks or meet federal low-income guidelines. Children must also live in the Montebello Unified School District’s attendance area.
 

Schurr High School Speech and Debate Team Receives Honors

The Schurr High School Speech and Debate Team recently was recognized  for an outstanding showing at the 2013 National Forensic League’s National Championship, where one of the District’s own was crowned a national champion.
 

Tyler Tippings, a junior member of the Schurr High School Spartan Speech and Debate Team, beat out 375 students to win the first-place award in Prose Reading, one of 12 divisions that took place at what’s being called the largest academic competition in the world, drawing more than 3,400 speakers and debaters June 14-23 in Birmingham, Alabama.
 

 It’s the first time the 36-member team has had a national champion.
 

“This is a momentous occasion for Montebello Unified, its students and staff,” Superintendent Cleve Pell said. “We couldn’t be more proud of the time and dedication these students put into the team that resulted in their ultimate success.”
 

The team was one of only two California teams to be named national champions – and was congratulated on their accomplishments at the June 25 board meeting.
 

“It’s a great achievement for our students to compete against hundreds of high school teams and still come out on top,” Superintendent Susanna Contreras Smith said. “It certainly is a testament to what our students are capable of.”
 

The Schurr High School Spartan Speech and Debate Team was also named a Speech School of Honor and placed 29th out of 950 teams nationwide.
 

“This was a huge victory not only for an individual student, but for the entire community,” said Tony Ugalde, the Spartan Speech and Debate Team’s program director of 16 years. “The fact that my student won this award shattered a barrier that was always there because we thought it was not possible. This win expands on the notion of what’s possible.”
 

With a history of success on the local, state and national levels, the team operates exclusively as an after-school program, meeting 12 hours a week and participating in 27 tournaments year-round.
 

“I think this win could be considered a culmination of a lot of hard work,” Ugalde said. “This is one of those underdog stories that took a lot of dedication and sacrifice.”

 

District Keeps Student Health A Top Priority

Board of Education Honors Mental Health Providers & School Nurses

The Board of Education this month honored the District’s partners who are providing vital health care services that maximize the mental and physical well-being of students so that they can reach their potential in the classroom, and in life.  

Board members presented certificates of recognition to Montebello Unified’s 10 mental health providers: ALMA Family Services, The Almansor Center, Bienvenidos Childrens Center, ENKI Mental Health Services, Pacific Clinics, Maryvale, Penny Lane, Roybal Family Mental Health Clinic, SPIRITT Family Services and The Whole Child.

Nine school nurses were also recognized for their dedication and care for MUSD students. They are:  Andrea Juarez, Rita Onwenna, Olga Paez, Susan Walker, May Carrillo, Ozo Nwabuzor, Aurora Nwaezeapu, Mary Wong and the District’s Lead Nurse Annette Ruvalcaba. 
 

Mental Health Services

In 2009, Montebello Unified began expanding its mental health services through its Safe Schools/Healthy Students Grant Initiative in order to increase access for students in need of treatment and to eliminate barriers to student success.
 

Through their work and through the implementation of the Montebello Unified School District’s initiative, more than 2,000 students who were referred for services have been served since 2010-11.
 

“It’s clear that students who live with various mental health issues need compassion coupled with effective programs that bring them into a state of well-being,” said George Muriel, Assistant Director of Pupil & Community Services and Mental Health Coordinator. “There is no doubt that our District’s commitment and our partners’ hard work to fulfill that commitment continues to greatly benefit our children and their ability to succeed.”
 

All of MUSD’s Mental Health Providers have developed relationships with school site principals, psychologists and other support staff. In the last four years, the District has effectively used its grant resources to implement innovative counseling services, hire social workers for each of the high schools and alternative high school programs and open a school-based health center at Bell Gardens High School that provides free health and mental healthcare services for students and the entire community.
 

In addition, Montebello Unified has been at the forefront of establishing anti-bullying and suicide prevention programs and has extended training on these issues to key District groups including assistant principals, counselors, school psychologists and school police officials.
 

On-campus Healthcare

Montebello Unified’s nursing staff cares for between 3,500 and 4,500 students so that they are safe, healthy and ready to learn.
 

“Our nurses exemplify what’s best about those who provide school health services,” said Montebello Unified Superintendent Susanna Contreras Smith. “Our healthcare providers are critical members of our education team because they support our District in its commitment to helping our students acquire the knowledge and skills they need to progress in their education and in life. We all know that children can reach new heights when they’re healthy.”
 

The District’s nurses perform health assessments, vision, hearing, dental and scoliosis screenings, create emergency care plans for students with health issues, treat diabetic students and those children with severe allergies. They also monitor more than 2,000 students with health issues such as asthma, heart problems and seizures and provide daily care for those who have had recent medical procedures for various conditions.
 

In addition, MUSD’s school nurses promote prevention and wellness and provide a bridge that connects families and students to important health services.