Nyack Alumna Leads California Elementary School With Innovative STEM Program

Posted by Deborah.Walker on Thursday April 7, 2016

Nyack College School of Education 1986 alumna, Heather Armelino, is the principal at Mistletoe Elementary School named one of California’s 33 “Schools to Watch.”

Read more here about how Mistletoe’s STEM program put Armelino and her school in the spotlight. 

Considering her alma mater’s core values that include academic excellence, intentional diversity, and social relevance, the elementary education graduate draws on the benefits of her Nyack education to make an impact in the Kindergarten through eighth grade school in Redding, CA.

Armelino describes her unique circumstances.

“On a daily basis, over 600 students come through the school doors with a myriad of challenges that are obstacles not only to learning but to their well-being. Seventy percent live in poverty and are growing up in a community in which they experience adverse childhood experiences at a rate that is twice the national average, including mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, physical, sexual and verbal abuse, and the incarceration of family members.”

She proudly reports, “Despite these daunting circumstances our school was nationally recognized as having a model program (National Forum Schools to Watch), one of only 33 schools in California—a state that serves over six million students in more than ten thousand schools—to receive this recognition. Achieving this goes far beyond quality instruction, although that is critical. I believe the answer lies in three key elements:  relationship, resilience, and relevance. Before we can reach the mind of a child, we must first reach his or her heart.”

“Building caring, supportive relationships is foundational to a safe environment wherein learning can occur. Our school partners with local churches and other community agencies to help provide basics as well as mentors, tutoring, counseling, etc. Second, we model and foster resiliency by creating a sense of belonging and opportunities for both challenge and success. We all need to have the freedom to fail and to make a contribution. Finally, making learning and experiences at school relevant to real-life is particularly important for at-risk learners. This allows even the most fragile to recognize that they are part of something bigger than themselves and can find a positive path forward rather than fearing the future.”

Armelino says, “I am grateful for the foundation that Nyack provided that has allowed me to maintain a global perspective on the day-to-day work and to be concerned with reaching the hearts of others. As Jesus told us, when we do it for the least of these, we do it unto Him.”


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