LA Teacher, Daughter of Former Gang Member, Launches PBL School Dedicated to Empowering Underserved Students

By Mai P. Tran, ECMC Foundation


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"A mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires." - William Arthur Ward

It's National Teacher Day. To celebrate, we share this motivating story about a teacher who beat the odds while growing up, and now she's helping her students do the same. TedTalk calls her a "Star Teacher" – and they are spot on: Pearl Arredondo's mission is to empower students from underserved backgrounds to succeed and believe in themselves.

Watch her TedTalk: My Story, From Gangland Daughter to Star Teacher*.

Growing up, Arredondo's father, a gang member, was often in and out of prison. With a troubling environment at home, she needed "a support network," and "teachers in the classroom, everyday, who were going to say, 'You can move beyond that,'" she says. Unfortunately, at a high school that struggled with a "high [teacher] turnover rate," and was challenged by poverty, the lack of opportunity and gang crime in their neighborhood, Arredondo didn't get that support.

Realizing that a change of environment was necessary, Arrendondo's mom enrolled her in a school located in a better resourced Los Angeles school district – a move that would require her to take the bus for an hour and a half each day to get to school.

Arrendondo was determined not to become a victim of her circumstances. After graduating from high school, she enrolled at Pepperdine University, and later decided to become a teacher because "[she] really wanted to try to save more kids who were just like [her]."

While teaching at the first middle school she attended, Arredondo quickly realized that the same institutional problems that she experienced as a student still existed. This made it difficult for her to achieve her goal.

That's when Arredondo and a group of teachers co-founded the San Fernando Institute for Applied Media in 2010, which serves low-income students exclusively. The learning is project-based and its curriculum and pedagogy focus on developing 21st century skills, including communication, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and using technology.

"We're making school worth coming to everyday. We make our kids feel like they matter to us. We make our curriculum rigorous and relevant to them," she says. Why does she do this?

"They [students] deserve a quality school in their neighborhood, a school that they can be proud to say they attend, and a school that the community can be proud of as well, and they need teachers to fight for them everyday and empower them to move beyond their circumstances. Because it's time that kids like me stop being the exception, and we become the norm."

*All quotes from Pearl Arredondo come from TedTalk: My Story, From Gangland Daughter to Star Teacher."

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