BREAKTHROUGH: Principal Patricia Cuesta joins students at Giano Intermediate in West Covina. (Photo by Gina Ward / Rowland Unified School District)
No one gets to sit out at Giano Intermediate. It doesn't matter who you are - a student who cusses out his teacher, a mom who doesn't speak a word of English - even grandma has a role at Giano, a school on the upswing. 
 
The school was one of 10 schools in the nation that received recognition from the National Association of Secondary School Principals last Friday. 
 
The Rowland Unified school was named a "Breakthrough School" - a school that succeeds at educating students who have the deck stacked against them: having parents who don't speak English, haven't finished high school and don't make much money. 
 
"With the challenges \ face, they're beating the odds," said Principal Patricia Cuesta.
Cuesta came on during the last school year, at a time when API scores had been steadily increasing, and Giano had already been named a California Distinguished School in 2007. 
 
Cuesta wants to keep that momentum going. She said that the $5,000 grant Giano received from the MetLife corporation as a part of the award will continue that momentum. 
 
Giano will be using the money to train more teachers in a program that she said has been crucial to the school's success. With the grant money, eight teachers will travel down to San Diego to learn more about Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID). 
 
In AVID elective classes, students learn basic skills like time management and organization that will help them in high school and beyond. Other teachers integrate AVID techniques into their curriculum to ensure that all students - especially minority students whose parents haven't gone to college - are on track to take college preparatory classes in high school and go on to college.
 
"Those teachers believe in these kids, these kids believe in those teachers," Cuesta said. 
 
But Cuesta has also tried new programs that she said have contributed to the success of the students - and caught the interest of a national audience.
The school has recently ramped up parent involvement. It's not just about PTA meetings. There's a folding table set up to welcome parents in the morning, and even a patio just for parents. 
 
"They come in, they know this building - this building is theirs," Cuesta said.
Parents are encouraged to meet with counselors every week. They set the agenda, Cuesta said. Parents can ask for help reading standardized test scores or seeing signs that their child may be joining a gang. 
 
"These parents are eating it up," Cuesta said. 
 
Parents are invited to come to school to learn, too. Parents come to learn English and pick up computer skills in the process. 
 
The whole family is invited over for family nights. Last week, science teachers invited families to conduct science experiments. 
 
And the student who cusses out his teacher in class? Yes, even he has to step up to the plate. There's a targeted class for students - called an opportunity class - whose behavior has gotten them kicked out of mainstream class. 
 
Instead of getting kicked out of school, they attend separate classes. The curriculum is the same, but students receive more individual attention. 
 
"They like the one-on-one," said Astrid Gallon-Gonzalez, the history and English opportunity class teacher. 
 
The students also spend class time learning the skills and behavior that will help them learn and get work done - something that frequently didn't happen in regular classrooms. 
 
Gallon-Gonzalez said that the results are dramatic. Even after a couple of weeks in the class, she can start to see the difference - their bad behavior has been masking their potential. 
 
"We're getting to see that there's more to them than their behavior," Gallon-Gonzalez said. "I've had students say things like, `I didn't know I was good at math."' 
 
emma.gallegos@sgvn.com
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