HomeCommunity NewsDavid Laurell: Monterey High Deviates From Convention, Students Thrive

David Laurell: Monterey High Deviates From Convention, Students Thrive

Family members of students attending Monterey High School were welcomed by Principal April Weaver, Assistant Principal Edwin Taylor, administrative staff, teachers and members of the Friends of Monterey to the school’s annual open house and art show on March 7.

Along with a time to meet and greet, the evening served as a gathering for students to showcase their artistry and creativity in numerous disciplines, including fashion and textile design, media production, music, literature, visual arts and tech.

From displays of portraiture, ceramic sculpture and calligraphy, to musical recitals and presentations of the operation of a sewing machine, the range of instruction being provided at Monterey is nothing short of impressive.

The event also gave visitors a unique interactive opportunity to experience students’ interdisciplinary skills. Blending their abilities in research, writing, storytelling, voice modulation and recording techniques, students have created podcasts on a wide variety of topics. By perusing a wall covered with titles, hosts, and a subject synopsis, participants could simply click on a QR code to hear podcasts on issues such as adapting to change, the importance and influence of food, female crime cases, or a tribute to the late Kobe Bryant.

Those podcasts are recorded in a professional studio that is adjacent to the room in which students study fashion design and learn to work with fabrics and operate a sewing machine. It is a room that in the past was dedicated to a very different use.

“This used to be our nursery,” explained Weaver. “It would be filled with the babies of some of our students. But it has been years since we have been in need of child care, so we repurposed this room in a way that provides our students with the things they are telling us they want.”

For Burbankers who may not be familiar with Monterey, the fact that the school once offered child care makes it clear that it is a learning facility unlike that of Burbank and John Burroughs high schools. As a small, public, alternative school that serves students in ninth through 12th grade, their enrolment fluctuates from 120 to 200 students. Because of that, the school has found it difficult to connect with the more traditional curriculums of the other schools. Many of the students come from low-income households, families struggling with myriad issues at home, or, in some cases, families without homes.

The school’s art teacher Jeannette Elliott stresses that most students who attend Monterey are great kids who are there simply because they have difficulties functioning and learning in a traditional academic setting. She added that each student has a special and unique reason for why their path led them to the school.

“If we have 200 students, we have 200 reasons why each one is here,” said Elliott.

“So many of these kids are very sensitive and so creative. Creative people tend to see the world in a different way, and that means they learn things in a different way. My job — our job — is to tap into what works for our students on an individual basis, to find out how to allow them to properly problem solve, express themselves, and learn new skills in a way and in an environment that is conducive for them to succeed.”

For as long as most Burbanker’s can recall, the word “Monterey” has been used in a derogatory or pejorative fashion, and often as a threat to students at other high schools to “buckle down and get their act together.”

“That is not what we are about at all,” said Weaver, who has overseen the school since 2019.

“We are not a punishment, and it is upsetting to me when people refer to Monterey in that manner,” said Weaver. “What we are is an alternative for students who are smart, kind, bright, intelligent, creative, and connect with the world and with learning in a way that may not be traditional or conventional.”

Dedicated to assuring students are focused and engaged in the learning process, Weaver said the school’s curriculum is designed to be highly flexible.

“We operate in a way that creates an amazing opportunity where kids can, and want to, connect and learn,” said Weaver. “That comes from listening to their needs and providing them what they want.”

That also comes from a principal who is willing to listen to her teachers.

Michelle Otis, who started the school’s music program and podcasting class said she has been extremely grateful for Weaver’s willingness to listen and then move forward with programs in spite of a restrictive budget.

“When I wanted to start the music program I went to her with the idea,” Otis explained. “She told me to work out a budget and that she would do all she could to see it come to fruition, which she did.”

Because Monterey does not have a PTA in which parents and teachers can discuss matters that affect the students and organize events to raise money, former Burbank Unified School District board member Roberta Reynolds has formed an ad hoc committee called Friends of Monterey that meets monthly to handle those needs.

“It’s a great group of former PTA leaders, community organizers, and supporters of what Monterey is doing,” said Friends of Monterey member Suzanne Weerts.

“Monterey’s wide variety of electives, and the flexibility of their programs makes it a special place in which, along with teaching students, teaches all of us that there are many different ways to be educated, and if the traditional path isn’t the correct fit, that there are other options,” Weerts added.

For more information on Friends of Monterey, contact Roberta Reynolds at RLG.Reynolds@gmail.com.

DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at dlaurell@aol.com or (818) 563-1007.

Monterey supporters Michelle Higginbotham, Stephanie Cohen and Michelle Ries enjoyed the artistic presentations at the event.
Music students Harout Seysyan, Mikayel Davtyan and Caleb Vickers with Michelle Otis, who established the school’s music program.
Teacher Nikki Nolen provides students with an understanding of the wide spectrum of career paths they may want to explore.
Monterey juniors Riley McGann and Vivian Munoz flank Assistant Principal Edwin Taylor at the school’s open house and art show.
John Mbugua is one of the Monterey students who is excelling in his fashion design courses.

First published in the March 30 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

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