We Are L.A. Unified

Israel Hernandez and Leo Magallon met a few years ago at a solar boat competition. Education in Boyle Heights has not been the same since.

Both Israel, 35, and Leo, 28, are founding members of the STEM Academy of Boyle Heights, which opened this year with 61 ninth and tenth-grade students, eight teachers, and 11 classrooms, located on a distant, nondescript corner of the Hollenbeck Middle School campus. The goal is to eventually expand to 500 students.

The two engineering teachers are constantly seeking opportunities for their students outside the classroom. They enter teams in several competitions, including the Illinois Institute of Technology’s International Bridge Building Contest, held at Cal State L.A., which allowed the team to qualify for the international competition held in Chicago.

They also sent two students to work with Michael Maltzan Architecture, Inc., who helped to complete a scale model of the new Los Angeles Sixth Street Viaduct. This structure will replace the famous Sixth Street Bridge.

And, in a shed on campus, they’re supervising the construction of an electric car, which is scheduled to go for a test run on the Hollenbeck playground in late spring. The electric vehicle is a one-passenger car measuring approximately 7-feet and will be ready for a competition in May.

“We’re letting the students and their parents know there is a bigger world beyond Boyle Heights,” said Leo.

It’s a lesson that comes straight from the academic partner’s personal biographies. Both men were raised in Boyle Heights and attended Roosevelt High School. Israel went on to the University California, Santa Cruz, where he majored in math. Leo received a graduate degree in math from Occidental College.

Israel, who taught at Roosevelt when the two first met, virtually recruited Leo on the spot to join the faculty. The offer intrigued Leo, not the least because, like Israel before him, he had a strong desire to return home. “After that, we’ve been a duo,” said Leo, “exposing kids in Boyle Heights to engineering.”

Israel spent 12 years teaching at Roosevelt, and Leo spent four. When Roosevelt consolidated, Israel and Leo, along with four other colleagues, submitted a proposal to L.A. Unified for the STEM Academy of Boyle Heights to continue their science, technology, engineering and math program and small-school setting that they were implementing at Roosevelt.

The homegrown component is a critical part of their appeal to the community. “We’re not outsiders coming in to save these kids,” said Israel. “We’re from the neighborhood.”

If you would like more information on the STEM Academy of Boyle Heights, please visit their website at https://stemboyleheights-lausd-ca.schoolloop.com or call (323) 780-3060.

--Thomas Waldman

To nominate a teacher, student, employee or volunteer, send an email to Thomas.Waldman@lausd.net, or call 213-241-6766.

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