Del Norte Elementary School in Ontario, California received a United Way School Makeover on Saturday, October 7, 2017.
“The United Way has blessed us with a makeover and we are so very excited about that. When I announced it to the school, you could hear the children cheering in their classrooms,” said Carmen Mejico, Principal at Del Norte Elementary School.
“This is a legacy, something that will last for years to come. It sends a powerful message that our school matters, that our kids matter, that our families mean a lot to you. Thank you United Way and the local companies who volunteered for making a difference,” said Dr. James Hammond, Ontario-Montclair School District Superintendent.
Ms. Carmen Mejico is a very special principal. She has a unique vision for the 61-year old Del Norte Elementary School that is making it rise to levels beyond anyone’s expectation and Inland Empire United Way is helping her realize her dreams for the school.
Del Norte has undergone many positive changes with Carmen Mejico at the helm. It was her vision for the school that led her to apply for Inland Empire United Way’s School Makeover. Ms. Mejico has been at Del Norte for four years and has been instrumental in making changes to the school that have increased student achievement and school pride.
“This is my dream school,” said Ms. Mejico. “When you have the three key pieces of staff, students, and parents working together to embrace the students in the middle, magical things happen.”
Ms. Mejico didn’t have that as a child growing up in Compton. “I grew up in a very tough neighborhood,” she explains. “We are a multi-racial family and we never really fit in anywhere. I was literally teased all the time.” Ms. Mejico’s brother was active in the local gangs. “I couldn’t save my brother,” reflects Ms. Mejico. “But maybe I could save other children while they are still young and turn them away from that kind of life.”
Now, as a principal, she has the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of an entire community of children. Most of her staff (80%) has been at the school over 20 years. They are committed to the children and their families. Many of the families have generations who have attended Del Norte Elementary School. The community is invested in seeing the school succeed. Parents and grandparents support the children.
She may not have been able to save her brother, but she is giving hundreds of children an opportunity to be successful in life.
This has not been an easy task for Ms. Mejico. Del Norte Elementary has many challenges. The student population of 520 children includes 41% students who are learning English, transitioning from their native languages. 82% of the school population receives free or reduced lunches, meaning that most of the students come from families who are struggling economically.
Ms. Mejico’s efforts to bring pride and academic achievement to Del Norte Elementary School are working. So when the school applied for Inland Empire United Way’s School Makeover, she had a vision to enhance the learning environment through visuals on the walls. “I know you can’t paint your school like you do your home,” she said. “When Dixie from IEUW said we could have murals on the walls and bring color to the playground, I gave my heart to the project. When I announced it to the school, you could hear the children cheering in their classrooms.”
Each mural is designed to inspire the children. One is about critical thinking. Another mural focuses on the 21st Century – science, technology, engineering, art, and math. “We wanted art in there because sometimes in the educational setting you can be so focused on the education itself – the numbers, the math, the writing – you forget about art.”
The murals at the library were designed by the grade level teachers. Each grade picked a book they read every year to be represented on a mural. The students will see that book come to life.
In the cafeteria, a mural will remind students to be healthy. On another wall two murals will depict technology. One represents all the different faces of technology and the other a classroom with a teacher to show technology being taught.
Under the murals will be pictures of children from all the ethnicities represented at the school. “We want them to know that the world is embracing every type of child. The world needs someone like you,” Ms. Mejico explained.
Thanks to Ms. Mejico and the Inland Empire United Way, the children will see on the walls of their school the importance of education and envision the roles they will have in making the world a better place.