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On Board for Change

Angela Fajaro (MA '99) was deeply disturbed when board members of the Lennox School District, where she was a math and science teacher voted to dismantle the district's bilingual program.  From her own experiences as a second-language learner and a teacher of English learners, as well as her familiarity with the research on English language acquisition, Fajardo knew this was a decision not in the best interests of the Lennox students.  So she and her colleagues decided to do something about it: She became active in a campaign to elect board members who would be more responsive to the needs of the Lennox community.  In November 2007, she and another Lennox parent ran and were elected to the board.

Farjardo says she and her fellow board members are now "making decisions for programs that are going to improve instruction for the 9,000 students in the Lennox community," the vast majority of whom are English learners.  As an unincorporated part of Los Angeles, County, Lennox has no mayor or city council, so the school board takes it upon itself to forge a partnership that will provide not only for the educational welfare of its students, but also for their social welfare.  In addition to her board duties, Fajardo now teaches at Animo Jackie Robinson Charter High School, as well as coordinating trainings to help the school's teachers differentiate instruction for English learners.

Lennox is a low-income community consisting largely of recent Latino immigrants. "This is a community that is very reflective of who I am," says Fajardo, whose family came to the United States from Nicaragua when she was 10, and who says she didn't become fluent in English until she was a junior in high school. "I understand the process of acquiring a second language and how long that takes."

Fajardo attended Garfield High School in Los Angeles, where she was inspired by several outstanding teachers, including the renowned math instructor Jaime Escalante. "These were teachers who saw something in us - they believed in us, and they pushed us," Fajardo recalls.

As a middle school teacher, Fajardo made it her mission to teach newly arrived immigrants. "These students are expected to acquire English in one year, and it takes much longer than that," she says. "Schools are being held to high standards for their English learners as it pertains to test score results, and yet these students have to be taught and tested in English, and many of them aren't there yet." Fajardo is quick to point out that in spite of the challenges, English learners in Lennox are succeeding. "This a great community and the students just need a voice," she says. "They need us to help them realize they can succeed."

Fajardo credits LMU with instilling in her the drive to make a difference in lives of her students and her community.  She was the first of five members of her family to attend LMU, receiving a master's degree and teaching credential. "LMU is so special because it treats the mind, but it also connects the soul to who you are," she says.  "It is home to me and I am proud that we are living the 'REAL' framework - respect, educate, advocate and lead - in the decisions we make on the board."