Skip to main content

October 2014

MUSD GREEN Students Build Unique Campus Urban Farm


Bell Gardens High pathway students create vertical hydroponic farm while preparing for college


Students of the Globally Responsible Environmental Education Network (GREEN) Pathway at Bell Gardens High School in Montebello Unified School District are not only preparing for college and the 21st century global marketplace, they are also building urban farms, raising community awareness around good stewardship of the earth and learning about emerging environmental technologies.


Over the past two years, GREEN students have participated in a unique curriculum of research and development under the guidance of GREEN Pathway Lead Jan Barber-Doyle. Last year, students built an organic, soil-based grow bed as well as vertical hydroponic towers using coir fiber to compare the yield between the two methods.


Students are also learning about microorganism communities in soil, pH balancing of water sources and nutrients, as well as irrigation methods. This year, they’ve also added Gardensoxx planters to the mix, a technology patented by industry partner Filtrexx International LLC.  Students use GardenSoxx, an 8” UV resistant polypropylene mesh tube, by filling them with specially blended composted soil, herbs and plants, and an irrigation tape. 


The vertical hydroponic garden, the only one of its kind on a Southern California high school campus, uses sustainable coconut fiber instead of soil because it is naturally free of bacteria and pathogens, plant diseases, weeds, and possesses unique aerating and hydrating properties. The idea of this type of garden is not mass-production, but to facilitate urban farming in local communities that don’t have the space or soil required for traditional gardening, while increasing access to fresh, high-nutrient vegetables and fruits.


"Space is key to growing enough produce for a family and growing up is one solution," said GREEN Pathway Lead and Coordinated Science teacher Jan Barber-Doyle, who has been teaching for 16 years. "By and through hands-on experience students are understanding how and why it's important to take what they are learning out into their own community and beyond."


In the ninth- and tenth-grade, students in the GREEN Pathway learn about diminishing nutrients worldwide, the need for high-yield sustainable produce, and renewing the collective relationship with the natural world in a mix of art, botany and agroecology. In 11th-grade, GREEN students enroll in environmental science and focus on renewable energy, power usage and connect prior semesters' instruction with the state of emerging energies and technologies.


Students also link with community partners, like Alegria Farms – the company that joined the students on campus to assist with their building of the vertical hydroponic garden and GardenSoxx grow bed – in order to learn from experts. They also have taken several field trips to Alegria in Irvine in order to learn more about the benefits of fresh produce and careers in urban micro-farming. Students are also scheduled to meet with representatives of Filtrexx, the sustainable growing system that can be laid over concrete.


"This project exemplifies our goal of supplementing traditional classroom teaching and learning of science with practical, active learning that facilitates long-term comprehension and results," said Superintendent of Education Susanna Contreras Smith. "We are so proud of our students, and their facilitators and instructors, for making this pathway a true model and example of the future."


The core components of GREEN, like other pathways at MUSD, is to prepare students for success in post-secondary programs, deliver concrete knowledge and skills through technical courses, offer opportunities to learn through real-world experiences and community partnerships, and to provide support services for student success.

Suva Intermediate Students Receive Free Vision Screenings

Partnership between Montebello Unified and ChildSight will aid students in need throughout District


Specialists screened more than 50 Suva Intermediate School students for common vision problems during the first in a series of vision-improvement events organized by Montebello Unified School District and Helen Keller International’s ChildSight program on Thursday.

Thursday was chosen to launch this year’s screening program because it was World Vision Day, an international day dedicated to raising awareness of vision challenges around the globe.

The program started with 'E chart' screenings, followed by eye exams – also known as refractions – conducted by licensed optometrists. The vision assessments focused on common vision problems – such as nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism – that typically manifest in children between the ages of 10 and 15. Students who were determined to be in need of glasses, chose their frames after the exam and will receive their frames on campus within a week.

One in four adolescents in the country suffers from at least one of these types of ailments, all of which can be corrected with a pair glasses. Without help, these students often do poorly in school and are at risk of dropping out. But studies show that students who are provided proper eyeglasses participate more in class, demonstrate less disruptive behavior and dramatically improve their self-confidence.

Next, the program will bring vision screenings and exams to Montebello Unified’s Bell Gardens, Eastmont, La Merced, Macy and Montebello intermediate schools, and Bell Gardens, Montebello and Schurr high schools. (See below for a list of event dates.)

"We couldn’t provide this service without the assistance of the dedicated team at ChildSight," said Cleve Pell, Montebello Unified Superintendent of Schools. "They are providing an invaluable service, and have done so for more than 10 years, for our District and families of these students whose futures will be considerably brighter because of this program."

Suva Intermediate houses the California office of ChildSight, which aims to "bring education into focus" by providing free access to childhood vision care. Since its inception in 1994, ChildSight has screened more than 1.7 million students in the nation and has provided free eyeglasses to more than 243,000 of the most vulnerable children.

"Being a child today is hard enough, but providing a child with a simple pair of eyeglasses can help a child greatly," said Jorge Valdez of ChildSight. "With a pair of eyeglasses a child can do better in school, a child can do their everyday activities at home and a child can feel good about themselves."

Helen Keller International was founded in 1915 by Helen Keller and George Kessler, with a mission to save the sight and lives of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. Helen Keller International’s ChildSight program provides free, school-based vision care to economically disadvantaged students in California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Ohio. For more information, visit





La Merced Intermediate
Screening: Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014  
Refraction: Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014

Bell Gardens High School 
Screening: Wednesday & Thursday, Nov. 6 & 7, 2014  
Refraction: Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
Eastmont Intermediate                                                                                                                                                    
Screening: Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014
Refraction: Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014   

Montebello Intermediate                                                                                                                
Screening: Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015 
Refraction: Thursday, Jan. 22, 2014

Bell Gardens Intermediate
Screening: Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015
Refraction: Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2015

Bell Gardens Intermediate
Screening: Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015 
Refraction: Monday, Jan. 26, 2015

Montebello High School
Screening: Monday, Feb. 2, 2015
Refraction: Friday,  Feb. 13, 2015

Schurr High School
Screening: March 2015
Refraction: March 2015

Macy Intermediate
Screening: March 2015 
Refraction: March 2015                                                                                                                                                                                

MUSD College Preparedness Program Receives New Funding, Continues to Empower Tomorrow’s Leaders

College Bound Today Receives $100,000 in Non-Profit Funds while Garnering Increased Board Support


More students, now from all five Montebello Unified high schools, can participate in the District’s unique five-semester college preparedness program after the Board of Education and District staff recently signed a five-year memorandum of understanding to expand College Bound Today (CBT). Coupled with a recent charitable donation in amount of $100,000 from a family foundation based in New York, the expansion will seek to increase enrollment of new 10th-grade students by 10 percent each year for the next five years, among new actions.

The memorandum of understanding (MOU) calls for a declaration by the MUSD Board to recognize CBT as an official program while augmenting District support. In addition, the Board continued the full-time management position of college readiness program specialist for another five-year term and also created a full-time five-year clerical position of a senior office assistant to support the program specialist and the program as a whole.

"By providing staff specific to College Bound Today, in addition to the District's substantial pre-existing support, the Board has provided CBT leadership with the opportunity to recruit more students and mentors while seeking out additional charitable donations to enhance our program," said CBT co-founder Dan Clement. "We are tremendously grateful to the Board for their initial support years ago, and their renewed investment today as we continue to strive to make CBT a self-sustaining non-profit MUSD partner within the next five years. We are also grateful to our past donors who helped us get started, including The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, the Ahmanson Foundation, the Dwight Stewart Youth Fund and Southern California Edison."

CBT provides its college access program without cost to students and their families, and it works with principals and personnel from all four comprehensive MUSD high schools to recruit 10th-grade students, most of whom have a GPA of at least 3.0. Many students enrolled in the program are first-generation college goers who come from low income families. This year, CBT will incorporate students at Vail High School, the District's continuation high school, into its program.

The MOU also charges CBT leaders to explore three additional projects as possible new co-ventures with MUSD: a two-week summer residential college program at Whittier College for graduating seniors; a system for tracking the post-secondary progress of CBT alumni; and an enhanced parent engagement and mentoring program. Under the terms of the MOU, CBT will undertake additional activities including providing presentations and reports to the Board over the course of each year, upgrading the CBT website and electronic communications between mentors and students, and facilitating coordination between MUSD college and guidance counselors with CBT advisors.

"This extremely comprehensive program is truly a gift for our students as it not only gets students to think of the next step in their academic career early on, it also incorporates parents, teachers, counselors and community members as mentors while tapping into local colleges as valuable resources," MUSD Superintendent of Education Susanna Contreras Smith said. "We are thrilled for the next phase of College Bound Today at MUSD."

Once enrolled, a student is assigned to a team with nine other student peers and three volunteer mentors, many of whom work as teachers, attorneys, doctors, engineers, bankers or business owners. Throughout the course of the program, students are transported to 11  Southern California colleges and universities; obtain assistance with the college and financial aid application process, which includes creating a customized list of colleges for each student and help with drafting personal statements; participate in peer learning; and receive a free, 30-hour SAT or ACT prep course as 11th-graders.

The teams meet at school sites on Saturday mornings, four times each semester throughout the school year. Many mentors are bilingual and are able communicate with parents whose English is limited. In addition, MUSD provides interpreters for all CBT parent meetings to ensure that parents have access to college-related information. Parents are also invited to attend panel discussions presented by parents of past CBT graduates, where they can learn about their students' upcoming transition as they become college students.

MUSD Launches Inaugural Teen Court at Bell Gardens High School

Teen CourtTeen Court is now in session for students at Bell Gardens High School in the Montebello Unified School District, which kicked-off the early intervention program on Monday, Sept. 15 at Bell Gardens City Hall. Students held a mock trial followed by participation in a real-life trial of one teenaged-peer.

The Los Angeles County Teen Court, already successful in high schools across the region, is an effort spearheaded by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, who was in attendance at the kick-off. It provides an opportunity for juveniles to be questioned, judged and sentenced by a jury of their local peers, supervised by attorneys. The program seeks to prevent youngsters, who have engaged in criminal activity for the first time, from moving on to more serious crimes by allowing them the alternative to the juvenile court process.

"Bringing Teen Court to Montebello Unified, and specifically to my alma mater, Bell Gardens High, provides a level of civic engagement for our young adults that instills responsibility, legal knowledge and notions of justice in the long-term," said Assemblywoman Garcia. "The District, including administrators, staff and teachers, should truly be applauded for their effort in getting this program up and running so quickly, and I thank everyone involved tremendously."


Of the 30 students involved in the inaugural program at Bell Gardens High, including 10 police explorers, 12 were selected to sit on the jury on Monday. Other students participated as interpreters and bailiffs, and also held roles in the mock trial as defendant, parents of defendant and victims. Superior Court Judge David Wesley, who has been involved in the program since its inception, presided over both cases. The mock trial, which was based on a real case, involved a teenager engaged in a first-offense petty crime. The official trial involved a drug-related charge.

"We are so thrilled to see Teen Court at Bell Gardens High because of the great opportunities it brings to our students," said Teen Court teacher William Renner, who has taught social studies for 20 years. "Students can truly see how our justice system works and how they fit in, as citizens and as potential members of the legal community."

Students at Bell Gardens meet once a week over the course of the academic year, as they go over the ins and outs of the court process, with Teen Court in session once a month involving real cases and defendants. They also learn more about juvenile and adult legal proceedings, study case law and learn about sentencing procedures. BGHS students receive elective credit for the course.

"This class, and clubs like it across our District, is innovative in its goal to expose students to legal procedure and careers early in their schooling," said Susanna Contreras Smith, Superintendent of Education. "We applaud our students for taking on such a responsibility to their community in Teen Court."