Thousands of Pasadena Unified Students Flock Back to School; at Muir, Students Get Special Welcome

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Photography by JAMES CARBONE

7:45 pm | August 14, 2017

Across Pasadena Unified School District’s 28 campuses throughout Altadena, Sierra Madre and Pasadena early Monday, over 18,400 excited students along with their parents and teachers embraced the new school year.

At John Muir High School, teen-aged students were greeted by a special welcoming committee of men who slapped them high fives and cheered as the students went through the “tunnel,” as in sports events, to begin their first day of school.

Pasadena City Councilmember Tyron Hampton was with the welcoming group at Muir, where he is an alumnus. Hampton had greeted other students at Cleveland Elementary and Washington Elementary STEM Magnet School earlier in the morning.

Joining in the festive atmosphere was Muir’s new Principal Lawton Gray, a John Muir alumnus as well. Gray is a 19-year educator who comes back to Pasadena Unified from the Temple City Unified School District.

“I am honored and excited to work with the students, parents, staff, and community of John Muir High School to create opportunities for all students to excel academically, be prepared for college, and well equipped for their professional careers,” Gray said earlier after he was named principal.

The welcoming activity by the local men was the second such event, said William Syms. The concept is the brainchild of the nonprofit 100 Black Men of America. The participants didn’t have to be African American, Syms pointed out, they just had to be warm, friendly and supportive of the students.

“I’m an alumnus at John Muir High School and so are many other people, and our students just need to know that they’re supported in the community,” Syms said. “When I was student there and as student throughout my education career, I always had a great network of mentors and the community members just continued to push me. It’s my turn, it’s my generation’s turn now!”

Syms is the Interim Director of the Upward Bound program at Pasadena City College and will be joining the Mentoring and Partnership for Youth Development, a Pasadena-based group that assists young people and provides guidance and encouragement as they push for academic success.

“I have been active in recruiting people to mentor and support our students all across the district, letting them know the community is behind them,” Syms said. “We have a group of about 90 young men in that program and we will do everything from cultural exploration to college source.”

Councilmember Hampton said he was glad Syms and the other men continued the welcome activity this year; for a few years, he remembers, it was just he who was there to welcome the students.

“It’s a great opportunity to go and meet kids and get to know them, get to say hello and for them to see you,” Hampton said. “It’s just really amazing to see all these men and even some women come out and welcome students, and say hello.We just wanted them to know that, ‘Hey, we came here, we are here for you, and if you ever have any questions, we are a group of men that you guys can lean on.’”

Inspired, Syms vowed to continue organizing the welcome event every year on the first day of school at Pasadena Unified.