Real champions inspire us because we know they give everything to make a difference. Through this column, we are helping make known real champions in the lives of children and youth. At NCUST, we are thankful for all the many equity champions who are, each day, changing lives, changing schools, and changing communities.
“It starts with just believing in the kids,” insisted Carey Pineda, 18-year teaching veteran, from 2020 America’s Best Urban School Award Recipient, R.F. Hazard Elementary in Garden Grove, CA. She explained that her fifth-grade teacher had a strong belief in her that compelled her to pursue a career in education. Today, Ms. Pineda exudes a similar confidence in her student’s ability to succeed, even though almost 90% of the school’s students meet low-income criteria, 85% identify as Latino/a, and almost 40% are emerging bilingual students. “I want to be the person who makes students feel like they can be successful in and out of the classroom,” she claimed. “I want my students to feel loved and see the potential they all have.”
Ms. Pineda believes her ambitious goals are attainable because she starts by building relationships and trust with her third-grade students and their families. “I get to know their likes and dislikes. We’ll chat about their weekend or other things happening in their lives. When we have that relationship, I can push them beyond their comfort zone.”
Nonetheless, pushing toward grade-level success and beyond is not always easy when children have serious challenges that teachers do not have the capacity to address. However, instead of giving up because of the roadblocks she can’t address, Ms. Pineda focuses her energy on identifying the roadblocks she can address. Then, she creates her roadmap to help her students excel. She lets her students know that she and her colleagues will find ways to help them learn and understand challenging academic content. With enthusiasm, she asserted, “We’re going to find ways to bridge those gaps.” Her “can-do” attitude inspires confidence and effort among her students, but it also nurtures a positive “can-do” attitude among parents and other staff at R. F. Hazard.
The “can-do” attitude is making a big difference for R.F. Hazard students. In the 2021-22 school year, approximately 63% of R.F. Hazard’s third-grade students met or exceeded the state’s standards for English Language Arts (compared to 42% of third-grade students throughout California). Similarly, approximately 70% of R.F. Hazard third-grade students met or exceeded the state’s standards for mathematics (compared to 43.5% of third-grade students throughout California). Ms. Pineda and her colleagues at R.F. Hazard are creating academic successes that exceed those found in some schools serving much more affluent communities.
Ms. Pineda asserted that teachers need to be willing to take risks and change things that are not working for the students being served, especially when students have not experienced much success. “You can’t always go by the book,” she warned. At the same time, she noted, “There’s always room for improvement, so you want to reflect to see what you can do to improve and make things better for the students you serve.”
NCUST is proud to recognize Ms. Carey Pineda as a true equity champion who is making a powerful difference for the students at R.F. Hazard Elementary.
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