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Friday Letter

This week's MDUSD Friday Letter highlights:

  • Spotlight on Valhalla Elementary Art Fair;
  • District News including upcoming meetings and events;
  • School News including PG&E CEO posts social media shout-out to Ygnacio Valley HS robotics club and teacher, and Northgate HS Girls and Ygnacio Valley HS Boys Basketball Teams head to NCS Championships, plus Elementary and Middle School Social Media Highlights;
  • Student News highlighting Northgate HS student creates new organization to help others, Oak Grove MS celebrates students reclassified as Fluent English Proficient, and Northgate HS freshman is youngest and first female NCS wrestling champ in school history, plus HS Student Social Media Highlights;
  • Staff News featuring East Bay Times story about Valley View MS teacher's efforts to revive school wood shop program;
  • Community News including Free tutoring available and Pride Prom tickets on sale;
  • And more!

You can read it here.

Read More about Friday Letter - February 23, 2024
Valhalla Art Fair

Students in grades TK-5 at Valhalla Elementary in Pleasant Hill are proud to share their artwork with their families, the community and each other during the school's Art Fair held in the Multi-Use Room each year. The theme for this year's fair, which was open to families on Feb. 21 and visited by all classes on Feb. 22, was “The Sky's the Limit!" It showcased the creative talents of students in a variety of artwork, "including paintings, drawings, sculptures, and crafts, all created by our young artists under the guidance of our dedicated teachers," said Principal Theodora Pappas. "The Art Fair provides a wonderful opportunity for our students to exhibit their artistic accomplishments and for our school community to celebrate their creativity and hard work."

Teachers chose artists to study and more specific themes to explore, such as nightscapes, aliens, outer space, hot air balloons and birds. First-graders in Katharine King's class painted nightscapes that featured silhouettes of trees under a full moon and multi-colored sky dotted with shooting stars. Proudly pointing to his painting, student Owen Clark said he added glitter to the moon and stars "to show where it's lighter." His classmate Kyla Cooney, whose painting was mounted below Owen's, said she painted the trees darker to lighter from left to right, a technique she learned from her older sister. She said she enjoyed the fair, but would like it even more if students could create whatever they wanted instead of everyone in the class doing essentially the same thing. Their classmate Charlotte Huang said she liked the fair because she loves to paint and to see the creativity that all the students put into their work.

Kindergarten teacher Christine Botting said her students created replicas of "The Starry Night," by Vincent van Gogh, using finger paint, dropping yellow dots to create stars using popsicle sticks. They cut paper to create the town beneath the stars and colored the chapel, while also focusing on creating the "wiggly, wavy lines" in the sky, Botting said, as her class toured the exhibits on Thursday. She said she would encourage other schools to host similar fairs, if they don't already. "It's great," she said. "It's really fun for the kids to see everyone else's work and the artists they studied."

Valhalla Art Fair
Read More about School-wide Art Fair at Valhalla Elementary teaches students about artists' work
DVC/ULV partnership

MDUSD is pleased to announce our participation in a new partnership with Diablo Valley College (DVC) and United Latino Voices of Contra Costa to help Latinx high school students transition to the community college. Called the DVC/ULV Latinx High School Partnership Project, the effort aims to inform Latinx high school students and their families about the programs available at DVC, help them with applications and answer questions, in English or Spanish. 

During a kick-off event for the partnership held Feb. 8 at DVC, program organizers and supporters said many people don't realize that community college in California is free for two years and that DVC accepts everyone who applies. The college also has a Puente program to help students transfer from DVC to four-year colleges and universities, participates in federal programs including Upward Bound - which supports low-income, first generation students, and has a DVC Dreamers Alliance and student Dreamers Club to provide support for undocumented students. 

To help get the word out about opportunities for Latinx students at DVC, the partnership is enlisting the assistance of current Latinx DVC students to provide presentations to MDUSD students and their families at the following high schools: College Park HS, Concord HS, Mt. Diablo HS, Ygnacio Valley HS; Olympic, Crossroads, and Prospect continuation high schools; Glenbrook Academy; and Horizons Center for Independent study.

Mt. Diablo HS alum Marlene Gomez, who currently attends DVC, is working as an intern for the partnership. "We’re here to make a difference," she said, adding that she is a first-generation college student. "I came to DVC looking for a brighter future, I knew I wanted to go to college, but because of finances, I couldn’t go to a 4-year university" after high school graduation. She is eager to tell others about how the Upward Bound and Puente programs have helped her navigate college.

And Ygnacio Valley HS alumni Katherine Guzman Sosa and Jose de Jesus Ochoa (who graduated in 2020 and 2022 respectively) said they helped to form Dreamers Club at DVC and are advising students at their alma mater about how to form a club there. They have presented information to YVHS parents about DVC and are excited about the partnership because it also offers mentorship to Latinx DVC students like them.

MDUSD's Multilingual Education Director Carmen Garces said she would like student interns to give a presentation to the District English Learner Advisory Commitee (DELAC). "I think that it's wonderful," she said. Mt. Diablo HS counselors Leidi Arias and Yaretzie Amaya said the new Latinx outreach would bolster the work that is already being done by the school's College and Career Advisor Erika Ramos to inform students about college opportunities. They said DVC is convenient for students who work part-time or want to continue living at home and that it is inspiring to hear directly from DVC students about how the community college is helping them to follow their dreams. (Please see this Fact Sheet for more information.)

DVC/ULV partnership
Read More about New partnership between MDUSD, DVC and United Latino Voices of Contra Costa helps Latinx high school students transition to DVC
Friday Letter

This week's MDUSD Friday Letter highlights:

  • Spotlight on new partnership between MDUSD, Diablo Valley College and United Latino Voices of Contra Costa to help Latinx high school students transition to DVC;
  • District News including no school for Presidents' Day Weekend and upcoming meetings and events;
  • School News including Valley View MS gets a new saw donation for its Wood Shop and Concord HS PFC gets donation from Jersey Mike's Subs;
  • Student news highlighting Ygnacio Valley HS robotics club students featured in PG&E social impact mini-documentary, and Odyssey of the Mind Teams from three MDUSD schools head to state tournament;
  • Staff News featuring Mt. Diablo Adult Ed Fiscal Analyst Jennifer Dougherty is a Classified Support Person of Excellence;
  • Community News highlighting tickets for Pride Prom 2024 at Concord HS are now on sale;
  • And more!

You can read it here.

Read More about Friday Letter - February 16, 2016
MS CTE Fair

The first MDUSD Career Technical Education (CTE) and Career Pathway Fair for middle school students on Feb. 8th was a huge success! All middle schools in MDUSD were invited to bring 50 8th-grade students to participate in the fair, which was hosted by MDUSD Career Pathways and Riverview Middle School in Bay Point. The event featured 10 different industry partners and six career pathways from our high schools, with teachers and high school students showcasing the work they do. 

In what will become an annual event, the 8th-graders were bussed to Riverview MS to speak with, learn from and see options for them in high school and post-secondary education. Students were given a handout with sample questions to ask and space for taking notes to use during the event to help them communicate and work with all guests. Many of the industry partners who participated said that they were blown away with the questions the students were asking them and by how excited they were to learn about the many options available to them, said MDUSD Career and Transition Specialist Erin Larkins Pulley, who coordinated the event with Riverview MS Principal Laurie Clark and Vice Principal Danya Townsend. Business representatives also were excited to see that middle schoolers are learning about different career pathways before high school. They talked about degrees, apprenticeships and certificates. Students were able to participate in some hands-on activities such as a hammering contest, simulated fire protection and CPR. 

"The idea for this event was to plant seeds now for students, to bring awareness and build interest in them," Larkins Pulley said. "After all, they will be heading into the workforce in four short years and it is our mission to send them off into the world, both college and career-ready!" 

Clark was enthusiastic about hosting the event. "Any time I can call attention to the passion, ideals, and overall community in Bay Point, I will," she said. "Any opportunity to bring awareness to the opportunities, programs and pathways at our high schools should be welcomed and celebrated. Events like this CTE fair bring reality to the school building for our students. They begin to see that the education we have been providing has purpose and connection with the future person they will become. I can't emphasize enough the importance of giving middle school students the exposure and opportunity to engage with aspects of the future they will soon embody. It keeps them curious, grounded and intentional as they move through the middle school years."

Townsend said the fair was well-planned and well-attended. "Students were able to engage with various community members and have meaningful conversations that pertain to their future, collaborate with peers, and take a deeper dive into what high school can look like for them," she said. "The students were fully engaged and seemed to get a lot out of the experience. It was great having high school students there to represent and speak with the 8th-graders regarding their high school programs. Riverview is grateful for the opportunity to have hosted it."  

We cannot do the work we do without the support of our industry and education partners, Larkins Pulley added. These partners included: East Bay CPR, UA Local 342 JATC Plumbers/Steamfitters, Diablo Valley College, ETIC Engineering, Los Medanos College, John Muir Health, Sheet Metal 104 & Bay Area Industry Training Fund, PG&E, Mt. Diablo Adult Education CTE Programs, and Concord Emergency & Volunteer Services. High school pathway programs that participated were: Information Computer Technology at Mt. Diablo HS, Art & Digital Media at Northgate and Mt. Diablo high schools, Health Care at Mt. Diablo HS, Building Trades at Concord HS, Engineering at Concord and Ygnacio Valley high schools, the Education Academy at Ygnacio Valley HS, and HOSA (Future Health Professionals) at Mt. Diablo HS. "Thank you to everyone who participated and we look forward to collaborating again," Larkins Pulley said.

MS CTE Fair
Read More about MDUSD's first Career Technical Education Fair at Riverview MS for Middle School students was a huge success!
Friday Letter

This week's MDUSD Friday Letter highlights:

  • Spotlights on MDUSD's first Career Technical Education Fair for Middle School students at Riverview MS, and MDUSD Celebrates National School Counseling Week;
  • District news including Board Briefs highlighting Board meetings, and upcoming meetings and events;
  • School news featuring World Read Aloud Day at Meadow Homes Elementary, plus School Social Media Spotlights;
  • Student news highlighting Mt. Diablo Adult Education students visiting a REACH Air Ambulance;
  • Alumni News featuring two Grammy Award winners who graduated from College Park and Ygnacio Valley high schools;
  • And more!

You can read it here.

Read More about Friday Letter - February 9, 2024
 Teacher of the Year

Last October, the California Department of Education announced  that Ygnacio Valley High School Teacher Joseph Alvarico was selected as one of five California Teachers of the Year. And on Monday, Jan. 29, Alvarico and the other four honorees were feted at a California Teacher of the Year Gala, where they were recognized by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond for their "extraordinary" work with students. "These five remarkable individuals represent the brilliance and fortitude of California's educators, and they are among the top in the teaching profession," Thurmond said in the gala program. "Through their innovative teaching styles and years of experience, these teachers create positive learning environments for their students, helping them grow academically and supporting their social-emotional needs to become critical thinkers, active participants in society, and the leaders of tomorrow." 

The teachers gave speeches about their passion for helping students thrive. Alvarico was pleased to be able to bring three of his students to the gala, whom he recognized in his speech - Giovanna Gomez, Adriel Malapote and Sara Venegas. Thank you to the Travis Credit Union for sponsoring their tickets to the event so they could share in their teacher's joyful moment and stand as testaments to the transformative impact he is having on students' lives. You can watch Alvarico's speech here.

He began by talking about growing up in the Philippines before moving to the United States. He continued:

"Fast forward to 2017, and I embarked on a new teaching adventure in an economically disadvantaged community. It was at Ygnacio Valley High School, a vibrant yet challenging environment, that my passion for teaching was rekindled and my boyhood memories were remembered. Motivated by the excitement of their engineering courses, my students suggested we continue beyond the classroom by starting an after-school FIRST robotics team. Suddenly, my role expanded from teacher to coach, mentor, and team manager. It was daunting yet thrilling. As we dove into this after-school project, our community rallied around us, offering grants, donations, and mentorships. Parents, professionals, and local businesses alike supported us, each uniquely contributing to bringing our dream to life.

The true magic, however, was the transformation of my students. Guided by industry mentors, students took the reins of our robotics team. Giovanni became the voice of our initiative, eloquently engaging with the community. Sara managed our deadlines and deliverables. And Adriel shared his knowledge of industry-standard software and machines with our members. These exceptional students, who lead and support their peers, are doing more than just using classroom knowledge to build robots. They are mastering collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity, confidently presenting their ideas to the community, and emerging as inspirational leaders.

Reflecting on my journey, from a young boy navigating the streets of Manila to standing here as California Teacher of the Year, fills me with an immense sense of pride and gratitude. A journey that started in a modest school in the Philippines, 6,900 miles away from here, has led me to this moment, a testament to the incredible impact of learning beyond conventional boundaries. 

These after-school learning opportunities—for me, it was the Boy Scouts; for my students, FIRST robotics—have not only sculpted my path of lifelong learning but are now significantly influencing the lives of my students. This is the essence of authentic learning, where the knowledge gained in classrooms fluidly merges with real-life application, where curiosity ignites new discoveries, and where my journey as a teacher is deeply interwoven with the dreams and aspirations of my students. FIRST Robotics is more than an activity for my students; it is family, providing a sense of belonging and a place of support.

Isn’t it remarkable that the lessons I learned from a small school in Manila are now resonating in the hearts and minds of students here in California? Yet, the crucial question we must ask ourselves is this: 'What limitless potential can we unlock in young minds when we bring these expanded, real-world, community-supported learning opportunities to every school in California?'"

Alvarico is pictured below surrounded by the large group of supporters who cheered him on at the event.

MDUSD Superintendent Dr. Adam Clark (back, l-r) stands with YVHS student Giovanni Gomez, Bay Area LEEDS CEO April Treece, YVHS alum and Project 212 Robotics Club founding member and mentor Angelo Aquino, Concord HS teacher and former MDUSD Teacher of the Year Tom Trowbridge, YVHS Principal Jonathan Pike, and Contra Costa County Office of Education Communications Director Marcus Walton; (Front l-r) Project 212 Marketing Mentor Mario Jerez, YVHS students Sara Venegas and Adriel Malapote, Alvarico, MDUSD Board Member Cherise Khaund, MDUSD Board President Erin McFerrin, Concord Rotary Club Member Memory Woodard, MDUSD Board Vice President Linda Mayo, and Hayward Unified colleague Edgar Monroy.

 Teacher of the Year
Read More about Ygnacio Valley HS Teacher Joseph Alvarico honored at California Teacher of the Year Gala!
Friday Letter

This week's MDUSD Friday Letter highlights:

  • Spotlight on Ygnacio Valley HS Teacher Joseph Alvarico honored at California Teacher of the Year Gala;
  • District news including February is Black and African American History Month; Board Briefs highlighting Board meetings, and upcoming meetings and events;
  • Student news: Northgate and Concord high school jazz bands finish in the Top 5 at the Folsom Jazz Festival, and Social Media Shout-outs to students at Pine Hollow MS and Mt. Diablo, Concord & College Park high schools;
  • School news featuring Concord High unveils new Bear mascot at student rally, and Bancroft Elementary hosts multicultural night, plus School Social Media Spotlights;
  • Alumni Social Media Spotlights from Northgate and College Park high schools;
  • Staff Social Media Highlights featuring MDUSD Latina counselors, College Now teachers and our new General Counsel;
  • And more!

You can read it here.

Read More about Friday Letter - February 2, 2024
Little Women cast

Months after hatching a plan to bring Northgate HS live theater to elementary and middle school students, Northgate HS Drama Artistic Director John Litten and a small cast of drama student staged three back-to-back performances of "Little Women" over three days - Tuesday through Thursday, Jan. 23-25 - sharing their joy of acting with younger students. Their goal was to spark an interest in high school drama while students are still young. Based on the enthusiastic response the show received from students, teachers and administrators, Litten and the Northgate cast achieved their goal. They performed the full-length play for Ayers and Woodside elementary students and teachers in Northgate's Little Theater on Tuesday, then took a "traveling show" on the road to Foothill Middle School and Walnut Acres Elementary on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. Litten hopes to expand the program to more schools next year, possibly with help from Prop. 28 arts funding for travel and other expenses.

Before the first show, Litten told the 4th and 5th-grade audience to become engaged in what they were seeing on stage and to feel free to react by clapping, laughing or expressing themselves in other ways. The audience did not hold back. Students laughed at funny lines, gasped when Amy burned Jo's book in a fire, and erupted with surprised "oohs" when Jo pushed Amy, and later when Jo rejected a marriage proposal from Laurie. But the audience grew completely still and silent when Jo cried out in anguish after her beloved sister Beth died. At the end of the play, the audience cheered and applauded, then peppered the cast with so many questions that Litten had to end the Q&A while hands were still raised so the elementary students could head back to their schools. 


Ayers Elementary teacher Carlene Tamichi and Woodside Elementary teacher Lori Bergman said the field trip to see a live performance in a real theater was very special for their students, including some who had never seen live theater before. "They were invested in the performance," said Tamichi, who brought 29 4th-graders plus chaperones to the show, adding that some students have older siblings in Northgate's drama program. Lily Carroll, whose sister Maryolla Carroll participates in drama at Northgate, said she wants to follow in her sister's footsteps when she is in high school.

The traveling shows were also a success, said Foothill MS Drama teacher Erica Davis and Walnut Acres Elementary Principal Lauren Ashton. Davis said the Northgate students performed in her classroom, then told her students - who will attend Northgate - what the drama program there is like and how to squeeze drama into their class schedules all four years. "They talked about the different types of classes they offer," Davis said, adding that some of her students were interested in back stage classes and that she would love to expose them to Improv. Northgate student Bryn Sullivan told the middle school students that drama has made her more outgoing and taught her many invaluable skills that will help her throughout her life. Ashton said the Walnut Acres 5th-graders "loved it." Litten told them he is a Walnut Acres alum, "so he was able to ge the kids really excited" by saying he was taught by the same teacher who now runs the after-school musical theater program. "The kids were thrilled," she said, adding in a tweet: "I love that our students can see what wonderful opportunities they are going to have at their future high school! Great job!" 

Litten said he is incredibly proud of his Drama II students. "They answered the call and did something much bigger and more impactful than they ever thought they could," he said, adding that theater helps bring people together. "I want all MDUSD students to know there is a place in our district which is considered Our House. Whatever I can do to help produce and facilitate student engagement with the performing arts, I will do. For me, it starts by putting up a show and bringing our students to the theatre."

A short video reel highlighting the performance is here.

Little Women cast
Read More about Northgate HS drama students perform "Little Women" for elementary and middle school students

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