East Edition Lead Story Northeast Edition

Teachers light the way for students, actor says

LOS ANGELES — Actor Ernie Hudson was not the prototypical good student. He was that underachieving kid who sat in the back of the class, never raising his hand, rarely participating.

But Hudson made a turn around and earned a master’s degree from Yale—a fact he attributes to the love of his grandmother—and the intervention of his teachers.

“You guys are the light in these kids’ lives,” Hudson said, as a rapt audience of teachers sat inside a lecture hall at Cal State L.A. July 29 listening to his life story. “It’s a really, really important role.”

Hudson, who has appeared in numerous television shows and films, including the latest “Ghostbusters” movie and the Netflix series “Grace and Frankie,” was a keynote speaker at the Better Together: California Teachers Summit. Cal State L.A. was one of 38 college and universities to host the second annual event.

Teachers from across the city gathered at Cal State L.A. for a day of learning, sharing and inspiration. Participants at the Cal State L.A. site included representatives of 33 school districts and 31 charters. The event provided an opportunity for educators to collaborate and learn ways to better implement the new California standards. The summit featured two keynote speakers, TED-style EdTalks presented by local teachers, and Edcamp discussions.

Local EdTalk speakers included Alberto Vaca, an English teacher at Lincoln High School’s Academy of Environmental and Social Policy Magnet, and Leticia Ruiz-Dominguez, a special education teacher at Garfield Elementary School in Bell Gardens.

Ruiz-Dominguez spoke about inclusion for all students. She told the story of a student with autism.

“Keep in mind [all students] deserve a chance, the opportunity and your commitment,” she said. “They deserve to feel that they belong.”

Participants at Cal State L.A. and other sites watched keynote speakers deliver their remarks via livestream.

Keynote speaker Kelly Gallagher discussed the benefits students receive from writing. Writing generates deeper thinking, prepares students for college and for their careers and helps foster lifelong learning.

“The act itself is generative … it leads kids to aha moments,” Gallagher told the gathering. “Writing is more important than ever before.”

Hudson was raised in a low-income neighborhood in Michigan. He described moments that teachers changed his life, including a guidance counselor in high school who saw potential in him. The counselor had him removed from the non-college track, to a track for students who were expected to achieve. Hudson’s experiences illustrate that even kids who seem disconnected want to be engaged by teachers.

“Believe me they can be reached,” Hudson said. “They desperately want to be reached.”

The summit was also a celebration of teachers, a recognition of “the sweet and challenging work of educating young hearts and minds,” said Cheryl Ney, dean of Cal State L.A.’s Charter College of Education, who provided opening remarks.

Organizers of the event include the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities, California State University and New Teacher Center. Participants were encouraged to continue the dialogue and sharing of ideas through Twitter chats, and the hashtag #BetterTogetherCA.