ROWLAND HEIGHTS - Nearly two dozen teachers in the Rowland Unified School District are improving their instruction methods and strategies without costing the district a penny.
After a rigorous application process, 21 instructors from five of Rowland Unified's elementary schools have been accepted as fellows for the Art of Teaching program offered by the Cotsen Family Foundation.
 
Rowland is one of just nine districts in the state selected to participate in the two-year teacher mentorship program. The instructors are now in their second year.
 
In addition to the fellows, five more instructors - one from each school - have also been chosen to mentor the fellows at their campuses.
 
"We're looking for good instructional leadership and the commitment to the idea that you can improve student learning by improving the quality of teaching," said Judy Johnson, executive director of the Cotsen Family Foundation.
 
She said the program is offered at no cost to selected districts. Its value is about $120,000.
 
This is a crucial point for Rowland Unified, which like many districts across the state, has been pounded by budget cuts.
 
"We're in a unique position, because our own district resources have been eliminated," Superintendent Maria Ott said.
 
Mentors in the program are released full time from their teaching positions and are paid through the Cotsen Family Foundation.
 
"So much of teaching, we're on our own," said Mary Hamilton, a mentor at Killian Elementary School in Rowland Heights." (The program) creates an environment in which teachers learn to work and plan collaboratively and research to perfect the art of teaching."
 
Fellows in the program set goals centered on the curriculum of their choice. They meet for three to five hours a week with their mentors, attend conferences and participate in monthly inquiry groups to discuss teaching methods and strategies with their colleagues.
 
Alice Aranda, a kindergarten teacher at Killian Elementary School, chose to focus on enhancing students' reading abilities.
 
She said what she's learned so far is much different from any training she's had in the past.
 
"It's probably the best thing I've done professionally," Aranda said. "I think my teaching is more meaningful to students. I've had the opportunity to go and observe other teachers in other areas and get an idea of what's out there and what's helping other students. It helps me to think outside the box."
 
There are three teachers from Fajardo Elementary School in the program.
 
"It was very much an honor for the teachers selected, and it presents an opportunity for us to really expand the art of teaching across our staff and really bring that to the forefront as a focus for our adult learning," said Fajardo Principal Elaine McCauley.
 
Ott said it's an invaluable experience for the all the instructors involved.
 
"We are so fortunate, and we are so appreciative of these partnerships," Ott said. "I can't tell you how much we value these foundations. They see such great potential in this district. That's why they selected us. They see what's here."
 
maritza.velazquez@sgvn.com
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