(This is the second of a two-part series regarding specialized programs in the Monrovia Unified School District. Last week, the focus was on the elementary schools. This week, we will examine the middle schools and Monrovia High School.)
By Susan Motander
The specialized programs in the Monrovia Unified School District have one major goal in mind according to the Superintendent, Dr. Katherine Thorossian: preparing students for the future.
In the elementary schools, this means ensuring students have the basic skills necessary to facilitate learning. In the middle schools and at the high school there are even more innovative programs designed to help students ready themselves for their own futures.
The robotics at both Santa Fe and Clifton Middle School has become very popular with many students. In fact, the Clifton Middle School team applied for and was the only Southern California team accepted to an international competition in Shanghai last school year.
“They came out 14th out of the 49 teams that competed,” Principal Jennifer Gates bragged recently. “Most of the teams competing were high school teams, not middle school. We even led at one point in the competition,” she added.
Clifton was also fortunate in that it won the “Fab School Lab” competition sponsored by Northrop Grumman that resulted in a $100,000 grant for a new lab at the school. Gates said that Clifton is currently finalizing plans for the new lab construction. She said that after visiting schools throughout Southern California over the summer, the planning committee decided to focus the use of the money on curriculum and supplies rather than the facility.
“We are giving our lab a facelift rather than a complete renovation,” she said. “We felt it was important for the money to go into the program, not four walls and a floor: we have that. When we visited other schools we looked at the programs and are planning to spend the bulk of the money on developing program rather than place.”
With the advent of the coding program at Plymouth and Mayflower, Gates said that the middle schools would develop ways to continue that program. “We already take part in International Coding Day, but we want to develop that into an actual elective class for the students,” she said.
Gate praised Paul Flores, the teacher who not only spearheaded the campaign to bring the Northrop Grumman grant to the school, but also sponsors the robotics team.
The innovative programs at the middle schools are just a step along the way to even more programs at Monrovia High School. After the new Science and Math Building was crated with money approved by a local bond measure, the school developed a Math and Science Academy (MASA). This program has won awards for its approach to involving more students, especially young women, in math and science.
Principal Kirk McGinnis said participation in the Academy is not automatic; it requires commitment. McGinnis explained that in order to take math and science classes above those required for graduation, a student must become involved in leadership and community service activities.
Then there is the Robotics Program. This year there are six robotics teams at the high school. All are participants in the FIRST Tech Challenge. Monrovia High School has become very involved with the FIRST program hosting three competitions each year. The program partners students with advisors from both within the school and the community in general.
The robotics program is only one way the business community has become involved with the schools. Volunteers work with the students in computer and web design programs. One community member even donated a system to allow students to track the space station live.
If this were not enough, Monrovia High School is one of the few high schools in Southern California with its own observatory (it is on the roof of the old Science Building). In recent years, several parent and community volunteers have donated time and expertise to make this a working facility again.
But math and science are not the only special programs available at MHS. There is also the Renaissance Program. It works to give students the “soft skills” that go with academics, such as perseverance and integrity. The program focuses on helping students to recognize and celebrate the achievements of their peers.
Then there is the drama program. Patrick Garcia, the district’s Director of Performing Arts said that here again the schools have reached out to the community to form partnerships. He pointed to the Black History Month programs including demonstrations by the Buffalo Soldiers that the Monrovia Duarte Black Alumni Association had brought to the high school and middle schools. In addition that group has sponsored elementary art festivals and movie nights at the middle schools.
This is only one example of the community bringing the arts to the schools. The Pasadena theater company, A Noise Within, is working with the high school drama class. They have been granted permission to use the group’s stage for their own production of King Lear this spring (at the same time the professional company is also staging the same production).
Garcia said that they are partnering with others as well including the Pasadena Showcase House for the Arts, the Huntington Library and Gardens as well as the Monrovia Schools Foundation and the school district’s own professional production programs. This last group even brought Susan Egan, who played Beauty in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway, to the high school for a benefit performance and to teach a master class to students.
Even with all these programs, it is only the beginning of the opportunities available to students. Ford more information on these or any of the programs at Monrovia Schools, contact Jennifer Maljian, Instructional Coach with the Monrovia Unified School District, at (626) 471-2039.