Alumni Making a Difference – February 8, 2012

When you walk through the front gate onto Beechwood’s campus, one of the first things you see are the three banners along the wooden fence. They read: “We will find our strength and build upon it”, “We will prepare to build strong families”, “We will serve in our communities”. These are the three pillars of Beechwood’s mission and while each of them is an essential part of what we do, today I want to emphasize the third one and talk about some Beechwood graduates who are making a difference in the communities of East Palo Alto and Bellehaven.

One such person is Liz Calderon, who graduated from Beechwood in 2000 and now runs the after school program at Bellehaven Community School. I interviewed Liz at our upper grade assembly on Monday and she eloquently shared with the Middle School students the path that she has followed to get to where she is today. After Beechwood, Liz attended Sacred Heart School in Atherton which was a big social adjustment for her. Through her own hard work and support from Beechwood, Liz succeeded at Sacred Heart. From there she attended San Jose St. and became the first in her family to earn a college degree.

Her current responsibilities at Bellehaven Community School involve supervising a small group of counselors. Liz was quite shy when she was young but she has overcome that and now she is quite comfortable speaking in public and managing employees. She also understands that we are life long learners and that professional development is essential if we are to keep growing and improving at our place of work. We are so proud of Liz: for never giving up and for making a difference for young people in Menlo Park.

Melvishia Gaines (class of 1994) is another Beechwood grad who is making a difference in the community. Melvishia has brought the 180 Degrees program to the students of Pheonix Academy (a charter school in East Palo Alto). 180 Degrees’ mission “is to passionately help youth improve their lives by accepting personal accountability and to continuously strive toward the goal of achieving their full potential”.

Recently I had a chance to visit Melvishia’s classroom and was impressed to see the level of commitment and classroom management skill she displays in teaching life skills to 7th graders at Phoenix. Programs like 180 Degrees are so essential in building character in young people but unless the instructor can work effectively with kids, they are doomed to failure. It warms my heart to know that Melvishia is delivering these lessons to the children of East Palo Alto with the kind of energy and humor that will appeal to her students.

Whether it be here at Beechwood, across the street at the Onetta Harris community Center, up the street at Bellehaven Community School or across town at Phoenix Academy, Beechwood Alumni are here in the community serving others. This is truly something to be proud of.

-Mr. Laurance