■ By Mike Hiles / Contributed
Teaching academic basics to students is the expected role of any educator but making sure young people are prepared to be successful in life after school takes more than being good at reading, writing and arithmetic.
Elizabeth LaCella has taught Honors English for the past eight of 12 years she has been at Noli Indian School. She is also one of the AVID program teachers for middle and high school students at the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians reservation school that serves Native American students from throughout Southern California.
The AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program, started at the site about three years ago, gives students many opportunities to create and present projects so the students get more comfortable with speaking in front of others.
A graduation requirement for seniors is to complete and present a project to a panel audience. When LaCella sat in on one for the first time 11 years ago, she realized the students were experienced with presenting, especially to strangers.
“Interview Skills Day evolved into a requirement for our 9th and 10th grade students,” Le Cella said. “It has come a long way and even if they are not as prepared as they should be, they follow through with the interview.”
On Feb. 13, the sixth annual required Interview Skills Day included several freshmen interviewed by community members for mock employment positions and sophomore students working in small groups to present a website home page for a new company to a panel that simulated potential investors asking questions.
“The students understand the purpose of this event is to help prepare them for the real situation,” LaCella said.
Malea Ortloff who works at Eastern Municipal Water District as its Public Affairs Officer, Education, was one of the guests who interviewed students.
“These ‘real-life’ programs were not available when I was in high school,” she said. “Although now I am very comfortable with public speaking and interacting with others, this was not the case in high school.”
Ortloff began her career at EMWD in 1985 with a high-school education. Management encouraged education and offered tuition reimbursement assistance, allowing her to earn her bachelor’s degree in Human Development in 2004 and her master’s degree in teaching in 2007.
“I believe the programs Noli Indian School is offering to their students are invaluable,” she said. “The group exercise was quite inspirational to watch. The students worked very well together with a varied mixture of personalities and used the opportunity to highlight the best qualities of each student in each of the groups.”
Lynn Saenz is an Employee Relations Manager who has worked at Soboba’s Human Resources Department for more than six years.
“I like the idea of introducing interview skills at an early age,” she said. “I think not using Noli staff to conduct the interviews was smart because the students have a level of comfort with the staff. Using people they don’t know gives them practice for the real world.”
Saenz welcomed the opportunity to get involved because she wanted to share some inside information with the students on what an employer is looking for since she oversees the Tribe’s recruitments.
LaCella was grateful for all the help that was given to these programs and projects and not just for those from outside of Noli that participated.
“We wear many hats at this school,” she said. “I feel very fortunate that I can rely on the staff I have. I could not run AVID without Andrea Duran, Lorin Alvarez, Genna Santini and Wesley Snyder. I am blessed.”