RUSD’s STEM CARES program earns prestigious State Golden Bell Award!

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Photo courtesy RUSD: The Rialto Unified School District recently earned a California School Boards Association Golden Bell Award for the second straight year. Many leaders from the District attend the ceremony in San Diego to celebrate. Pictured from left: RUSD Superintendent Dr. Cuauhtémoc Avila, Dr. Patrica Chavez, Lead Innovation Agent, Dr. Rhea McIver Gibbs, Lead Strategic Agent, Joesph Martinez, Board Member, RUSD Board Member-elect Evelyn Dominguez, Dr. Edward D’Souza, Lead Academic Agent, Math/Early Education, Juanita Chan-Roden, Academic Agent of Science and Career Tech. Ed., Thomas Vasta, Instruction Strategist at Morris Elementary School, Staci Okuno, Rialto Middle School Teacher, RUSD Board Vice President Stephanie E. Lewis, Brian Montez, Grounds Supervisor, Cynthia Velez, Eisenhower High School teacher, Tina Brown, Administrative Agent, and Armando Urteaga, Kolb Middle School Principal.

For the second straight year, the Rialto Unified School District has earned the prestigious California School Boards Association (CSBA) Golden Bell Award. The District was honored in the Climate Change Innovation category for leadership in environmental education and stewardship.

The RUSD was recognized for its innovative STEM CARES (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math, Cultivating Active Responsible Environmental Stewards) program at the annual Golden Bell Awards ceremony, held December 1, at the San Diego Marriott in the City of San Diego.

Leaders from RUSD Education and Business Services accompanied Rialto Unified School District Board of Education Vice President Stephanie E. Lewis, Board Member Joseph W. Martinez, Board Member-elect Evelyn Dominguez, and RUSD Superintendent Dr. Cuauhtémoc Avila at the ceremony. Dominguez will take her seat as a board trustee at the next Board of Education Meeting on December 14. 

“It is a great honor to once again receive the prestigious Golden Bell Award,” Dr. Avila stated. “This achievement highlights the tremendous work our staff has done with the STEM CARES program to create opportunities that provide students with exciting and meaningful learning experiences as they prepare for their pathways beyond high school.” 

STEM CARES was created in 2015 as a way for students to lead and learn in the areas of climate change. The program gives students a voice to fight climate change while raising awareness and taking action.

RUSD celebrated the victory as Juanita Chan-Roden, RUSD Academic Agent of Science and Career Technical Education, and Board Vice President Lewis accepted the award on the majestic stage as thousands looked on and cheered.

“We believe that K-12 schools are critical change agents in promoting awareness of the effects of global climate change on local communities and engaging students and families in developing and implementing creative community solutions for personal and collective wellness,” Chan-Roden replied. “The purpose of STEM CARES is to inspire students through the inclusion of a student’s voice in the planning of school facilities and operations, resource conservation and energy efficiency strategies, and participating in curricula that promotes an in-depth understanding of climate change, climate justice strategies, and climate resilient personal actions.” 

Chan-Roden added that what sets STEMS CARES apart is the holistic approach that the RUSD takes with many service areas collaborating to give students real-world experiences as they tackle climate challenges.

“Our program is exemplary because there is an explicit focus on equity and inclusion in climate and environmental education,” Chan-Roden said. “It is innovative in our approach to connecting classroom instruction with Nutrition Services, Grounds, Maintenance and Operations, Student Services and public-private partners and implementing outside-of-the-classroom learning experiences. Our students are inspired to be the change that they want to see in the world.”

The District was also represented by Dr. Patricia Chavez, Lead Innovation Agent, Education Services, Dr. Edward D’Souza, Lead Academic Agent, Math/Early Education, Dr. Rhea McIver Gibbs, Lead Strategic Agent, Brian Montez, Grounds Supervisor, Staci Okuno, seventh grade Science Teacher and STEM CARES Advisor at Rialto Middle School, Thomas Vasta, Instruction Strategist at Morris Elementary School, and Cynthia Velez, eleventh-grade science teacher and STEM CARES Advisor at Eisenhower High School.

“It’s a great honor to receive the Golden Bell Award, especially after all the work that we’ve done at every level — elementary, middle and high school —  to push toward making our environmental initiatives stand out,” Vasta stated. “Winning the Golden Bell Award tells me that the District, as a whole, has moved together to bring all the pieces together. It says we are ‘united’ here. We are moving toward the same sustainability goals and educating our students for the future.”

The RUSD was one of only five school districts in San Bernardino County to earn the award. The District took home the Golden Bell for Professional Development and Teacher Recruitment/Retention last year and now won three Golden Bell Awards since 2018.

According to CSBA, the Golden Bell Awards “promote excellence in education and school board governance by recognizing outstanding programs and governance practices of school boards in school districts and county offices of education throughout California.” CSBA received 205 entries in 21 categories this year for the Golden Bell and used rigorous evaluations with representatives across the State to determine the winners.

“There are some tremendous accomplishments occurring in our school district with our Board Members and Superintendent, teachers, and all those who believe in the system of local education and I am always proud to say that I’m from Rialto Unified,” stated Carmen Lara, grandmother of two. “When I saw the highlights of this Golden Bell on Facebook and Instagram, I was very happy and also proud. This award is another example of the wonderful work that school officials at every level do to help students. Excellence always rises.”