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May 2016

Montebello High Trio Poised to Enter Prestigious Universities

Three excellent Montebello High School seniors share a camaraderie, playful competition and the drive to succeed.  With Joseph Chavez and Kimberly Davila going to Ivy League colleges on the East Coast and Mariam Germanyan headed up to the University of California, Berkeley, the trio represents both a commitment to education and to life beyond academia.

Joseph Chavez, Montebello High School valedictorian, violinist, swimmer and water polo player, decided to postpone his academic career at MIT for an undergraduate start at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. Planning to study engineering at an institution that emphasizes undergraduate research, Joseph also sees himself studying entrepreneurism. The goal, he says, is to design and sell his own musical instruments. With a GPA of 4.41, Joseph says he is prepared for college and life after high school thanks to phenomenal teachers who have provided extensive support in all subjects. Joseph’s older sister, a sophomore studying biomedical engineering at Stanford, was the valedictorian at MHS in 2014.

Kimberly Davila is the first in her family to go to college and is setting the bar high for her younger siblings. Heading to Brown University, an Ivy League campus in Rhode Island, Kimberly aims to study political science and international relations with an emphasis in urban planning and environmental science. Kimberly is considering entering a career in politics or law after participating in Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia’s Young Legislator Program. As the current editor for the school paper, she is also a Dell Scholar and has received scholarships from Burger King and Rotary of Montebello. Kimberly has a GPA of 4.37.

Mariam Germanyan describes herself as shy, but has worked with classmates to organize an annual Armenian assembly that teaches her peers about the historical implications of the Armenian genocide that occurred more than a century ago. Mariam, who maintains a 4.11 GPA, is editor-in-chief of the yearbook and participates in the school’s Academic Mentor Program, where she serves as a tutor and mentor for core subjects. She plans to study computer science at UC Berkeley and hopes to enter a career in engineering.

“We are so proud of Joseph, Kimberly and Mariam for their accomplishments and for representing their peers, teachers and school so brilliantly,” MUSD Superintendent Susanna Contreras Smith said. “On behalf of Montebello Unified, I commend our Montebello High School students for their hard work and wish them the best of luck as they continue on toward their academic, personal and professional goals.”

MHS Swimming


Parent-Teacher Connection Workshop Series Enhances Involvement in Children’s Education

Parents of high school students in the Montebello Unified School District learned tips on using computers, software and other digital tools to support their children’s academic pursuits on May 11 during the last event in this year’s popular Parent-Teacher Connection Workshop series.

The series, which expanded to five workshops this year after launching with three in 2014-15, drew nearly 150 parents that were also held for elementary and middle school parents. The high school workshop took place at Bell Gardens High School.

MUSD teachers Gabriela Orozco, David Keys and Janice Shah created the high school program. Elementary school parents received kits that included building blocks to teach mathematics. The intermediate kit featured measuring tapes and elastic bands for exercises to determine proportions and percentages.

Parent involvement has a measurable impact on student academic performance as children generally achieve better grades, test scores and attendance, with more children completing homework assignments.

“Teaching becomes more effective when parents feel empowered with knowledge and validated as their child’s first teacher,” MUSD Superintendent Susanna Contreras Smith said. “The strategies we use and the procedures we have in place can all be passed on to our parents so they feel completely connected to their child’s learning environment.”

Montebello Unified Police Department Partners to Donate School Supplies, Sports Equipment

As part of its ongoing commitment to strengthen its relationship with the community, the Montebello Unified School District Police Department visited Greenwood Elementary School on May 11 to remind students to keep moving – and to donate a collection of school supplies and athletic equipment.

Chief Linh Dinh, MUSD PD officers, and MUSD PD community partner 4 R Kids, 4 R Future were featured guests at the school’s morning assembly. Dinh explained to students the importance of physical activity and the positive effects of health, mental alertness and learning.

Officers and 4 R Kids, 4 R Future representative Anthony Torres presented the students with donated soccer balls, goals, cones and tetherballs. The organization also provides backpacks, school supplies, and other sports equipment to students.

“Through collaborative efforts with our District leaders and community partners, we can do more for our students as they grow and prepare for their future,” MUSD Superintendent Susanna Contreras Smith said. “Thank you to all those who team up to remind our students of the value of exercise and physical activity – while creating opportunities to give back to those in need.”

This is the third year that MUSD PD has partnered with 4 R Kids, 4 R Future to donate supplies and equipment to District schools.


Four Bell Gardens High Students Continue Stellar Academic Pursuits, Receive Scholarships

In the midst of Advanced Placement testing and with graduation around the corner, four Bell Gardens High School students are keeping their eyes on the prize. College for these seniors means CalTech, University of Michigan, Haverford College, and UCLA – and among them is a Gates Millennium Scholar, a Dell Scholar and hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships.


Erik Herrera, Bell Gardens High School valedictorian and BGHS Drum Major, will find himself in Pasadena at California Institution of Technology in the fall. Erik aims to study mathematics and music theory – hoping to eventually earn a Ph.D. and enter a career in computer science, specifically data encryption, or become a math professor. He credits his teachers, staff and college counselor Tracy Brendzal for connecting him and his peers to existing opportunity and information – affirming his belief that a student’s environment isn’t a limiting factor in success. Erik, who boasts a 4.37 GPA, will receive a scholarship from the university that covers nearly all of his tuition.


Ainslee Preciado will continue her education at the University of California, Los Angeles as a one of 1,000 students across the nation selected as a prestigious Gates Millennium Scholar. As a recipient, all undergraduate and graduate school costs are covered, which is good news for Ainslee who hopes to enter law school after graduating from UCLA. Ainslee was inspired to enter the world of national security or to practice international law with the United Nations after attending the Yale Young Global Scholars program last summer. A singer, violinist and active member of her church youth group, Ainslee is poised to graduate with a 4.02 GPA. She is the second consecutive Gates Millennium Scholar from BGHS.


Omar Morales is attending the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor on a full-ride scholarship from the California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators.  His decision to commit to the university came after his first visit to the campus in April – when Brendzal, principal Juan Herrera, Superintendent Susanna Contreras Smith, and the Montebello Unified School District teamed up to cover his travel expenses. Hoping to study aerospace engineering, Omar appreciates the advice and encouragement he received from Brendzal, English teacher Suzie Carter and science teacher Seok Yoon during his years at BGHS. Omar has a 4.23 GPA and has been active member of the cross country and track and field teams.


Leslie Luqueno, selected as one of 350 Dell Scholars in the country, is heading to Haverford College in Pennsylvania in the fall with an interest in political science. As a Dell Scholar, she’s awarded a $20,000 scholarship, a laptop, textbook gift cards as well academic and psychological support throughout her academic career. Leslie is currently editor-in-chief of BGHS paper, the Lancer Scroll – hoping to one day work in government or as a broadcast journalist for a Spanish network. She thanks her government teacher Daniel Vasquez for encouraging her passion in and pursuit of liberal studies. Leslie has a 4.11 GPA.


“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. “On behalf of the District, we offer a very heart-felt congratulations and good luck to Erik, Ainslee, Omar and Leslie. To their teachers, administrators, staff and parents – thank you for all your efforts in providing our students with the knowledge, tenacity and encouragement to succeed.”



Montebello Unified and Teachers Association Sign Historic Three-Year Contract

Montebello Unified School District and the Montebello Teachers Association have signed a historic, three-year contract that runs through the end of the 2017-18 school year. The agreement increases teacher wages 3.25 percent in each of the next two academic years and has provided a 2.3 percent bonus for the 2015-16 school year.

The agreement stipulates that the school year will be increased by one instructional day and one staff development day dedicated to technology as it applies to online attendance and online grading programs. The pay rate for additional school-related assignments – such as site translation, home teaching, after-school tutoring and other academic success improvements – will be augmented as well.

The agreement was tentatively reached on April 28 and ratified May 9 by more than 70 percent of the Montebello Teachers Association – representing significantly high voter turnout.

“On behalf of Montebello Unified, I want to congratulate our teachers and District officials for their collaborative efforts in reaching this fair and important settlement,” MUSD Superintendent Susanna Contreras Smith said. “I believe that the terms of this agreement reflect not only our commitment to our high quality and dedicated teachers and our efforts to effectively operate all aspects of our District.”

The contract is scheduled to go up for MUSD Board of Education approval at the regularly scheduled meeting on May 19.

Montebello Unified’s Dual-Language Immersion Program Thrives on 16th Anniversary

What began 16 years ago as a pilot project in a single Montebello Unified kindergarten classroom with 20 students has blossomed into a thriving dual-language immersion program (DLIP) at four MUSD schools. The program at La Merced Elementary, Winter Gardens Elementary, La Merced Intermediate and Montebello Intermediate schools serves nearly 600 students.


To commemorate DLIP’s 16th anniversary, District Board members, administrators, teachers, historians, parents and students filled the Montebello Intermediate School auditorium on April 27 to hear the history of the program, celebrate its successes and to watch student performances. 


Despite the expiration of a Title VII federal grant during the economic recession, the Board of Education and District officials continued to invest in the growth of DLIP. They expanded the program to a second elementary school and then added two intermediate schools. The District also launched a “Spanish Institute” aimed at enhancing Spanish academic proficiency for teachers.


“This year each of the DLIP elementary schools added an additional kindergarten setting illustrating the proactive, organic movement taking place in our Montebello community,” Program Specialist Silvia Lezama said.


Today, DLIP offers a growing number of students the opportunity to achieve high levels of proficiency in English and Spanish from highly qualified teachers. Students are eligible to earn the State Seal of Biliteracy.


“Montebello Unified is proud to support DLIP teachers and staff in their efforts to promote bilingualism, biliteracy and multicultural competence in our students,” Superintendent Susanna Contreras Smith said. “Congratulations on 16 years of success, and here’s to strengthening the future of our students at Montebello Unified.”


La Merced Intermediate Celebrates Going Green Efforts With $1,000 Grand Prize on Earth Day

Large numbers of empty milk cartons, plastic sandwich bags, and orange peels and apple cores filling trash bins to the brim are a thing of the past at Montebello Unified School District’s La Merced Intermediate School thanks to educators who were successful in teaching students about the benefits of recycling and living green.


La Merced was declared the winner of the sixth annual Trash Free Lunch Challenge run by Grades of Green, an environmental educational nonprofit that shows students how to recycle, reuse and reduce lunchtime waste. The school received a $1,000 grand prize Friday during Grades of Green’s Earth Day celebration at the school.


La Merced, which reduced trash by 75 percent, was the middle school winner out of 22 Los Angeles area elementary and middle schools during the year-long competition to reduce the most trash.


Through mentoring by Grades of Green staff, La Merced staff and students implemented a customized lunchtime waste reduction program that reduced trash to 10 bags daily, down from an average of 40 bags. The program includes recycling trays, composting of fruit and vegetable scraps, and reducing waste by bringing trash-free lunches when possible.


“La Merced is a shining example of what can be accomplished when students lead the way in creating environmental change in their school community, and we could not be prouder,” Grades of Green Programs Manager Allie Bussjaeger said.


Grades of Green provided La Merced with free educational assemblies, personalized eco-starter kits and waste reduction plans to guide students and staff through the competition. Schools then submit a final application at the end of the school year; the winning entry is based on actual trash reduction, sustainability, integration, and student leadership.


“It’s hard to believe what a small group of students accomplished,” said La Merced seventh grader and Green Trojans Club member Sophia Picon, noting that the trash-recycling group started with 15 to 20 students and grew to around 30. “I want to suggest that they use the money on the drought-tolerant garden we planted last fall.”


Picon writes for the school newspaper and plans to become a journalist someday.


Grades of Green hosted Friday’s celebration, which included congratulatory speeches by Cárdenas and school officials, entertainment and the grand prize presentation.


“It’s always exciting to see what’s happening in our schools, especially when it comes to seeing student leadership fixing a problem like reducing lunchtime waste,” MUSD Superintendent Susanna Contreras Smith said. “It’s important for us to show our students we support them in everything they’re doing – and what they’re doing now is going to make them future leaders in the community.”    

Univision’s Todo es Posible Tour Visits Bell Gardens High School

A trio of motivational speakers inspired dozens of Bell Gardens High School sophomores to show off their talents and publicly announce their career dreams during an April 22 event designed to empower Latino youth. The event was part of Univision’s national Todo es Posible tour.


Nearly 250 students heard from TV personality, attorney and author Laura Posada; Univision’s “Sal y Pimienta” co-host and Univision image consultant Jomari Goyso; and Nuestra Belleza Latina winner and “La Banda” host Alexandra Espinoza.


Posada shared her experience as a motivated young woman from Puerto Rico who dreamed of becoming a successful attorney. She achieved her goal and married former New York Yankee catcher Jorge Posada. Upon the birth of their first child, she discovered that her son had craniosynostosis – a condition that can hinder the growth of the skull. Posada and her husband established a foundation to fund research and offer family support, and she now works as a motivational coach.


Goyso, who has styled many famous superstars, told how his grandmother taught him that beauty goes further than the physical. A person’s spirit, he said, is what makes her beautiful.


Espinoza recounted her youth in Tijuana, where her family of 12 struggled to make ends meet. She dreamed of working in entertainment and her passion was rewarded when her father enrolled her in a model agency. She eventually was crowned Univision’s first Nuestra Belleza Latina beauty queen.


The speakers asked students to join them on the auditorium stage to ask questions, write their dreams and goals on a Todo es Posible chalkboard and to showcase their talents. One student revealed he hoped to be a hip-hop artist and rapped for a few moments at the encouragement of Posada. Another student, a lyrical ballerina, shared a few dance steps with Goyso after Espinoza played a song on her cell phone.


“Montebello Unified students are such talented and bright young men and women – who with the support of their teachers, administrators, staff and parents – are able to accomplish so much,” MUSD Superintendent Susanna Contreras Smith said. “We are so grateful that these three successful speakers reminded our students that they are capable of reaching their academic, professional and personal goals.”


The Todo es Posible campaign was launched by Univision in 2015 to bring to life the core values of tenacity, love, respect, building bridges, achievement, pride and union – and to tell the stories of Hispanics in the U.S.


All student attendees received a Todo es Posible notebook and pen. The tour stopped in Miami, Florida and in the Dallas/Fort Worth-area of Texas before concluding at Bell Gardens High School.


Montebello Unified Unveil Student Artwork Chosen for Districtwide Anti-Bullying Campaign

Laura Rodriguez had one message for her classmates, teachers, administrators and District community May 4 at the Applied Technology Center: Kindness is Key.


Rodriguez’s artwork – selected as the centerpiece of the Montebello Unified School District’s ongoing anti-bullying campaign – was unveiled during the event and will grace the entrances of all District schools and facilities.


Rodriguez, a junior in the Health Sciences Pathway at the ATC High School, submitted a drawing of a globe, students and a heart to her principal as part of contest opened by the Board of Education. At the top of the piece the slogan “No Bullying Zone” set the tone, but the words “Kindness is Key” catch attention at the center of the heart.


District officials selected Laura Rodriguez’s design after a contest in which principals at each school selected one student’s work for consideration. Rodriguez, who is of Cuban descent, was joined by her mother Yuneisy Rodriguez at the event – and signed a special poster version of her art.


The unveiling showcased Rodriguez’ art and featured remarks from ATC Principal Sterling Schubert, ATC Assistant Principal Estela Peregrina, Montebello Unified Board Member Edgar Cisneros, Superintendent Susanna Contreras Smith, Rodriguez, and ATC ASB President Wendy Camarena. ASB leaders from all high schools, accompanied by their principals, and District leaders were among the audience members.


“I’m so proud of all of our talented students for submitting original artwork for this contest – and we thank them, their teachers and principals for joining our efforts to end bullying in our schools,” MUSD Superintendent Susanna Contreras Smith said. “On behalf of the District, we congratulate Laura for her art that will honor ouschools and facilities.”

Anti bullying