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January 04, 2016

Education Spotlight: Emily Grijalva, English Teacher, Mendez High School

On a brisk Saturday morning, Emily Grijalva beamed with pride as her student, Metztli Garcia, explained her project. Garcia’s work is part of a photography exhibit organized by Las Fotos Project, a local arts organization that empowers young girls through photography and self-expression. The exhibit titled, “Home” is currently on display at Self-Help Graphics, a community arts center located across the street from Mendez High School, where Ms. Grijalva is an English teacher. Moments like these bring her teaching philosophy to life: “education should always extend itself beyond the classroom and into the community.” 

That philosophy also feeds her strong desire to collaborate with her colleagues. “The Partnership has provided me with many opportunities to collaborate with other teachers while learning and receiving feedback,” she noted. In fact, Ms. Grijalva was one of the first teachers to pilot the Partnership’s Pioneer program and stayed with the program for five years. As a Pioneer, our teachers work to further his/her own practice by learning and implementing strategies based on the Teaching and Learning Framework (TLF) in order to accelerate student achievement and teacher growth. 

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“I tell my kids that part of their responsibility as a student and a citizen is to not hoard knowledge for themselves, but to share that knowledge with others. My work at the Partnership has allowed me to experience that for myself. With the Pioneers program I found that I could try out new lesson plans and teaching techniques that I had been afraid of trying because I knew I was going to get valuable feedback. I appreciate being observed, collaborating with others and getting to hear what other teachers were doing in other Partnership schools. The program allowed me to take risks and build rapport with other teachers to lesson plan together,” she said about her experience as a Pioneer. This program eventually pushed her to become English Department Chair and Common Core Lead. 

She brings that same philosophy to her work with students' families and the community. Ms. Grijalva has taken an active role in Partnership’s Parent College, for which she co-wrote the literacy curriculum with Ms. Marissa Martinez, AP at Santee Education Complex. The curriculum came from years of running parent workshops on how to better support literacy development at home. She is also part of the Family Action Team at Mendez, which has won the Partnership’s High School of the Year for Family and Community Engagement four years running. 

As a Boyle Heights resident, she is highly involved in the community and encourages her students to do the same, such as Las Fotos Project. Another example of bridging students’ learning to their community was through “Beats and Bridges,” a musical workshop involving artists from around the world through One Beat, an initiative of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.  Go HERE to see a video from the event. By participating in this program, her English Language Learner students got to refine their language skills through interpretive art and music with artists who, like them, were not native English speakers. 

“It was incredible to see them flourish. You could almost see their walls coming down,” she said with a smile.  

“We are blessed to have such a passionate and dedicated educator like Ms. Grijalva,” said Mendez Principal, Mauro Bautista. “Her contributions to the school have been incredible and next year she is going to join a long line of school staff whose children attend Mendez!” Approximately 11 students are offspring or relatives of current staff.

Ms. Grijalva’s work as an educator for over 10 years earned her the United Way’s Inspirational Teacher award in 2014 and a UCLA Writing Project Fellowship.

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