Pasadena Christian School Educators Take Pride in Hispanic Roots

Published : Tuesday, October 22, 2013 | 12:01 AM


L-R: Dr. Steven Gray Superintendent, Pasadena Christian School and Monica (Perez) Bucknam Art Educator, Pasadena Christian Preschool. Photo credit: Pasadena Christian School Media Relations

[This is a corrected version of an earlier story which contained errors.] Whether serving as superintendent, or encouraging students to preserve their cultural traditions through art, Dr. Steven Gray and Monica (Perez) Bucknam are making a difference in their respective roles at Pasadena Christian School (PCS) and its preschool as professionals, and Hispanics. Although their personal stories are unique, they share common themes; education and cultural pride.

Dr. Steven Gray - Superintendent, Pasadena Christian School. Photo credit: Pasadena Christian School Media Relations

Dr. Steven Gray – The Educator

The Hispanic landscape continues to evolve daily as persons from different cultures come together. Dr. Steven Gray, who is of both Mexican and Scottish/English heritage, personifies this trend.

As the son of a single mother (Lupe) who is a first generation Mexican-American, Dr. Gray strongly identifies with his Hispanic roots. Dr. Gray spent his youth immersed in his culture through the eyes of his grandmother (Delfina) who immigrated along with her husband to the United States in the 1920’s. Since she didn’t speak English, Dr. Gray learned how to speak some Spanish in order to communicate with her.

Through these “kitchen table” conversations, he learned about life in Mexico, its people, and the value of hard work. He also learned about the romantic tale of how his grandmother was recued from Mexican bandits as a young girl. The brave member of the posse who saved her from captivity ultimately became Dr. Gray’s grandfather (Gubencio).

Dr. Gray has never been a stranger to hard work. Both his grandparents and mother modeled a strong work ethic by taking on factory-type jobs, and picking fruit in the fields, in order to provide for him and an older brother.

A Pasadena native, Dr. Gray was raised in El Sereno which is primarily a Hispanic community. From parochial school in Rose Hills, to high school in Highland Park, he faced reverse discrimination at times since his fair complexion and blue eyes were unique in these communities. Despite these challenges, Dr. Gray thrived at school and his passion for learning intensified.

As the only one of ten siblings to complete high school, Dr. Gray’s mother understood the value of education as well. It was his mother’s example, and aspirations for a better life, that inspired Gray to pursue a career as an educator. A California State Community Opportunity Grant, which provided Dr. Gray with a full scholarship to the school of his choice, helped realize his dreams of a higher education.

Dr. Gray has been the Superintendent of PCS since 1993 where he oversees an independent Christian preschool through 8th grade program. Additionally, he is an adjunct professor at both Azusa Pacific University and California Baptist University where he teaches in the graduate department of education.

Prior to entering administration, Steven served as a classroom teacher, mathematics and Reading coordinator, a mentor teacher for the State of California and a master teacher for Mount Saint Mary’s College.

He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Southern California (USC) and the California State University at Los Angeles (CSULA) awarded him a teaching credential, administrative credential and a Master’s Degree in education.

In 1992 he was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy degree in education from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

“I have always dreamed of making a difference in the lives of others as an educator. As our society continues to become more diverse, I have the unique opportunity as superintendent at Pasadena Christian School to demonstrate that diversity is a strength that unifies us, stated Dr. Gray. “The ability to work well with individuals of all cultures and backgrounds is a valuable skill that will allow our students to be better professionals and citizens.”

Monica (Perez) Bucknam - Art Educator, Pasadena Christian Preschool. Photo Credit: James Christopher

Monica (Perez) Bucknam – The Artist

Originally born Monica Ofelia Perez, Bucknam is a first generation Mexican-American who grew up with the rich cultural traditions of her parent’s homeland. From speaking Spanish as her first language, to cooking authentic recipes handed down from her grandmother, Mexico and the bonds of family are still part of who she is today.

A native of City Terrace in East Los Angeles, Bucknam considers herself privileged to carry generations of Mexican values, while also being American.

Bucknam’s family relocated to Alhambra during her early childhood years where she quickly assimilated and became English-fluent by second grade. Living just a few blocks away from El Sereno allowed Bucknam and her family to further preserve their heritage. Having access to Mexican markets, and being surrounded by other native Spanish speakers, encouraged Bucknam to find balance between her native roots and an American lifestyle.

Traditional Mexican arts were also vital to her upbringing. She spent several years attending art, ballet folklorico dance, music, and ceramics classes at Plaza de la Raza, a Mexican cultural arts center situated in the heart of East Los Angeles. Eventually, she would return as an “alumni” to teach drawing and painting classes for four years.
Although Bucknam’s parents worked hard to preserve their heritage, they also recognized that society in the United States is a melting pot of cultures. This is an important life lesson that she has never forgotten, and continues to inspire her work as a professional artist and teacher. She also strives to instill this lesson in her students which range from preschool to college age.

Bucknam is a professional designer, artist and the founder and Creative Director of Narrative, a graphic design and architecture co-op based in Los Angeles. She is currently teaching art at Pasadena Christian Preschool, in addition to serving as part of the Adjunct Faculty at Woodbury University where she teaches design courses in the Architecture Graduate Department.

During a time when schools across the nation continue to cut their arts programs, Bucknam is leveraging this valuable educational tool.

“As an art educator, I believe it’s important to recognize the valuable emotional and developmental growth that is fostered in children by creating visual art, while appreciating it’s aesthetic qualities,” stated Monica (Perez) Bucknam. “As a Latina, I also think it’s important to teach students to celebrate their own heritage through art- and the beauty of other cultures around the world. Embracing all nationalities and cultures is art in itself.”

Typically, Bucknam focuses on art from cultures around the world, instruments and seasonal changes while teaching her budding young artists at Pasadena Christian Preschool. From traditional mariachi music and flamenco, to French, Celtic and African rhythms, Bucknam also believes in the educational value of world music. As one of her best practices, Bucknam aims to incorporate traditional music specific to the art and culture she is teaching as part of the curriculum to heighten the experience. During Hispanic Heritage Month, Bucknam is teaching her students about legendary Mexican painter Diego Rivera.

Over the past 15 years, she has also worked as an award-winning conceptual art director for the film and television industry. Among the entertainment entities she has collaborated with include HBO, CBS, USA Networks, Disney Studios, Universal, Producer Eduardo Sanchez, and currently, DreamWorks.

Like many first generation Hispanics, Bucknam was instilled with a strong work ethic that emphasized education as a means to attaining the American Dream. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design from Woodbury University, as well as, a minor in Art.

About Pasadena Christian School

For over 67 years, Pasadena Christian School (PCS) has been empowering students in the San Gabriel Valley to “grow… soar… excel” by offering Christian-based academic training from preschool through junior high. Fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), and the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), PCS is an interdenominational, independent school centrally located on nine acres in the heart of northwest Pasadena. The campus has dedicated facilities for preschool, elementary and junior high plus a gymnasium and athletic field.

Student life is enriched by state-of-the art classrooms, two art studios, science and computer labs, a new library, and a nationally recognized outdoor curriculum at the preschool campus. In addition to core academics, PCS is dedicated to developing the whole child. The school offers a well-rounded education where students benefit from dedicated instruction in fine arts, computer science, foreign language, and music, which includes instrumental and choral. Public speaking and performance skills are introduced and reinforced at an early age. Junior high students can choose from a variety of electives including drama, yearbook, debate, fashion design, woodshop, cooking and photography. An award-winning athletic program focusing on basketball, football, softball, volleyball and cheer rounds out student options. Graduates from PCS are accepted to prestigious high schools where they continue to be life-long learners and thrive in the classroom. The majority of PCS students pursue a University education.

Pasadena Christian School takes pride in its culturally and socially diverse community and admits students of any race, color or national origin. Additional information can be found at

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