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EMCSD Teachers Learn at The Cheech

A group of teachers from El Monte City School District (EMCSD) spent a day at The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture to learn how to bring culturally appreciative art practices into their classrooms. This is part of EMCSD’s initiative to provide applicable professional development (PD) that compliments their educational goals. Specific to EMCSD’s art education, teachers are focusing on developing opportunities to cultivate respect, empathy, and solidarity with historically marginalized groups of people. 
“This year, our collective decision was to spotlight the vibrant artwork originating from marginalized communities within our area,” explained Heidi Ragan, Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA). TOSAs are tasked with learning innovative practices to provide professional development for teachers throughout EMCSD. The Cheech teachers witnessed Chicano(a) artwork firsthand, drawing inspiration for future endeavors. “[An] ongoing aspiration is to provide similar artistic opportunities for our students,” explained Ms. Ragan. In order to do this, EMCSD is hosting an art showcase on April 23, 2024, themed Harmony in Diversity: Celebrating the Soul of EMCSD Through Art.
The visit was inspiring for teachers. Ms. Elena Brown from Potrero School shared, “Attending with my colleagues was very empowering and enlightening. We were able to experience PD in an authentic, hands-on manner…[and] able to have critical conversations about the importance of social justice, culturally relevant curriculum, and opportunities for our students.” She shared how meaningful it was to hear colleagues’ perspectives on art and develop ideas for their educational spaces. “Cultural relevance should be the foundation of what we do. We need to prioritize a curriculum that reflects and represents our students’ cultural backgrounds and lived experiences.”
Cortada School’s Art Lead Teacher Jeannette Salas shared, “It was great to see artwork from many different artists with many different cultural backgrounds. The experience even sparked important conversations about the ideas that were depicted, such as gentrification and attacks on street vendors that we have faced in our community. I learned about the importance of allowing students to express themselves through their artwork and allowing them to share their culture and background with their peers. By incorporating these insights into the classroom, we can create a community that celebrates diversity and promotes cultural understanding.”
EMCSD’s goal is to provide PD that is diversified and focused. Rio Hondo 3rd grade teacher and El Monte Elementary Teachers Association (EMETA) President, Gloria Delfin, stressed the importance of relevant PD, “In order to be well-rounded, we need professional development to teach us the latest [practices]. Credentialing classes change over time, so PD helps us stay in tune with what is currently needed in the classroom.” Ms. Delfin also stressed the importance of PD districtwide, beyond just teachers, “It’s important to have valuable training for the field that you’re in.” She shared that EMETA and EMCSD plan to release a joint survey to assess the types of PD staff would hope to have available. 
Ms. Delfin encourages colleagues to participate in PD as a form of self-advocacy: “I am comfortable saying that I need support with [something]. It’s okay to not know everything. If we need support, we have our TOSAs and we have our admin that we can go to. It’s okay to ask for support and that PD because it’s going to make you a better teacher and help in the classroom.”
EMCSD Superintendent Dr. Maribel Garcia shared sentiments about the importance of targeted PD opportunities: “Our goal is to empower our staff across our school communities to continue learning so we can maintain quality educational services. Every generation of students, educators, and families is unique, so it is important that our district provides our team the tools to keep our practices relevant and engaging so we can succeed together.”
Overall, culturally relevant PD gives staff the resources needed to confidently educate in their learning spaces, thus giving students an opportunity to connect to their school community. TOSA Jennifer Yanga explains, “When we approach learning through a culturally relevant lens, we can better understand, connect, and build upon our students’ experiences and perspectives. Centering a culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy in the classroom has the ability to strengthen the way our students connect to school which can lead to higher levels of engagement and academic achievement.”