In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, we are spotlighting the important work of four Latina MDUSD counselors who are on a mission to engage with families—especially our Latinx parents—to ensure our Latinx parents know they are welcome and vital partners with the District in their children's educational journey.
As Mexican-American bilingual first generation college graduates who are fluent in both English and Spanish, Angela Ordaz, Yaretzie Amaya, Marcie Torres and Leidi Arias bring unique perspectives to the campuses where they work with students, as well as to the "Coffee with the Counselors" or "Cafecito con las Consejeras" gatherings they host each year to partner with parents in unpacking how to navigate MDUSD's educational system and affirming that their involvement in their children's schools is essential. This year’s Cafecitos are planned for Oct. 28 at Holbrook Language Academy, and Jan. 27th and April 23rd at either Mt. Diablo HS or Shore Acres Elementary. They were attracted to MDUSD because of its stated commitment to "disrupt systemic racism," which in the past has made it hard for students and families of color to feel connected to their school communities.
But after coming to MDUSD and enthusiastically embracing the goal to help all students and families feel welcome and included, they noticed that some MDUSD staff members did not appear to understand why or how to do that or even intend to do that. Ordaz recalls one MDUSD staff member insisting that MDUSD staff members are the experts on our students, and Arias recalls another saying that some parents didn't seem to care about school. The four Latina counselors, who had experienced this kind of dismissive attitude in their own K-12 educations, pushed back against this "deficit narrative," which focuses on what a student or family may lack. Instead, they approached their work with an "asset-driven" mindset that focuses on "the greatness, strengths and gifts that our students and families come to us with," Ordaz says. "Seeing them as partners means really seeing all that they have to offer."
They came up with the idea to host "Cafecito con las Consejeras" as a forum to connect with our Latinx families that some staff members in MDUSD may have dismissed. These Cafecitos are targeted Latinx parent engagement gatherings; however, all are welcome. These Cafecitos have already been attended by Board Members and other educators in MDUSD looking to encourage more Latinx families to attend. These quarterly Saturday gatherings are first and foremost to connect with families authentically and respectfully with a spirit of give and take, offering support and affirmation and also listening carefully to what parents say they need from MDUSD. The Consejeras facilitate the gatherings in Spanish and English translation is available. "We are disrupting the narrative that our students and families are lacking and 'need' us to save them or 'teach' them," Ordaz says. "Our students and families don't need us to save them. If we are truly partners with students and families, then we are engaging in a reciprocal connection that centers their humanity and our humanity, and the opportunity to learn, share and empower goes both ways." Besides hosting the Cafecito gatherings, they have also created cultural displays explaining the history behind Dia de Los Muertos and celebrating the Afro Latino culture and BIPOC women in history to help families feel connected to the District and help those who are not familiar with these topics to better understand them.
The passion and the fire is there," they said, not only to serve families but to show others that effective connections can be made simply by reaching out. "The other piece of our passion is knowing the District's students are 44% Latino," Ordaz said. Having attended schools themselves where they didn't have teachers or counselors who looked like them or understood their cultures, they are determined not to let MDUSD's Latinx students and families feel the same isolation or lack of encouragement that they felt. "I went to Meadow Homes Elementary," said Torres, 30, who now works at Shore Acres Elementary. "I looked like a lot of my peers, but I didn't have any teachers who looked like me. Then my parents transferred me to Diablo View MS and that was a culture shock because I couldn't relate to my teachers or my peers. I was one of three Latina students and I felt I was falling through the cracks." She graduated from Pittsburg HS without ever speaking to a counselor and didn’t realize until she entered college how helpful counselors could be. Ordaz was discouraged from applying to four-year universities by her high school counselor, who told her Latina students would be better off going to community college because they don't tend to do well in the more rigorous UC Educational System. Ordaz is thankful she knew her own capabilities and strengths. She applied to and graduated from her first-choice university – UC Davis. Arias was encouraged to attend a Chicanx/Latinx youth leadership conference by her high school counselor, which she said “was a game-changer for me because I had the opportunity to meet and learn from professionals who look like me.” And Amaya, who attended a private school on a scholarship, said most of her classmates had parents who were college graduates, so she felt embarrassed to ask for help with her FAFSA and college applications, and had to figure all that out by herself. Drawing on both their positive and negative personal experiences with their own counselors, they feel driven to be game-changers for the students and families they serve.
The Consejeras have intentionally started small and slow to go far. Last year, they held two Cafecito gatherings. This school year, they are doubling them to four and they have already had their first one at the MDUSD Parent Conference in August. The counselors are encouraged by the difference they are already making. They have connected with families who come from many different countries, such as Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Peru, and Nicaragua, including many with college degrees from their native countries. "We ask: 'What do you need from us? What can we share with the District from you? How can we serve as that bridge?" said Ordaz, 41, who works at Holbrook Language Academy and Mountain View Elementary. "We have lots of laughter. We have tears. We have testimony that is shared. We always run out of time to answer questions. Those are our indicators. Parents are showing vulnerability, trust and wanting to have more time with us because they know that we are truly here to serve them." Arias, 32, who works with Amaya at Mt. Diablo HS, said it’s humbling to listen to parents' stories. "We learn from them," she said, "so it’s a very mutual relationship." Amaya, 30, said two parents who recently attended a "Muffins with McCain" Principal meeting smiled and waved to her, saying, "We're here! You said to come to the meetings," after the counselors had told parents their voices are needed at school meetings and they can ask for Spanish translation. "We just love building relationships with our families and we want them to get to know us," Amaya said, adding that some parents now greet them with hugs, as though they are part of their families. "It's really heartwarming." These consejeras are truly grateful to have each other as a collective, their ongoing support from Student Services Director Felicia Stuckey-Smith, who has mentored them on school systems, their unwavering support from all three of their site principals and from MDUSD Superintendent Dr. Adam Clark, who has set the expectation that ALL means ALL.
Dr. Clark said he really appreciates the effort the counselors are making to engage with students and families. "They’re student-centered and are adjusting to the needs of our students and families," he said. "I think what they’ve been doing by being proactive is something that should be a model for all of us."
You can read more about their work last year in the 2022-23 Friday Letter Year In Review under “Special Events and Outreach.”
This week's MDUSD Friday Letter highlights:
- September 15-October 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month!
- A spotlight on four counselors who share their Latina heritage as they work to connect with MDUSD parents, especially those who are Latinx,
- District news including two MDUSD Teachers of the Year are finalists for County Teacher of the Year awards to be announced Thursday,
- School Social Media Shoutouts about the Growing Healthy Kids program,
- Student achievement news at College Park and Northgate high schools,
- a staff spotlight at Pleasant Hill Elementary School,
- And more!
You can read it here.
As MDUSD students and teachers settle into their classroom routines this school year, they are learning to use new technology that is making learning more interactive and fun! The District is continuing to deliver high tech Promethean ActivPanels to every classroom and has so far provided them to all teachers at 17 schools, said Educational Technology Coordinator Erin Vallejo, who is overseeing teacher training for the panels. The District has hired two Promethean Education Consultants for the school year to support staff with training, Vallejo said.
Monte Gardens Elementary received most of its panels this week, but a few teachers who received early training have been using them since school began. The panels replace previous "Elmo" document cameras and large TV monitors, offering more interactivity and larger screens that can be seen across the classroom.
On Friday, 4th-grade teacher Eleni Cassianos (above) used her panel to show her students how to use a highlighter tool to mark important information in a Scholastic text they were reading about how failing at first can help people learn from their mistakes. Cassianos' screen mirrored what students saw on their Chromebook screens, so they were able to follow along and use their own highlighter tools after she demonstrated how to do it. Students were able to choose between several different highlighter colors, allowing them to mark different portions of the text in different ways. Students Ryan Bewley and Xochitl Almazan said they really liked the new technology because it was easier to see clearly than former TV screens and they enjoyed being given a choice of colors to use.
Meanwhile, 1st-graders in Shannon Grisafi's class (below) were learning to write the letter "K" on their panel, using their favorite colors. Students Isaac Avarsaji, Delilah Ferlatte and Finnley Fitchett were enthusiastic about the panel. "We love it," said Finnley, explaining that they can write colorful mathematical equations as well as words on the panel. They also like the "spinner" feature, which spins and lands on a student's name, choosing who gets the next turn. And they enjoyed watching the animated children's book, "No, David," on the panel, adding that they are looking forward to using it all year.
Principal Bess Inzeo said the interactive panels engage students with the spinners and colors, and teachers are continuing to learn new ways to use them. She also appreciates that they can be raised and lowered based on a student's height. Grisafi said the panel replaces easels and other classroom items because it is more versatile. In the future, she hopes to be able to share students' Chromebook screens in split screens on the panel so they can see what their classmates are doing. "I use it for every subject," she said, "including art hub, mystery science and math. I like it."
This week's Friday Letter highlights:
- Promethean panels continue to impress teachers and students as interactive instructional tools now fully deployed at 17 MDUSD schools;
- District news including MDUSD Board to meet Wednesday, Sept. 13 to adopt Hispanic Heritage Month resolution, approve financial report;
- School news featuring Back to School Night at Oak Grove Middle School and 3 elementary Social Media Shout-outs;
- Student Social Media Shout-outs at Concord HS and Pine Hollow MS;
- Staff news about Delta View Elementary's Star Teacher of the Week John Fox;
- Community News about a Teen Arts Night in Walnut Creek on Saturday, Sept. 9th;
- And more!
Click to read it.
MDUSD Superintendent Dr. Adam Clark sent the following message to the MDUSD community today regarding a new anonymous tip reporting system to be implemented in District middle and high schools by the end of this month.
Dear All Associated with Mt. Diablo Unified School District:
We are committed to creating and sustaining a comprehensive, coordinated effort to improve the overall safety and well-being of our students, educators and administrators.
Doing this effectively requires a proactive approach with programs that equip students, parents, teachers, administrators, local law enforcement, mental health and wellness professionals, and elected officials to take meaningful action to protect our schools.
Our students are aware of the problems and struggles that their peers are facing on a day-to-day basis. We must empower them to know the signs of potential danger and give them the tools to help each other with the assistance of trained and caring adults. As you know, most conversations are taking place on social media, therefore it is critical that we teach our students to look out for one another in text, video, and photos and act quickly to help a fellow student.
Today, I am happy to announce the launch of the Say Something Anonymous Reporting System in all middle and high schools within the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Students begin training today and it should be completed in about 15 days. Our system will go live by September 30, 2023.
The Say Something Anonymous Reporting System trains youth and adults how to recognize warning signs -- especially within social media -- of individuals who may be in crisis, and to tell a trusted adult directly or via the anonymous reporting system.
Specifically, the Say Something program educates participants to:
Recognize the warning signs of someone who may be at-risk of harming themselves or others
Take every warning sign and threat seriously; act immediately to get help by talking to a trusted adult OR reporting it through the telephone hotline, mobile app, or website that is available 24/7/365
Sustain the curriculum and awareness via student clubs, in-school activities, call-to-action weeks, and on-going trainings
The Say Something Anonymous Reporting System program is provided at no cost by Sandy Hook Promise (SHP), a national nonprofit organization. More than 14 million people have participated in their research-based “Know the Signs” programs that includes Say Something. They have a proven track record of working effectively with kids, parents, and teachers to improve school safety and strengthen an inclusive school culture. The program is age-appropriate and evidence-informed. To date, the Say Something Anonymous Reporting System and other SHP prevention programs have stopped multiple school shootings, suicides, and gun threats, as well as reducing other acts of violence and victimization like bullying/cyberbullying and helping thwart cutting, drug use, and more. We know this program will do the same for our district.
If you have questions or concerns, please call or email your school administrator.
Dr. Adam Clark
By Theresa Brandt, MDUSD Public Information Officer
In recognition of Deaf Awareness Month, we are spotlighting the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) program at Westwood Elementary School in Concord, which is part of a continuum of specialized programming in MDUSD from preschool through high school that serves students from throughout the District and County. It starts at the Robert Shearer Preschool in Pleasant Hill, then continues at Westwood Elementary, El Dorado Middle School and Concord High School, which all have special education teachers, instructional assistants and interpreters who are fluent in American Sign Language (ASL). Teachers also use Hearing Assistive Technology (HAT) worn around their necks, which are microphones that amplify their voices in students' hearing aids.
Westwood has two Special Day Classes that serve 16 DHH students in grades K-2 and 3-5, who need extra support in some curriculum areas. Many students "mainstream" - or attend general education classes - for subjects in which they are working at grade level. And many others are fully mainstreamed, meaning they attend general education classes with support from a sign language interpreter or the use of assistive technology. Those with hearing devices attend schools throughout the District. Some DHH students choose only to use sign language, but do not express themselves orally. Some speak and sign, and others choose to communicate solely through speech. The program also includes students who are not fluent in English, who receive English Language Development instruction.
Principal Nancy Klinkner, who has headed up the school for nine years, said the staff works to make the campus welcoming and inclusive for all students. Besides mainstreaming DHH students in general education classes, sometimes general education students "reverse mainstream" by attending DHH classes. Mainstream students also often ask interpreters how to sign specific words and then sign them to their DHH classmates. And the after school CARES program plans to hire a teacher who will teach sign language to its students.
DHH teacher Joni Kirby said the school stresses to all students that DHH students "are just like you or I--they just don't hear so good." They take the same tests as other students, but sometimes receive accommodations such as a specialized screen that includes a sign language interpreter or closed captioning. Those who are in the Special Day classes also have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) with educational goals they are working to achieve.
Interpreters Robin Pak Congi and Juanita Nickerson said they love using sign language to communicate with students. Pak Congi, who has a sister who is deaf, grew up knowing sign language. "I like to help them learn new words and expand their vocabulary," Pak Congi said. "That is rewarding to me." Nickerson, who learned sign language in college, and she enjoys the challenge of expressing ideas through signs, which don't always correspond exactly to speech. She is also impressed by how easily general education students adapt to seeing interpreters and students communicating in sign language or with hearing devices on campus. "They're very accepting," she said.
Pablo Cabrera (below), who is mainstreamed in a 4th-grade class, uses assistive technology to hear. He is deaf due to microtia, which means he has very small ears. A Pittsburg resident, Pablo says he likes Westwood because the teachers and staff are meeting his needs by teaching in ways that are easy for him to understand. Pablo has also helped other students to understand what it's like to be deaf by giving a presentation to the school about microtia on Nov. 9, 2022, U.S. Microtia Awareness Day, when he was in 3rd grade. Klinkner said Pablo is a wonderful advocate for himself and for other DHH students. "He approached me and said, 'I have a presentation all ready," she recalled. "It was phenomenal. It was like TED Talk!"
Klinkner is an enthusiastic champion of the DHH and other Special Education programs at the school. "It's an awesome program," she said. "We also have two classes of students with multiple disabilities and I think it's fabulous because all of our students really learn about inclusion--in the classroom, on the playground, and on field trips. Everybody understands and it's very intentional."
The MDUSD School Board and Concord City Council held a special joint meeting Aug. 29th to discuss the Concord Community Reuse Project at the former Concord Naval Weapons Station; enrollment trends and budgets in MDUSD; traffic safety improvements around schools; MDUSD's transportation plan; tobacco regulations in Concord; tobacco enforcement, fentanyl awareness and anti-bullying efforts in MDUSD; and a city presentation on School Resource Officers. The agenda, which includes links to the presentations, is here. You can watch the meeting here. An overview of the presentations and discussions is here.
This week's Friday Letter highlights:
- September is Attendance Awareness Month, Deaf Awareness Month and Suicide Prevention Month;
- Spotlight on Westwood Elementary School's Deaf and Hard of Hearing program;
- District news including Joint MDUSD Board meeting with Concord City Council, and Black Family Night Extravaganza was a success;
- School news featuring some MDHS students who got Narcan training; Student news about a MDHS football player named Boys Athlete of the Week in Bay Area News Group's poll;
- Community news about the upcoming Break A Sweat For Education 5K Fun Run and Walk and Kids Walk on Sept. 30th in Walnut Creek;
- And more!
Click to read it.
MDUSD has established protocols for potentially restricting activities based on Air Quality Index (API) Ratings.
Students attended MDUSD schools in 2022-23
of our students were English Learners in 2022-23 and 14.8% were reclassified as English proficient.
schools and programs serve MDUSD preschool through adult education students including 3 CA Distinguished Schools
teachers work in MDUSD, including two named Contra Costa County Teacher of the Year finalists