Science teacher LaDonna Guzman with her husband and hiking partner, Tino Guzman.
BOX: No Difference
Sharing a passion for science
By Mary-Justine Lanyon
LaDonna Guzman – the new science teacher at Mountain High School – always wanted to be a teacher. She has a special passion for science, especially geology. That passion shows in her classroom and has gotten the students excited about learning.
“I love it at Mountain High,” she said. “There is a great vibe with the teachers and the principal. I feel like I’m a good fit for the school.”
Guzman has lived on the mountain for three years. Her daughter already lived on the mountain so she and her husband, Tino, would come up on weekends.
“We were looking for a vacation home,” she said, “and found a home we couldn’t pass up. We are so happy – this is our kind of community.”
And while she always wanted to be a teacher, she initially owned and operated a day care center that catered to school-age children. “My husband suggested I go back to school to do what I’ve always wanted to do,” she said.
As Guzman took classes, she was drawn to geology, especially when the class went out into the field.
At Mountain High, Guzman is creating a lab and has equipment on order. “The kids are telling me how much they love the class. They enjoy doing hands-on things. A few even come after class to continue working.”
Mountain High had been sharing a science teacher with Rim High a few periods a day. “This is our first full-time science teacher since Mountain High moved to this campus,” Principal Marina Amador said. She added that last semester the students learned science online.
Guzman is teaching health, physical science and life science. The big push for science now, she noted, is “our impact on the environment. It’s exciting to bring that to the classroom. The students know they can make a good or bad difference.”
She has a group of geology friends with whom she’ll take off for a few days and go backpacking in different areas. “You can tell a story with the things you find. That’s what I’m trying to teach the kids.”
Guzman began her teaching career at the elementary school level, in kindergarten. “That is a magical year,” she said, “because everything is brand new.” After that she taught junior high math and science. “I loved it. I loved their quirkiness. When they love the teacher, they’ll do anything you ask them to.” Guzman added she still has connections with some of those students.
Her next stop was another continuation high school. “That was the most rewarding time of my career,” she said, noting she taught math, science and leadership. “Leadership is the best class I ever taught. The kids made newscasts, which they presented to the school. I saw so much growth in them. They realized that ‘even though I’m continuation, I’m still a leader.’”
One thing that drove Guzman was getting students other teachers had given up on and showing them they could be leaders. “The turn-around in their behavior and how they did in school was amazing.
“I have a passion for getting those kids who feel like they can’t succeed – there’s always a story – and show them they can. A lot of these kids come in broken. They believe what’s expected of them. Our job is raising the confidence level of these students. Help them be the best version of themselves they can be.”
Guzman went on: “Just because they are in a continuation school doesn’t mean they can’t go to college, to do what they want to do, what they set their mind to. When they have been told the opposite for so long, it’s hard to change.”
She told of one continuation high school student, Alex, who was a very good public speaker. “He was very into speaking about his indigenous culture,” Guzman said, “advocating for rights. But his grades were horrible.”
Guzman had him sit at a desk next to hers as she knew he would work for her. He graduated from high school, attended junior college and then went to USC on a full scholarship. Now, Guzman said, Alex travels around the world, speaking about indigenous cultures.
“When they get the confidence, they do it. You just need one person to believe in you.”
She is a fan of the poem “No Difference” by Shel Silverstein and said she shares it with her students every year. “We cry the same, feel the same, our hearts are the same,” she said.
Just prior to accepting the position at Mountain High, Guzman was teaching a fourth-fifth grade combo class at Lake Arrowhead Elementary School. “It was a hard decision to make,” she said. “I adore those kids and their families. I miss reading to them so much. And I miss their beautiful writing. But this opportunity presented itself and I couldn’t pass it up.
“Science is my thing – it makes me happy,” Guzman said.