Aspire Public Schools

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Pablo Gomez Jr., an irreplaceable 5th grade teacher at Aspire Titan Academy in Huntington Park.

The best teachers understand their communities, allowing them to challenge, comfort and motivate their students and peers. 

That’s why GPSN is so excited to give Aspire Public Schools a $153,000 grant to retain their best teachers by offering them up to 15 sabbatical days to work on an education-related “passion project,” more professional development, and stipends for completing training.

At GPSN, we believe that giving teachers time to work on their craft and pursue their interests will lead to even better results for children, especially since so many Aspire educators are already finding creative ways to challenge their students.

Pablo Gomez Jr., a 5th grade teacher at Aspire Titan Academy in Huntington Park, has been teaching a course for the past three years based on “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” a best-selling book on diet and nutrition by Michael Pollan. Gomez developed the class after hearing about similar offerings in New York City for middle schoolers.

Gomez grew up near Huntington Park and was inspired to be an educator by some of his former teachers. And when he began his career, Gomez learned the importance of using his own knowledge and background to reach students.

Your teaching style “needs to have your flavor and your input so that you love what you’re teaching,” Gomez said.

Gomez thought an “Omnivore’s Dilemma” class would be especially important in Huntington Park, where 53% of children are obese, according to a 2012 study by the non-profit California Center for Public Health Advocacy.

“Health and wellness is something we don’t teach in school, so I wanted to find a way that would inform students on the importance of what they ate,” Gomez said.

Gomez’s students learn about nutrition and food choice through videos and podcasts and also read sections of "The Omnivore's Dilemma." Many read the entire book because they become interested in the topic, Gomez said.

“The reading is definitely advanced for 5th grade,” he said. “But it’s not anything they can’t handle.”

Students who started the year with Gomez grew by nearly three grade levels, according to test data. Children who came to Gomez reading below standard made especially impressive gains, gaining nearly four grade levels.

Gomez said he knows that burnout is an issue for many teachers and believes that new challenges can keep them motivated. Developing his “Omnivore’s Dilemma” course made Gomez’s job even more rewarding because he was able to take a subject he was passionate about and translate it to an engaging learning experience for his students. To take it even one step further, he plans to start a garden at the school as part of his "passion project" because he believes it will help make the lessons of the book more hands-on and understandable to his class.

“Because it’s something you’re passionate about, it makes you more excited to pass that knowledge onto your students,” he said.