Cindy Ok (Los Angeles ’14)

Science- Manual Arts Senior High School

The ‘Young Scientists’ in Cindy’s Physics class at Manual Arts Senior High School have been challenged and encouraged to take ownership of their learning and become more aware of what they are capable of. On an ideal day in the classroom, “Students ask the questions, students build the spaces”, and Cindy does her best to empower their self-esteem and capabilities. One student said: “To be honest I like coming to her class because she shows her students that she wants her students in her class and worries when they are not there.” Her general positive regard and concern for students has helped Cindy to build a rapport that enables kids to be themselves when they enter the classroom, and encourages them to believe that they have the capacity to grasp the material presented. The strength of this relationship has become evident in this year’s student test scores as well, as Cindy’s class scored an average of 73% on the Force Concept Inventory, a college-level multiple choice conceptual test.

Denise Vazquez (Los Angeles ‘14)

Early learning- St. Anne’s Early Learning Center

As a second-year teacher with St. Anne’s Early Learning Center in Los Angeles, Denise seeks out learning opportunities for her children that point towards achieving independent milestones in their character formation. Often times, these opportunities are manifested through daily tasks and activities. On one particular day in the classroom, Denise noticed a 22-month old student attempting to place blocks on a long, thin table. The child was placing the blocks left to right, but due to the size of the surface, one block would fall to the ground each time she placed another next to it. After watching the child repeat the process of placing a block, only to have another fall several times, Denise decided to make the pattern apparent to the child: “It looks like every time you put the block back on the table, a block on the other side falls off. I wonder where else you can put the block.” Here, Denise made an observation that would provide insight into how the child might be more successful in accomplishing their task. The child proceeded to place the blocks in a horizontal pattern that fit the dimensions of the table better than what she had previously done, and all of her blocks fit onto the table. In this way, the child was able to think through her issue and engage in problem solving to understand cause-and-effect in a way that she could not have done if Denise solved the problem for her.  When teaching in an unconventional school atmosphere such as at St. Anne’s, pedagogical methods rely just as much on innovation and awareness as they do on training and methodology. While early childhood development is largely understood as a dynamic and critical area of education for parents and children, it is not often considered to be an area in which teachers have strong opportunities to cultivate life lessons in the classroom. However, educators such as Denise are utilizing the time they have with students as a foundation for skill development and positive feelings towards learning new things on their own. 

Gladys Aparicio-Dominguez (Los Angeles ’15)

1st year corps member Gladys Aparicio-Dominguez is a second generation corps member. She was taught by corps members while attending Alliance Gertz-Ressler High School in Pico-Union. Gladys now teaches high school at Alliance Collins Family where she provides special education services. Gladys’ focus on building relationships with her students while holding high expectations has led to strong results in this first semester. Students with disabilities on her caseload are currently passing their English classes with an average GPA of 2.7 and passing their math classes with an average GPA of 2.8, which is roughly a B average. This academic performance is on par with students in the general education population, which means Gladys is on pace to closing the ability gap that exists within the achievement gap.  The ability gap refers to when students with special needs, who are from low-income communities already affected by the achievement gap, tend to have the lowest rates of academic success in the entire student population, with the fewest teachers willing and qualified to teach them. Gladys has not stopped at academic performance. She began the year with a project-based unit on understanding disabilities, in which students researched their own disabilities and presented to each other about how their disability impacts their learning. For many students, this was the first time that they had a deeper understanding of this part of their identity. This level of self-awareness at an early stage of their high school career can position students to have more ownership over their learning, advocate more effectively, and be positioned for true choices after high school. 

Siddhartha Shankar (Los Angeles ’14)

Siddhartha  is cultivating lasting change and leadership among his students.  Sid wears many hats at his school. In addition to being a special education teacher, he is also teaching a general education AP U.S. Government and Economics course for 12th graders at his school site, Diego Rivera High School. Sid is driving towards both groups of students having excellent outcomes, both academically and personally. Currently, for the students with disabilities on his caseload, over 75 percent of students are passing general education English with a 70 percent or higher, which is exemplary for this point in the year.  Additionally, 53 percent of his special education caseload is passing with a B or better. These strong scores are translating into content mastery that is on par with these special education students’ typically developing peers.  Sid has been employing a “flipped classroom model” to ensure his AP class has access to all of the necessary information that will prepare them for the rigorous AP exam in May. He is sending out additional PowerPoint presentations over the weekend so that students can review them and come prepared to engage with the material in class the next week. This model is allowing Sid’s students to get through more material, at a higher level, during classroom time. Currently the average mastery of content for his AP class is 81% which means students are consistently meeting the 80% goal they have set.