January 13, 2011: This holiday season, CCSA's Los Angeles staff held their annual holiday book drive for a local charter school. PUC Milagro is the only elementary school among the Partnerships to Uplift Communities' network of 12 schools, and it has a unique founding story.
For Ref Rodriguez, who co-founded PUC schools with Jacqueline Elliott, the interest in opening an elementary school in Lincoln Heights was personal. He grew up in Northeast Los Angeles, the son of Mexican immigrants and the first in his family to go to college, an experience that inspired him to work in education reform. Most importantly, he had three school-age nieces in Lincoln Heights.
He co-founded PUC Milagro in 2004 with Sascha Robinett, who continues to lead the school. "Milagro," which means "miracle" in Spanish, has gone on to educate hundreds of neighborhood children, including two of Rodriguez' nieces.
"We wanted to make sure this school was contrary to the normal course of things - which is what a miracle is," said Rodriguez.
The school has posted an API above 800 for all six years of existence, achieving an average API of 897 last year. These strong results are not by chance.
As Robinett showed the CCSA team around the campus, Association staff members were impressed by her clear vision and dedicated teachers. In every classroom, the kids sat at communal tables, working diligently. The classroom walls were covered with the letters of the alphabet, math equations and grammar lessons, depending upon the grade-level.
"These are our learning walls," explained Robinett, pointing out a chart detailing what it means to be a scholar - a passion for learning, a sense of curiosity and open mindedness. "They (the students) will be quick to correct you that they aren't 'students;' they are scholars."
Robinett and Rodriguez initially planned to have a bilingual program, but had a number of children coming in that didn't read, write or speak any language very well, and parents that didn't always value bilingualism. They fit the program to the kids, focusing intensely on literacy in English before adding a second language.
"That's what's so unique about Milagro- it sees curriculum and instruction as a fluid organism, rather than just the program you use with every kid who comes through the door," noted Rodriguez.
By the end of our tour, Jodie Newbery from CCSA's Schools Development Team was trying to talk Robinett into starting more elementary schools. Rodriguez is also on a quest to develop more incredible school founders through his latest venture, Partners for Developing Futures, which launched last year. The organization supports leaders of color in founding high-performing charter schools to serve low-income students.
As the CCSA team left PUC Milagro, they were drawn in to the "Dream Wall," which has a photo of each PUC scholar posing in a graduation cap and gown. Next to the photos, parents had written down their dreams for their children. The CCSA team left inspired and more committed than ever to the organization's mission to support the creation and growth of high-quality charter schools throughout California.
To view pictures from CCSA's visit to PUC Milagro, visit the Los Angeles Charters Facebook page.