A School on the Move: Pacoima MS – An Interview with Lorraine Armelin, Title I Coordinator

Winter 2009 | | April 19, 2009 at 12:20 pm

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Lorraine Armelin, Title I Coordinator, and Marcy Hamm, Principal

Located in the eastern part of the San Fernando Valley and part of the Los Angeles Unified School District, Pacoima Middle School enrolls over 2200 students in grades 6 through 8, including 2 magnet schools. The main student ethnicities are 93% Hispanic and 4% white. Per District policy, 100% of the students participate in the free or reduced price lunch program. 36% are English Learners. API scores increased from the 2007 base of 643 to 663 in 2008, meeting all subgroup growth targets. Marcy Hamm became principal in 2008. Lorraine Armelin has been Title I Coordinator at the school since1996 and site contact for the California GEAR UP program for 4 years.

Initially your school became a GEAR UP school in 1999 in the first cohort of schools. Please describe your school community at that time.

In 1999 the API score for Pacoima Middle School was 483. The student population in 1999 was 1,850 with 96.5% Hispanic, 1% African American and 1% white. 34% were Limited English Program students and 4% Students with Disabilities. In the 1999-2000 school year, 86.58% of students qualified for the free or reduced price Federal Lunch Program. Teachers met in departments to discuss curriculum, report card marks and standardized test results when available. Data did not drive instruction. Teachers usually worked on their own with little sharing of successful instructional strategies.

What are some of the changes the school staff has made and is continuing to make to promote a college-going culture, especially in this past school year, 2007-2008?

The GEAR UP School Self Assessment Rubric (SSAR) assisted staff with the development of a focused Professional Development (PD) to strengthen instruction, leading to school wide implementation of active learning strategies, academic rigor and high expectations. Early on, teachers invested in PD by selecting research-based methodologies they wanted to learn more about and/or share with colleagues. This year, in response to staff requests for in-depth study of selected methodologies, teachers meet in teacher-led PD strands during the semester to learn, share and support implementation of successful research-based strategies to improve student learning. PD strands selected by staff include AVID, differentiated instruction, thinking curriculum, technology-assisted instruction, Consistency Management & Cooperative Discipline (CMCD) and a strand for new teachers with a variety of methodologies and support.

AVID at Pacoima Middle School started with a desire by the leadership team to schedule an AVID training for our teachers based on the networking done and visits to Northrup Elementary, one of the 2006 GEAR UP “Schools on the Move”. GEAR UP made it possible to bring an AVID workshop to our site on March 8, 2008. The energy, excitement and enthusiasm for AVID strategies led to the training of 12 of our teachers and staff at the 2008 AVID Summer Institute, the recruitment of an AVID elective class started in September 2008, and a PD interest group of more than 20 teachers immersed in AVID methodologies to engage students with rigorous instruction school wide. There is a waiting list for AVID training and plans include an additional AVID elective class in 2009-2010.

In general, what is the school faculty attitude toward the GEAR UP program and the Mission Statement, “Academic Excellence and College Access for ALL Students?”

Teachers wear college t-shirts on Wednesdays. The motto is, “don’t just wear it, talk about it”. This conversation continues in Advisory periods where students investigate colleges, and participate in college-going culture activities from College Talks to Career Day activities.

GEAR UP has asked all Continuing Sustainability Project schools to show continued measurable progress of the 5 GEAR UP sustainability indicators. How is your school Leadership Team addressing these expected outcomes?

We continue to meet to discuss ways to promote a college-going culture, academic rigor and parent involvement. We are addressing each of these factors as follows:

Sustainability of the Leadership Team

The leadership team meets regularly to promote college-going culture activities throughout the year. An AVID subcommittee formed to support the AVID elective class for certification and to advance AVID strategies school wide.

Academic Rigor

There is widespread support for additional AVID elective classes and the implementation of AVID strategies school wide. GEAR UP resources will make it possible to host a second AVID workshop on site in March 2009.

Academic Counseling

Pacoima Middle School counselors meet with parents by grade level to discuss student progress, career goals and A-G requirements. College videos are available for check out, including a student study guide. Grade level parent meetings are held annually to share expectations and provide resources to assist parents with college goal setting for their children.

The PSAT exam was promoted in all 8th grade Advisory classes. This year 83 students took the PSAT exam. Next year our counselor plans to test 100 students.

College and Financial Aid Information for students and families

The College Corner offers college and financial aid information for parents and students. Information is distributed during parent-counselor conferences. Counselors advertise and select winners for the GEAR UP Educational Trust Awards.

Regular Involvement of Families

Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE) was instrumental in improving the quality of our parent involvement at Pacoima Middle School. More than 175 parents graduated from the PIQE program in 2007 and 2008. Over 100 parents attended the first parent meeting of the year. In fact, attendance increased significantly at school events, parent workshops and school committee meetings over the past 3 years. Parents participate in greater numbers in school community activities from Parent Center activities to the Math Carnival where parent volunteers manned the prize booth during Open House.

What GEAR UP trainings, tools and resources have been most helpful to your Leadership Team?

  • Institutes and Forums
  • GEAR UP/AVID Site Training
  • Networking at the Institutes and Forums
  • Support of GEAR UP regional coordinator and staff
  • SSAR Self Study Process
  • Educational Trust Awards

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Pacoima Middle School staff wear their college sweatshirts.

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