Skip to main content

March 2015

Montebello Unified Educational Conference to Spotlight Common Core Instructional Strategies

The Montebello Unified School District will host an innovative educational conference designed to provide more than 100 of its own transitional kindergarten through fifth-grade instructors with the tools and resources to best provide rigorous instruction aligned with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

The Strategies for Implementing Common Core State Standards Conference at La Merced Intermediate School on March 28 focuses on the implementation of critical thinking and collaborative learning activities in the classroom.

The conference, coordinated by the MUSD Elementary Education Department in conjunction with the Montebello Teachers Association, will include nine specific discussion sessions on effective communication techniques and teaching methods for implementing CCSS.

“The purpose of the conference is to provide teachers with the opportunity to enhance their teaching skills to maximize student learning,” Adeline Canedo, Director of MUSD Elementary Education, said. “By tapping into our top program specialists’ areas of expertise to assist our teachers with implementation of Common Core in our schools, we are establishing a cohesive network of educators that can keep the ongoing transition as seamless as possible.”

More than 10 Montebello Unified Program Specialists, teachers and coordinators are presenting during the sessions, which focus on an array of topics to improve instruction across subject areas.  For example, one session will address language arts instruction, such as principles needed to draft a quality purpose statement from complex text or how to analyze two or more texts to draw conclusions about how those two texts are similar.

Other sessions break down effective assessment strategies to discover how to integrate CCSS with the Next Generation Science Standards in the classroom.

Another notable session will be “Influence Student Learning with Effective Feedback,” which will provide teachers with strategies to reinforce what students already learned, while clarifying goals for student learning to move forward. Ideally, students would receive feedback in a timely fashion throughout the school term, giving the students and instructors a chance to make adjustments and improvements well before final grades are issued.

“This unique conference illustrates that our teachers are committed to providing the best quality education for our students,” Superintendent of Education Susanna Contreras Smith said. “We thoroughly commend the staff, administrators and teachers within the Elementary Education Department for their hard work in putting this conference together.”

Many of the strategies to be discussed are based on the research of Professor John Hattie, whose Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) talks and Visible Learning books have greatly influenced educational studies around the world.

Bell Gardens High School Music Program Receives $42,000 in New Instruments

Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation Lauds BGHS Music Program Strengths

Clarinets, saxophones, cymbals, piccolos, guitars and an electric keyboard are among the musical instruments and accessories donated to Montebello Unified’s Bell Gardens High School (BGHS) by the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation. The nonprofit organization awarded the BGHS Music Program nearly $42,000, retail value, as part of its “Keeping Music Alive in Our Schools” campaign.

Foundation members visiting Bell Gardens High School were thoroughly impressed with the dedication and tutelage of music instructor Frank Rico, as well as his department’s range of band offerings and music production program.

“We are impressed by the Bell Gardens High music department,” said Tricia Steel, Program Director for Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation. “Mr. Rico is accessible to his students before, during and after school and the wide range of the curriculum encourages access to the program for students interested in learning all aspects of music education.”

Budding musicians can join marching band, concert band, orchestra, beginning or afterschool jazz band or afterschool mariachi band. Prospective recording engineers can take classes on sound editing or song structure. An innovative recording techniques class focuses on various facts of stage set-up such as lighting, microphone placement and sound board specifications.

“The hands-on technical experience for the students is invaluable,” said Rico, now in his 10th year teaching at Bell Gardens High. “They lend tech support to many of the District events, including concerts and stage plays.”

Rigorous instruction and harmonic diversity are hallmarks of the Bell Gardens music program bghs bandand what students take away from the classroom can be productively applied as they advance to higher education and stimulating career paths.

“Our music program is one of many visual and performing arts programs Montebello Unified offers as it prepares students to be well-rounded for the next step in their academic, professional and personal lives,” Montebello Unified Superintendent of Schools Cleve Pell said. “We congratulate Mr. Rico, his team and his students for going after this highly generous donation and we look forward to a more robust program as a result.”

At its Board meeting on April 2, the MUSD Board of Education, together with District administration, will recognize and present certificates to the Bell Gardens High School music department and the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation.

Montebello Unified Spelling Bee Champion to Compete in 10th Annual Los Angeles County Spelling Bee

Rosewood Park Elementary sixth-grader Ismael Solorio is preparing to represent Montebello Unified at the 10th annual Los Angeles County Elementary Spelling Bee to be held March 25 after winning the District’s eighth annual Spelling Bee. It is no easy feat to compete in the District’s Spelling Bee where complex words such as “precocious,”“synthetic” and “statistician” can stump even the top of the District’s fourth- through sixth-grade spellers who outperformed their classmates to reach the District competition.

The District’s event, held at Montebello Intermediate School on February 25, featured approximately five rounds of competition as students took turns spelling complex words in front of their families and audience members. Ismael was declared the winner after he successfully spelled the word “geneal.” Andrea Ruiz, a sixth-grader from Eastmont Intermediate School, secured the runner-up spot.

“I had fun at the District Spelling Bee representing Rosewood Park School and I want to thank my mom, my brother and especially my teacher, Ms. McCabe, for helping me to prepare for this event,” Ismael said. “In order to prepare for the Spelling Bee, I studied prefixes, suffixes and learned Greek and Latin root words.”

Ismael will face off against other student representatives from 24 other school districts in Los Angeles County. The top two winners, with their parents, will participate in the California State Elementary Spelling Bee in April, with expenses paid for by the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE).

“We are so proud of our school representatives for participating in another successful and challenging MUSD Spelling Bee, which makes learning engaging,” said Superintendent of Education Susanna Contreras Smith.Spelling Bee “A heartfelt congratulations to Ismael  – and a very special thank-you to all the teachers, staff and District leaders who organized this fantastic event this year.”

Contreras Smith served as the Master of Ceremonies. The judges were: Arthur Revueltas, Deputy Superintendent; Jill Rojas, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources; Dr. Anthony Martinez, Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services; and Adeline Canedo, Director of Elementary Education.  The Spell Master was Doug Patzkowski, a fifth-grade teacher at Bella Vista Elementary School. 

The host of LACOE’s Spelling Bee, to be held Almansor Court in Alhambra, will be entertainer John Irving of The Renaissance Center in Lancaster. The Spell Master will be Donna Van Allen of LACOE.

“The students, staff and parents of Rosewood Park School are very proud of Ismael and we wish him the best at the LACOE competition next week,” said Robert A. Cornejo, J.D., Principal of Rosewood Park School.

Montebello High CIF Wrestling Champion Wins First Back-to-Back Titles

Nico Gomez, Coached by Father, Continues Family Tradition of MHS Wrestling Success

Competitive wrestling is a father-son tradition in the Gomez family. Now, thanks to son Nicholas “Nico” Gomez, it has turned into a winning tradition for Montebello High School. In February, Nico became Montebello’s first-ever two-time Southern Section California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) 106 lb. Division wrestling champion, clinching the title under the watchful and supportive eye of his father, Pete Gomez, who attended Montebello High School (MHS) and now serves as MHS assistant wrestling coach.

Nico claimed his first championship in 2014 as a junior. This year, he helped Montebello earn a share of the Almont League title for the first time in 17 years.

"It¹s a dream come true," Nico said. "I give credit to the Montebello coaching staff, my teammates, Principal Jeff Schwartz and Athletic Director Ralph Gutierrez. They gave me opportunities and made sure I never fell behind in my training."

Pete Gomez wrestled at Montebello High from 1984 to 1988 and, after college, returned to Montebello as assistant coach for five years until stepping down when Nico was born. Nico, like his father, grew up to be a super-competitive athlete who, though he started wrestling in sixth grade, was a star football player at heart.

“His passion was always football,” the elder Gomez said. “But at 92 pounds he didn’t play much. Finally, in the ninth grade, he fully committed to wrestling.”

When Nico joined the Montebello High wrestling team, Pete returned to his alma mater as assistant under newly arrived head coach Robert Ferra. In four short years, the two have helped turn Montebello into a Southern Section contender.

For Nico, success on the mat was slow in coming. He won some, he lost some. At the end of his sophomore year, he was eliminated on the first day of the CIF tournament. The loss didn’t sit well with him.

“Losing was an ugly feeling,” Nico said. “I put it in my head that nothing was going to stop me from being the best.”Montebello Wrestling

Nico made the decision to train year round and instituted a rigorous workout regimen that required him to sacrifice a good deal of his social life, raising some eyebrows among his friends. Undeterred, Nico never let up, winning one match after another, becoming the team’s star wrestler.

Beyond individual accolades, Nico’s motivation to succeed had a more personal element. His grandfather, Pete Gomez Sr., was Nico’s biggest fan and supporter, going to all the practices and matches. When his grandfather passed away shortly before junior year, Nico dedicated the 2014 season to him.

This year, Nico’s dedication paid off and he found himself at the CIF championships, where he won the title on February 21 – his grandfather’s birthday.

“No matter how tired I was, thinking of him inspired me,” Nico said. “It was a way to spread the family name. Every time I am on the wrestling mat, I think of my grandfather.”

He also qualified and participated in the State Championships in Bakersfield earlier this month.

The MUSD Board and District administrators will honor Nico for his athletic achievements at the April 2 Board meeting held at the District Office.

“Nico truly represents an inspiring work ethic – not only on behalf of his family, but as a Montebello High student,” Superintendent of Education Susanna Contreras Smith said. “We could not be more proud of Nico, his family and his team for reminding us of the depth of our Montebello traditions and families.”

Montebello Unified Eighth-Graders Receive Guidance at Pathways Fair Held at East Los Angeles College

More than 2,400 Montebello Unified eighth-graders learned about potential career pathways they can pursue during their high school experience through hands-on demonstrations and expert guidance provided by teachers and upper-class peers Feb. 20. The day-long MUSD Linked Learning Pathways Choice Fair was held at East Los Angeles College (ELAC).

The fair highlighted 11 career pathways provided by Montebello Unified's high schools, including rigorous academic programs in architecture, public service, child development, culinary arts, engineering and design, business, and alternative energy. The event was developed in partnership with ELAC to enable students to visualize what college is like, and what it takes to get there.

Eighth-graders from all six MUSD intermediate schools were bused to ELAC and provided a stamp card, then visited the various Pathways booths until they had experienced every demonstration.

“Our Pathways programs are indicative of our promise to promote world-class learning because each pathway prepares our students for graduation and higher education, while making them knowledgeable and competitive for tomorrow’s jobs,” Superintendent of Schools Cleve Pell said. “We are grateful to all those involved for getting so many students, teachers, facilitators and staff members together in the name of promoting high-quality educational opportunities.”

PathwaysMUSD Pathways link learning with student interests, career preparation, hands-on learning experiences, and lead to higher graduation rates, increased college enrollments, and enhanced earning potential.

“This event was truly impressive as it not only provided our eighth-graders with motivating academic and career options, but it provided our current Pathway students with a chance to think critically, collaborative and creatively about what they are experiencing and why,” Superintendent of Education Susanna Contreras Smith said. “Bravo to each participant – students, teachers and District officials included – for instituting this memorable event as a precedent for years to come.”

MUSD Pathways offers students personally relevant, wholly-engaging, and rigorous academic and technical curricula combined with exposure to real-world professions; helps prepare students to graduate from high school well prepared to enter a two- or four-year college or university; develops opportunities for apprenticeships and formal job training; and exposes many students in school to previously unimagined college and career opportunities.


The Pathways programs available are:

Applied Technology Center:

  • Food Service (CHEF)
  • Public Service (PALS)
  • Architecture, Construction and Engineering (ACE)
  • Health Services

Bell Gardens High School:

  • Child Development (iCARE)
  • Culinary Arts (CHOP)
  • Green Technology (GREEN)

Montebello High School:

  • Alternative Energy (DRIVEN)
  • Creative Arts (CATS)

Schurr High School:

  • Engineering and Design
  • Global Business and Logistics (GBL)

Students who choose to pursue a pathway must complete an application and have it signed by their parents before the end of the school year. Pathways Application

Bell Gardens High School Senior Wins $60k Scholarship, Named Teen Mom of the Year

If it wasn’t for Montebello Unified’s California School Age Families (Cal-SAFE) program, Shantell Gomez may not be leading a campus club on health occupations, interning two days a week at Beverly Hospital or traveling to Washington D.C. to advocate for reproductive health. After nearly flunking out of school, Gomez, a Bell Gardens High School (BGHS) senior and mother of a toddler, is now on track to graduate from BGHS in June with a 3.5 grade point average, and recently received a sizeable scholarship to attend Mt. St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles.

Juggling the responsibilities of school while raising her now 2-year-old son Aidan has been a life-altering struggle for Gomez, who was on the verge of flunking out of school just a few years ago when she found herself pregnant at 15 years old.

Yet, with the support of MUSD’s Cal-SAFE resources and local partner Generation Her – an organization that provides life skills services for MUSD’s Cal-SAFE program – coupled with the attention given by Pregnant Minor Instructor Jennifer Gonzalez and other dedicated MUSD staff, Gomez got her grades up, found her academic passion in health and got into college. She also secured a $60,000 scholarship to college, and the title of “2014 Teen Mom of the Year” from Generation Her.

“Shantell is not like any other teen mom I’ve ever met. She is extremely self-driven,” said Gonzalez, now in her third year of working as a Pregnant Minor Instructor at Montebello Unified. “Shantell is committed to bettering herself and Aidan. She just wants to achieve.”

Cal-SAFE is a state program, implemented through MUSD at Montebello and Bell Gardens high schools. Cal-SAFE offers child care centers, parenting classes, health care instruction, vocational counseling and nutritional information – and works to allow and encourage expectant and parenting mothers to continue their schooling.

All of this would have been difficult for Gomez to envision years ago. After giving birth to her son, Shantell battled an unstable home life and struggled in finding the focus and support she needed to raise her son and regain her footing in school. Gonzalez was there to support her every step of the way.

Gonzalez, like many other teachers and administrators at Montebello Unified, Teen Awardprovided support to Gomez. They continue to the same for students who need nurturing and guidance when life takes an unexpected twist. Gonzalez, with the resources of MUSD, Cal-SAFE and Generation Her, helps MUSD students cope with the unanticipated development of becoming a teenage mother, while ensuring MUSD teen moms are still able to earn their high school diploma.

“Shantell rises above,” said Dianna Smiley, founder of Generation Her. “We work with more than 400 students and her passion stands out. When Shantell walks in the room she commands attention.”

However, all of this attention comes as a bit of a surprise to Gomez, who modestly downplays her achievements and activism, preferring to concentrate on her studies and make sure she doesn’t completely miss out on being a teenager while she still can.

“It makes me happy to inspire so many people,” said Gomez, who has been asked by Generation Her to speak at its Fifth Anniversary Benefit Fundraiser on Sunday, March 15 in Los Angeles.

After graduation, Gomez hopes to do a little traveling this summer and looks forward to going to Mt. St. Mary’s, where she wants to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

“We could not be more proud of Shantell, who has truly evolved from a struggling student into an honors scholar, activist, role model and award-winner,” said Superintendent of Education Susanna Contreras Smith. “To watch her overcome adversity while finding the strength to follow her dreams and advocate for what she believes in represents the core values we wish for every student in our District – she is a shining example of achievement.”

Montebello Unified Adopts Pioneering Ethnic Studies Graduation Requirement

Responding to the needs of its community and continuing its mission to provide multi-cultural, lingual and ethnic instruction and opportunity for its students, Montebello Unified has become the fourth school district in California to adopt Ethnic Studies curricula as a high school graduation requirement. The resolution, adopted by the MUSD Board of Education on February 19, mandates that the requirement be implemented within two years.

The desire to include an ethnic studies academic curriculum was sparked by the Board's goal to encourage students to think critically about language, race, ethnicity and culture to best prepare them to understand and adapt to an increasingly diverse world.

The District received support from students, past and present, teachers, community members, local college professors, among others, who all voiced passionate enthusiasm to bolster the Ethnic Studies courses at Montebello Unified. Currently, high school courses in Mexican-American Studies, Minority Cultures in America and Multicultural Studies are offered as electives, as is a strong Dual Language Immersion Program.

The resolution, which lays out a plan to provide outstanding educational opportunities to all students without regard to race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, income, sexual orientation or disability, also requires that Ethnic Studies courses be created for all elementary and intermediate schools within four years.

“There is substantial research that proves that well-designed and well-taught ethnic studies curricula produces positive academic and social outcomes for students,” said Superintendent of Education Susanna Contreras Smith. “We are guided by core values of equity, inclusiveness and universally high expectations at Montebello Unified and we are eager to continue to foster strong ties between our students and their families, schools and neighborhoods.”

In order to ensure that Montebello Unified proceeds with prudence and expertise, the District also intends to form an Ethnic Studies Advisory Committee. The committee is comprised of 15 people: two high school students, two parents, four certified employees, two classified employees, two administrators, two District office personnel and one professor from an institution of higher education.

The Advisory Committee will meet and coordinate periodically with the Dual Language Immersion Program Advisory Committee.

In addition, the District will direct the superintendent to appoint an Ethnic Studies facilitator devoted entirely to overseeing the expansion of the existing Ethnic Studies courses to all high schools, develop new Ethnic Studies course offerings, and prepare a budget to align Ethnic Studies with the Common Core State Standards.

“We will develop curriculum, professional development, and other support systems to ensure that quality courses offered by passionate and qualified teachers fulfill our rigorous academic standards and all graduation requirements,” said Superintendent of Schools Cleve Pell. “Through existing partnerships and the forging of new ventures with institutions of higher education and thriving Ethnic Studies programs, we will continue to enrich the lives of our students in a collaborative and meaningful way. ”

At present, 32 languages other than English are spoken in District schools, with the primary languages being Spanish, Cantonese and Armenian.

Bell Gardens Intermediate Hosts Sold-Out National Teen Leadership Program Diversity Day

More than 200 middle- and high-schoolers from throughout Southern California along with parents, counselors, teachers and Montebello Unified Board members, came together on February 21 for the sold-out National Teen Leadership Program (NTLP) Diversity Day.

The day-long workshop was designed to enlighten and instill in students the importance and benefits of diversity in their schools, community and beyond. The workshop also sought to assist participants in dealing with such complex and divisive issues such as violence, hate speech, bullying and prejudice through experiential activities and group and break-out sessions.

Calvin Terrell, a charismatic and renowned diversity awareness speaker of NTLP, was the keynote speaker and reminded students of his exhortation that ‘to be a warrior in the face of adversity is hard but it’s better than being a coward’ resonated greatly with both students and adults in the audience. Terrell’s dynamic presentations brought both laughter and tears to those in attendance. 

The NTLP also offers Teen Leadership Camps over the summer for intermediate and high school students throughout Montebello Unified.

Diversity Day“To bring students from all backgrounds and cultures onto our campus to bond and empower themselves was an amazing and powerful experience for the participants,” Superintendent of Education Susanna Contreras Smith said. “We are so honored to have partnered with the National Teen Leadership Program, and are humbled that they chose one of our sites to host this special and moving workshop.”

The National Teen Leadership Program is a nonprofit organization that offers leadership camps and one-day workshops to instill important leadership concepts in our youth. The program, created in 1992, began as a modest three-day camp at California State University, Sacramento that was attended by 185 students. It has since grown to accommodate more than 12,000 teens and has raised more than $160,000 in scholarships.