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Our First Year: 2020-2021

Students - spring 2021

Think Tank Cohort One -  2020-2021: Addie Dale (she/her) PHS, 10; Camila Morales Guevara (she/her) PHS, 11; Celeste Edell (she/her) PHS, 11; Daron Yacoubian (he/him) Blair, 10, Genevieve Harvey (she/her) Blair, 12; Ella Uriu (she/her) John Muir, 11; Jacob Hernandez (he/him) Marshall, 11; Lucine Ekizian (she/her) Blair, 10; Miguel Roybal-Monzo (he/him) PHS, 11; Mya Hernandez (they/them) PHS, 10; Naomi Moore (she/her) PHS, 11; Parami De Silva (she/her) PHS, 10; Sofia Carmenate (she/her) PHS, 10; Tamaire Johnson (she/her) PHS, 11; Tiffany Jasso (she/her) Blair, 10;

Pasadena Unified School District’s High School Leadership Think Tank is the first student-led cross-district cohort to work collaboratively to research student and regional concerns and histories. Because the program was initiated during the pandemic, we had the opportunity to meet for uninterrupted two-hour online sessions that helped create connections between the different schools.  

The 2020-21 cohort comprised of sophomores, juniors and seniors from four high schools: 

  • Blair International Baccalaureate School:
    Lucine Ekizian, Genevieve Harvey, Tiffany Jasso, Daron Yacoubian 
  • John Muir High School Early College Magnet:
    Isabella (Ella) Uriu 
  • Marshall Fundamental High School:
    Jacob Hernandez
  • Pasadena High School:
    Sofia Carmenate, Adelynn (Addie) Dale, Parami De Silva, Celeste Edell, Mya Hernandez, Tamaire Johnson, Naomi Moore, Camila Morales Guevara, Miguel Roybal-Monzo
We held our first online meeting in January 2021. At the gathering, we discussed the ideas that we championed. To ensure deeper connections and to give voice to all participants, we met in breakout groups to develop and consolidate issues that we wished to research. These issues often overlapped, serving as a testimony to the intersectionality that we strove to address and respect in PUSD. 

The Think Tank first cohort worked together to create committees because we believed these three aspects – equity, mental health, curriculum – are the most impactful for change. Each group formed questions tying our topic to the district to direct our investigations. 

The investigation process included a deep dive into Pasadena and California history (check out our booklist section for resources), as well as meeting with Harvard graduate students, conducting interviews with district leaders and community representatives. Each team used a guiding question to examine the issues that our committee identified (see below): 

Equity Committee: The equity committee tackled the origin and allocation of school funding, student representation, and implicit biases on campuses, seeing the urgency of focusing on equity in Pasadena in order to amend perceptions about PUSD. 

Guiding Question: How has history and government policy impacted PUSD student needs and the district’s relations within the community, and how can the impact be rectified? 

Mental Health Committee: The mental health committee collected 60 student stories about border crossings, the pandemic, gender identity and sexuality, and personal struggles. Taking on this topic, the committee's findings underscored how mental health has been overlooked and the team wanted to create awareness for PUSD decision-makers.

Guiding Question: How can PUSD transform the way its community responds and interacts with students' mental health and improve student access to district and community resources?

Curriculum Committee: The curriculum committee released a survey to better understand student needs regarding curriculum and ethnic studies, with the aim to uplift the voices of students as to what education we are receiving and whose histories are being taught.

Guiding Question: How can PUSD establish a social studies and English curriculum that is representative of its student population and the district’s regional history?

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Photo of the beginning of Think Tank Student presentation, featuring Land Acknowledgement slide

Above: ThinkTank students Mya Hernandez (PHS '23) and Ella Uriu (Muir '22) present to teachers at John Muir High School, June 2021
Students and Instructor after a presentation at Pasadena High School

Students Presenting
Above: Think Tank students offer a teacher training session at Pasadena High School, August 2021. Presenters include PHS students Sofia Carmenate ('22), Adelynn Dale ('22), Parami De Silva ('23), Celeste Edell ('22), Mya Hernandez ('23), Tamaire Johnson ('22), Naomi Moore ('22), Camila Morales Guevara ('22), Miguel Roybal-Monzo ('22), and Blair HS student Lucine Ekizian ('23).

  • Equity committee findings
  • curriculum committee survey
  • Figure 1: Demographics of Pasadena and PUSD, presented by the Equity committee; Figure 2: Survey conducted by the Curriculum committee
Presentations from 2021 research and publication

After completing our research and compiling an anthology, The Learning Curve, in which the Think Tank editors compiled stories by students across PUSD high schools, the Think Tank offered presentations to different groups including:  

  • April 2021: The Think Tank’s first cohort offered two rounds of presentations to more than fifty attendees that included PUSD’s Central Office administrators as well as to principals and leadership from all the high schools; the question and answer session was lively and attendees expressed appreciation of the landmark work conducted by the Think Tank; Virtual slideshow presented to PUSD administration 
  • June 2021: Two students, Isabella Uriu (Muir) and Mya Hernandez (PHS), led an in-person teacher workshop at Muir Early College Magnet where they presented writing prompts from the Think Tank’s anthology, The Learning Curve, and created space for teachers to discuss issues 
  • August 2021: Eight PHS students - Parami De Silva, Celeste Edell, Camila Morales Guevara, Mya Hernandez, Tamaire Johnson, and Naomi Moore -  led a 90-minute in-person teacher workshop through which they presented the findings of the three Think Tank spring 2021 committees. They also created opportunities for teachers to read through The Learning Curve and discuss issues presented through students’ stories. 
  • October 2021: Parami De Silva, Celeste Edell, Mya Hernandez, and Miguel Roybal-Monzo presented a training session for tutors at Caltech’s Y Rise program. The discussion focused on mental health issues in order to give tutors a better understanding about issues faced by the high school student population that the tutors serve. 

The district gave all participating students funds to purchase books. Here are the titles that we chose:

  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Friere
  • Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingslover
  • Sundown Towns by James W. Loewen
  • Grading for Equity by Joe Feldman
  • Our Stories Our Voices by Amy Reed
  • Conspiracy of the Good by Micheal E. James 
  • Black Lives Matter at Schools: An Uprising for Educational Justice by Jesse Hagopian, Denisha Jones
  • Mental Health in Schools: Engaging Learners, Preventing Problems, and Improving Schools by Howard S. Adelman and Linda Taylor 
  • Borderlands / La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa (Aunt Lute Press)

An image showing the covers of the books the Think Tank read