Spanish teacher at Stanford’s East Palo Alto Academy honored by U.S. Education Secretary

MISLA BARCO, a high school Spanish teacher at East Palo Alto Academy, was immediately suspicious when she was asked to be at Vice Principal JEFFREY CAMARILLO‘s office for a recruitment meeting at 7:30 a.m.

“He kept texting me, ‘Don’t be late. Don’t be late,'” Barco recalled. “I was thinking, this isn’t for recruitment. I was so worried.”

The nine-year veteran of the academy, a charter school operated by Stanford’s School of Education, was, indeed, in for a surprise.

When she arrived at Camarillo’s office, she was handed the phone.

“I wondered if I was in trouble. I took the phone and this person said, ‘Hi Misla.’ I said, ‘Hi,'” she recounted. “‘This is ARNE DUNCAN, secretary of education. Do you know who I am?'”

Barco said she was shocked and humbled that Duncan took time to speak with her.

The call came during Teacher Appreciation Week in May. As part of the celebrations honoring educators, Duncan chose four teachers to personally call and thank. Hundreds of teachers were nominated from around the country.

“I’m part of a great team of teachers that every day come and do a wonderful job,” Barco said. “I’m happy for the school because it’s a great recognition for the program. It’s a great recognition of the work that Stanford is doing to support the high school.”

East Palo Alto Academy opened in 2001 as a joint project of Stanford, a Bay Area nonprofit organization and the Ravenswood School District.

Stanford was invited by the district to develop a charter school that would serve East Palo Alto, which had been without a high school since 1976, when its community school was closed through a district-wide desegregation plan. East Palo Alto students were dropping out or not graduating at alarming rates.

Stanford assumed full responsibility for the high school in 2005. It now has about 250 students in grades 9-12, and a graduation rate of 91 percent. Many have gone on to four-year colleges and most have been admitted to some kind of post-secondary education – a major accomplishment since many of the students’ parents never graduated high school.

Beginning in the fall, the school will be chartered by the Sequoia Union High School District.

Stanford professors work closely with Academy teachers, and some science laboratory studies take place on the Stanford campus, as does graduation.

“It makes me very happy and very proud that I am part of this amazing experience,” Barco said. “We are changing people’s lives.”

 — BY BROOKE DONALD