Pasadena Unified attracts ‘top-notch’ preschool teachers
Five-year-old Victoria paints with watercolors at the Cleveland Dual Language Children’s Center in Pasadena and said her favorite thing about going to “big-kid school” is playing with her friends.
Her pigtailed BFF, Paloma, agrees and proudly mentions she can do “real gymnastics” but admits, “I cannot do a summersault because I’m 4 years old.”
While preschools everywhere are filled with adorable young artists and gymnasts like these, not all preschools employ a majority of teachers who have a bachelor’s degree or higher. The Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) does. In fact, 85% of PUSD preschool teachers have their BA or higher even though it is not required in California. Only a high school diploma and an early childhood development permit are required at a minimum.
Experts say the additional education gives teachers a deeper appreciation of a child’s cognitive development and it equips educators with the tools necessary to turn complex concepts into practical and fun classroom activities.
“Having a higher education level, with additional time to learn strategies and teaching skills, gives teachers a better understanding of how to prepare lesson plans and how to assign activities where children are more engaged so that they’re interacting with one another and able to learn by exploring their environment,” said Patricia Guzman, early childhood education coordinator for PUSD.
Lindsay Lewis, PUSD’s early childhood education director, said her staff fosters positive self-esteem in children by modeling responsive listening skills, teaching kids how to problem-solve and encouraging them through their first educational experiences. Those first interactions are vital to a child’s growth.
“Collaborating with other similar-aged peers is critical in developing the early pillars of learning to read, write, do math and science,” Lewis explained.
“Although the love you get from your own family members is something that you can’t replace, going to preschool and seeing how other kids learn through hands-on exploration and play, with guidance from loving, high-quality teachers is equally as important. Without that foundation, the statistic for educational success drops tremendously by third grade standard measures.”
Heidi Rodriguez, PUSD preschool teacher, added, “I choose to teach because I know that I am making a difference. I know that I am and the other teachers are. We work really well together to ensure that not only are the children learning but they are safe and they are coming to school to have fun.”
Ukraine native Yuliia Handzii is working on her master’s degree in special education. She teaches 3- to 5-year-olds.
“I absolutely love what I do,” Handzii said. “We are learning letters, numbers and we are doing science every day. We are exploring the world. I’m so excited to see their happy, big eyes.”
Those big eyes and adorable faces mature into inquisitive and explorative minds at Pasadena USD. According to Jefferson Sankary, PUSD early childhood education coordinator, “The relationships children make with their teachers and peers is essential to their educational journey. With these strong bonds, they will be better equipped to manage conflict resolution and academic inquiry.”
Info: pusd.us/page/7449 or email email@example.com.
Future teachers learning from PUSD pros
Earning a master’s degree and teaching credential in one year may be challenging, but it’s definitely doable, thanks to the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) and its partnership with the Alder Graduate School of Education.
The program, now in its third successful year, combines hands-on practice with educational theory and research.
Unlike other grad students, Alder residents — aka student teachers — spend four days a week in the classroom under the guidance of a mentor PUSD teacher for the duration of the school year. They also attend weekly in-person and online seminars. Hanh Le, the director of PUSD’s Teacher Residency at Alder, said the program is better than other graduate programs because of its diverse demographics and its ability to entice homegrown teachers to stay at Pasadena Unified.
“My residents are getting practical experience right now in the classroom with their mentor teachers,” Le said.
“They’re learning about universal design for learning, they’re learning culturally responsive teaching, equity and diversity and they’re also, of course, learning with mentors who are the backbone of this program.”
Over 90% of graduates obtain full-time teaching positions after completing the program. Upon hiring, residents commit to a minimum of four years of service in PUSD and graduates say they’re happy to stay and give back to the community they love.
“Pasadena is my home and where I feel I can serve my community most,” said Brandon Mai, a math resident and PUSD grad who hopes to inspire more students to enter STEM fields.
“Since I was part of PUSD as a student, I know what is needed to create change for the better of the students. As a PUSD alumni, I hope I can stay in the district. I see no better way that I can give back to my community, other than teaching.”
The Alder program is made up of diverse student teachers with the current cohort being 50% Latino, 25% Asian, 20% white and 5% two or more races. Over 50% are first-generation college graduates. But why is teacher workforce diversity critical? Experts say exposure to at least one same race teacher in grades 3 to 5 reduces the probability that students drop out of high school and increases the likelihood that persistently low-income students aspire to attend a four-year college.
Special education resident Ann Masuda said she’s gaining practical experience that she wouldn’t be able to get elsewhere. “I have been a special education instructional aide for a number of years and was encouraged to take this step in becoming a teacher. I live in Pasadena and my children have attended schools in the district. I would like to continue to invest in this community.”
In turn, Alder program leaders are investing in both mentors and residents who not only earn stipends but are immediately inducted into a collaborative community.
“What I really like about the PUSD-Alder partnership is the great community of support it provides. I’ve been told that teaching can be one of the loneliest professions, but this program is preparing us not just to be teachers, but to be teachers in community,” said Samuel Christopher who hopes to become a math teacher.
“Residents, professors and mentors learn with each other and from each other, and I am confident we will continue to do so even after the program finishes.”
Ricardo Garcia, who was an instructional aid at Marshall Fundamental, is now studying special education. He appreciates the program because it “puts me in a classroom with a veteran teacher who can show me the ropes to be a successful educator. I chose to become an educator in order to guide students into uplifting and transforming not only themselves, but their community too.”
Info: pusd.us/Page/10241 and apply at: https://aldergse.edu/apply/. Potential mentors and/or residents can contact the director via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Councilman Krekorian visits schools
Los Angeles City Council President Paul Krekorian visited Blair High and Middle schools on Friday, Jan. 13, to learn about their Armenian Academy and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs.
Krekorian toured the campuses and heard about the curriculum that the Armenian Academy and the IB program presented to the community by teachers Norayr Daduryan, Madlen Manoukian and Eve Mekerdichian.
“I was so impressed by my visit to the Armenian Academy at Blair High School,” Krekorian said. “The founders of the academy, in partnership with Pasadena Unified School District Superintendent Brian McDonald and the Pasadena Board of Education, have created an extraordinary and unique educational institution.
The academy promotes excellence while also preserving the Armenian language and culture, and it is a great asset for Pasadena and our region.”
Blair’s Armenian Academy attracts students regionally and internationally. The academy has students representing 17 different cities and numerous countries, including Poland, Lebanon and Armenia.
PUSD Superintendent Brian McDonald, who helped spearhead this innovative program, said, “It was a pleasure to have LA City Council President Krekorian visit the Armenian Academy. His visit affirms the fact that this historic Armenian program is providing our students with a quality learning experience and the word is getting around. We are proud of the Academy’s efforts to further the Armenian language and culture in our community.”
In 2021, the International Baccalaureate Armenian Literature Course was approved by the International Baccalaureate Organization. The first few trailblazing students who took the course were the first in the nation to do so. Their results all included perfect and near-perfect scores.
One of those students, Armenian Academy senior and IB diploma candidate Daron Yacoubian, said he believes the IB education and the academy prepared him well for graduation. “I feel that with IB, you are always being tested and challenged as a thinker. IB is really preparing me for life because in life you never really know when your next test is going to be and it is always about that mindset on how to approach the challenges,” he said.
“The Armenian Academy is the ideal complement to Blair’s IB Program,” stated Blair Principal Amy McGinnis. “The cultural and language components of the AA directly contribute to the IB mission of developing globally minded students.”
Maro Yacoubian, founder of the Armenian Academy and chair of the AA Advisory Board was delighted but not surprised to see Krekorian’s interest in Blair.
“Blair is experiencing a renaissance of sorts. The Armenian Academy is attracting students both regionally and internationally. Together with the prestigious International Baccalaureate Program that Blair offers, parents would be hard-pressed to find a more challenging, enriching and rewarding environment for their children, all with free tuition,” Yacoubian said.
At PUSD, students from preschool to high school can master academics in English and one of four target languages (Spanish, French, Mandarin or Armenian). Learn more about PUSD’s dual-language immersion and world language programs at pusd.us/dlip
Families who wish to enroll for the first time in dual-language immersion programs in 2023-2024 must submit an open enrollment application.