I set out last fall to visit 50-60 teachers and public schools around the state of California. From September through December of 2014, I visited 25 schools, and today I’ll make the first visit of 2015. Before I head out, I wanted to share a few highlights from my last trip, schools or teachers I haven’t yet written about.
Riley Elementary School, San Bernadino, CA – My host for this visit was Ashley Alcalà, a National Board Certified Teacher with a class of wonderful first graders who were probably a bit overwhelmed on the day I visited. It was Career Day, which gave the kids chances to learn about a variety of jobs, but also meant lots of extra adults around, especially when Congressman-elect Pete Aguilar stopped by with a few companions. I should also probably mention that it was a rainy day, a Friday, and the day before winter break started. Teachers in particular will appreciate what a fantastic effort it takes to manage any class on a day like that; I really appreciated Ashley’s calm and efficient manner, and ability to roll with the uncertainties of the day while taking great care of her students. Principal Aldo Ramierez was also generous with his time and shared some really positive steps the school is taking to build a culture and a vision that meets the needs of students and parents.
Desert Springs Middle School, Desert Hot Springs, CA – On this visit, I tagged along with instructional coach Jessica Simpson, at the suggestion of principal Kiela Snider. Both are National Board Certified Teachers, and they worked together as teacher and principal, respectively, at another school in the district, Julius Corsini Elementary School. A few years ago, Patrick Guggino wrote a blog post that includes some recounting of their success at Corsini, and it was a pleasure to see how they’re working together at a new site with a different age group. Having heard much about the challenges faced by many students living at or near poverty levels, dealing with food and housing insecurity, I was impressed by the overall atmosphere of the school and the focused, high level work I saw in classrooms. I’ve been to middle schools in much more affluent communities, and while I recognize that there are important differences in the students’ lives and identities, there were few surface differences visible in the school. I also had a chance to record an interview for the school news program produced by the student leadership class. It was great to be able to share my favorite amusement parks and my plans if I ever strike it rich in the lottery.
James Workman Middle School, Cathedral City, CA – California Teacher of the Year Jessica Pack was my host for most of the day as I wrapped up my school visits in 2014. Jessica is one of the wonderful contributors to the California ed chat group on Twitter (#caedchat) and that had been my first connection with her. She’s the third CA TOY I visited, and like here peers in that elite group, she’s a passionate advocate for education in addition to being an accomplished practitioner. Her sixth grade students were thoroughly engaged, full of energy and creativity, and largely self-directed as they worked on an interdisciplinary project that linkedEnglish Language Arts and Social Studies, and directly used or indirectly depended upon a variety technology skills to both create and access content. I also veered over to the Physical Education Department for a little while to learn more about their outdoor education program and how they’re using a grant from the California Teachers Association Institute for Teaching, to promote healthy and environmentally conscious outdoor recreation for students and families.
The other two schools I visited on this trip have already been the subjects of other blog posts.
- Hillcrest High School in Riverside is in its third year of existence; the English Department is reinventing the wheel, and I think that’s a good idea.
- La Quinta High School is where my former student Stephanie Smith is now an English teacher, and the school provides some impressive career technical education pathways for students; I also wrote a post on my EdWeek Teacher blog about the significance of such investments in students’ learning and futures.