“…Everyone has a story. Everyone has a struggle. And everyone needs help along the way.” – Pearl Arredondo, USA
If you pay attention to statistics, then you likely would have written Pearl Arredondo off from an early age. As the daughter of a high-ranking gang member in the Boyle Heights area of East Los Angeles, staying completely out of trouble was unavoidable. But even so, Arredondo rose above her circumstances and proved everyone wrong. She graduated from high school. She was accepted to Pepperdine University – and then, she became a teacher. In fact, she began her teaching career at the exact same middle school she went to – San Fernando Middle School.
“I really wanted to try to save more kids who were just like me,” says Arredondo. “They need to know that everyone has a story. Everyone has a struggle. And everyone needs help along the way.”
When I talked recently with Arredondo, she was on her way to the White House to receive an Inspirational Teacher Award. This award was on top of some incredible recognition – including being named California Woman of the Year from California Assembly District 39, and an extremely well-received TED talk.
Arredondo’s journey to “star teacher” has not been a smooth road, of course. “I think the idea of public service, of being a teacher, is you want to really impact the community that you came from,” says Arredondo. “You want to make sure that you go back and you give other people an opportunity to reach their potential.” And seeing the life of students from the perspective of a new teacher was a challenge for Arredondo. “We had quite a bit of the gang influence,” she says. “Our school culture was in shambles.” Arredondo looked to the “amazing” veteran teachers for guidance.
And then, Arredondo (along with a group of those veteran teachers) launched the school’s Multimedia Academy, San Fernando Institute for Applied Media (SFiAM), with the goal of making SFiAM a model of educational reform by preparing all students to be effective communicators in the 21st century. Three years after launching in 2010, it become a separate school that now serves over 350 low-income students and their families, focusing on technology development, improving outcomes for children and strengthening families.
I talk a lot about using a thoughtful approach with technology in education. Arredondo and her team are perhaps a perfect example of how this plays out in reality – especially given their budgetary constraints and the reality of their students’ circumstances. “For us, technology is very different,” says Arredondo. “The way we see it is it’s not this tool that is supposed to replace teaching.” Instead, she says, it’s about helping entire families. SFiAM has a 1:1 program, but it’s a family device. “Now, instead of just empowering one student, you’re empowering an entire family to be connected,” she says. “They get to take the device home, their parents use it for resumes, or for looking up whatever it is they need for their jobs, emails, contacting teachers.” And what about those families that can’t afford a wi-fi connection? Arredondo is working with the district on enabling that connection as well, by making each school a hotspot. “That way, every community has free wi-fi,” she says.
It was a true pleasure to speak with Arredondo – not only about her unique and encouraging path to teaching, but also her hopes for the future of education in the U.S. “I think my hope is that more teachers get out there and talk about their experiences in the classroom,” she says. “Oftentimes there is a disconnect between policies and what happens in schools and in classrooms. Teachers need to sit at the table and have these discussions and collaborate with policy makers.”
Enjoy today’s Daily Edventure with Pearl Arredondo.