Florence Nightingale Middle School in LAUSD Exemplifies Excellence

Florence Nightingale Middle School is in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Comprised of 3 academies (Business Technology Magnet, STEM Gifted Magnet, and Community Residential School), the school offers many exciting options for 6th, 7th, and 8th graders who are interested in a future in business and STEM. Even if a student is not interested in becoming an entrepreneur, there are plenty of reasons why parents want their children to attend Nightingale. La Comadre was able to speak with Dr. Rafael Gaeta, the principal of Nightingale to learn about the exciting opportunities that he and his team have been creating for students in Northeast Los Angeles.

La Comadre: Tell us a little bit about what you are doing to make your school competitive with the charter schools in the region.

Dr. Gaeta: “I started two years ago, and one of the things that I knew was happening at the district was that there were a lot of new charter schools. I started to tell our teachers that we needed to be more innovative, provide more electives, and to be more proactive in engaging with parents so that they knew what we had to offer. One of the things that I did was change our bell schedule from a six period day to a seven period day and in that way kids could have more electives and intervention support in areas of need. When I first arrived at the school, the only electives that we had were music, leadership, and yearbook. Once I switched to the seven period day, we were able to offer more electives to engage our students. Now we have art, computers, a few sections of language courses, and some STEM and robotics courses. All of my sixth graders can take art automatically, but the seventh and eighth graders have a lot of choices for their electives.”

La Comadre: Are more kids interested in attending Nightingale now that you have added more courses and options?

Dr. Gaeta: “Yes. Another reason why kids and parents are interested in our school is because we opened a second magnet, the highly gifted STEM magnet. We are also opening another one: The Medicine Health Kinesiology Magnet. Because of this we are attracting so many kids, especially from the Chinatown area. This year, we had a long waitlist for all of our magnets. We’ve never had so many parents applying and wanting to come to Nightingale, and even though we tell parents we have a waiting list they are still applying. In addition to our third magnet, we are also implementing our Mandarin Dual Language Program in the 2017-2018 academic year.”

La Comadre: Tell us about the programming that Nightingale offers for the summer.

Dr. Gaeta: “During the summer we partner with different organizations to provide academic and enrichment opportunities for our school community. Our summer program is unique since we offer the Escalante math program from ELAC [East Los Angeles College]. This provides both intervention, higher level math, and enrichment for our students. This is an open enrollment program, so we are getting a lot of interest from students who attend local charters and private schools. Some of these students end up staying at Nightingale in the fall because they get to get to experience our programs and the Nightingale community.”

La Comadre: How do you let parents and the broader community know about all of the great things you are doing at Nightingale?

Dr. Gaeta: “We have revamped our webpage. We are constantly promoting what we do on social media with Facebook and Twitter. We use these social tools to keep the community abreast of what we are doing. We also go to elementary schools and present to parents and classes. We also do a lot of parent engagement, working closely with partner organizations like Centro del Pueblo, Children’s Hospital, Boys and Girls Club, Peace Over Violence and Occidental College. During the summer, we have a Parent Empowerment Academy, which is three days a week, and we have presentations on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday to engage parents so they know what we offer and what will be happening with their children in our middle school.”

La Comadre: What have you seen happen as a result of the parental engagement?

Dr. Gaeta: “The parents are very helpful and active participants in the Nightingale school community. When we were planning the third magnet they were very supportive and spent time calling our board members and other community members to get their support and to get feedback for the theme they wanted to see in the new magnet program. We will be opening the Medicine Health Kinesiology Magnet in the 2018-2019 school year. Another example of how active my parents are is when we almost had co-location with a Celerity Charter School. My parents were very active in voicing their opinion about not wanting a co-location because our population was growing, we were opening a third magnet, and they knew having Celerity on our campus would be counterproductive to the positive academic momentum Nightingale is having at this time. Parents also liked that we are changing the negative reputation Nightingale had for so many years, and now they feel we are an option for the academic needs of their students. Our parents have really become active participants in our community, which is what I want. Middle school students really need the support of their parents, and we give parents the opportunity to come on campus, volunteer, and witness what we are doing.”

La Comadre: Can you tell us about the students who are learning how to code at your school?

Dr. Gaeta: “About 300 students in total are learning how to code. Some are learning how to code in their computer science and robotics classes in the gifted STEM program and the others are learning this in the business magnet. Eventually, I want to give all students the opportunity to learn these skills. We are pushing a lot of the females into these subjects so they can tap into into the STEM careers. We know that these industries are male dominated, but we’re trying to generate interest with our young girls. Our students have been successful in building apps and creating business proposals with the local high schools. Our middle school kids can compete with high school students when given the opportunity for innovation in technology.”

To learn more about Nightingale Middle School and its innovative and successful programs, check out the school’s Facebook page. You can also follow Nightingale’s Gifted/Highly Gifted and High Ability Magnet on Twitter @NightingaleSTEM and the Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology Magnet @NightingaleBET

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