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Bell Gardens Elementary Receives Prestigious California Gold Ribbon School Award for Science and ELD Program

Natalie Yakushiji, FOSS Professional and Leadership Developer, The Lawrence Hall of Science
September 21, 2016 | FOSS in Schools

Top image: Students at Bell Gardens Elementary work on an activity from the FOSS Mixtures and Solutions Module.

Bell Gardens Elementary School, one of 17 elementary schools in the Montebello Unified School District in Southern California, has recently been honored as a recipient of the California Gold Ribbon School Award. Previously known as the California Distinguished School Award, this award

...recognizes California schools that have made gains in implementing the academic content and performance standards adopted by the State Board of Education. These include the California Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics, California English Language Development Standards, and Next Generation Science Standards. Schools apply for the award based on a model program or practice their school has adopted that includes standardbased activities, projects, strategies, and practices that can be replicated by other local educational agencies.

(California Department of Education website)

So, how did Bell Gardens come to earn this award? Their journey toward science academic success is truly inspiring.

Bell Gardens Elementary (BGE) is a Title I school in Montebello, California, a city about 10 miles east of Los Angeles. It is home to approximately 1,150 pre-K–5 students, 65% of whom are English language learners (ELL). Back in 2008, there was little to no science taught at BGE. The district’s science curriculum was a textbook-based program. There was no collaborative planning among teachers and no materials for students to learn science by doing science. Teachers did not feel confident teaching science, as they were not comfortable with the content and students had difficulty understanding academic science vocabulary. In the summer of 2008, BGE began its partnership with California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) through a California Postsecondary Education Commission (CPEC) grant that focused on science content and language development. A team of BGE teachers was chosen to be the core team for the grant. The grant provided intense professional development around science content, which they learned by attending summer institutes with CSULB faculty. Teachers were able to feel more confident to teach science once they were more comfortable with the content. Another focus of the grant was developing a system to promote student language development. Workshops on implementing and assessing science notebooks and creating Professional Learning Communities at the school helped change the way teachers taught and assessed science.

This team of teachers returned to school excited to teach science and to impart what they learned with their colleagues. Unfortunately, there was still one hurdle to overcome. There were no instructional materials for students to actively learn science.

Enter the FOSS Leadership Academy (FLA), a three-year (2009–2011) intensive professional development academy for schools/districts implementing the FOSS California Edition. The FLA was a joint collaboration between the development team at FOSS and WestEd K–12 Alliance. The FLA had already started its first cohort of schools or districts in 2007 and was in the process of choosing participants for the second cohort. Jo Topps was already familiar with the work happening at BGE as part of the CPEC grant. Jo is an adjunct faculty member at CSULB. As it happens, she is also the Regional Director for the greater Los Angeles region of the K–12 Alliance. Jo saw the eagerness of the BGE staff to improve its science program and advocated that they be admitted into the FLA Cohort II even though they were not a FOSS school or district at the time. So, in the summer of 2009, four teacher leaders (Leslie Hiatt, Araceli Caldera, Melinda Molina, and Ricardo Ramirez), along with principal Gudiel Crosthwaite, attended their first of three week-long summer institutes to receive professional development on implementing the FOSS California Edition, instructional strategies for teaching science using a hands-on, inquiry-based approach, and strategies for working with colleagues and bringing them on board. Professional development continued during the school year with two weekend sessions and four Technical Assistance days per school year. Delta Education Sales Manager, Maggie Ostler, provided BGE with FOSS California Edition modules for the third and fourth grades during this first year and BGE teachers jumped right in using the materials and using the strategies they were learning in the Academy.

Science committee members

Bell Gardens Elementary Science Committee

By year two of the FLA, BGE was seeing huge gains. Attendance soared in the classrooms that were using FOSS. Where truancy used to be a problem, students in FOSS classrooms were posting attendance percentages of 94%. Students were producing intricate science notebooks and having group and class discussions around their science experiences. Teachers were excited to teach science and were impressed with the strides students were making in English Language Development. They wanted more. Leslie described the experiences and results to FOSS Co-Directors Linda De Lucchi and Larry Malone at the year two FLA summer institute. Larry and Linda were so impressed with her enthusiasm that they worked to get FOSS CA modules for all grade levels at BGE.

Now six years later, science instruction is still going strong at BGE. Montebello Unified School District is still not a FOSS district and, in fact, has not finalized its plans on how to implement the Next Generation Science Standards. So BGE has made its own plans. They have a strong core science committee (which includes two staff from the original FLA team: Leslie Hiatt and Araceli Caldera) that provides science professional development two or three times a year. PD topics are teacher-driven and teacher-led, including PD sessions on science notebooking, science and ELD, and NGSS introduction and implementation. Science is taught every day in every classroom at BGE for at least 60 minutes a day and also serves as one pathway for language acquisition development. As students are engaged in the active investigation of science, they become immersed in academic language, and as they discuss their observations and discoveries, they develop language skills. Current BGE principal James Sams is a strong science advocate. He has set aside site funds to maintain this model, provide ongoing professional development, and purchase science materials. BGE has already adopted FOSS Next Generation for grades K–2 and hopes to implement grades 3–5 in fall 2016.

BGE submitted their application to be considered a Gold Ribbon school in October 2015. Honorees must show that their program demonstrates exemplary achievement in implementing standards. BGE decided to showcase their combined science and ELD programs. BGE’s overwhelming supporting evidence was their increased CELDT score data and reclassification rates of their EL students as well as the enthusiasm that came forth when personal interviews were conducted with staff, parents, and students.

Fourth- and fifth-grade teacher Leslie Hiatt, who has been with this project since the beginning of the CPEC grant, has seen such a change in both students and teachers,

Student attendance has increased when we started teaching with FOSS. Students want to be at school now. Teachers are excited to teach science and when it comes time to discuss what professional development to focus on each year, science is always a top choice. Teachers are also leading the effort. A lot of our professional development is not only chosen by our staff, it is led by our staff as well.

Congratulations Bell Gardens! You’ve accomplished a lot and are definitely deserving of this award. We look forward to more scientific accomplishments from your students and staff!