For too many local residents John Muir High School Early College Magnet, and much of the Pasadena Unified School District, has been dismissed. Many focus on the high numbers of LatinX, Black, immigrant, foster, and educationally challenged in the student body and, with the unexamined excuse of “low test scores,” avoid sending their children to their local public school. But to those in Northwest Pasadena and Altadena this inclusion and diversity has been part of Muir’s DNA for almost 100 years. It is the foundation of its strength as an educational institution and the very reason Muir has an unparalleled history of producing alumni who go out into the world ready to make positive change.
In the Tournament of Roses Parade, proudly marching at the head of the PUSD All-Star Marching Band as one of the Drum Majors, will be Ella Uriu, a Muir senior who epitomizes the best of the ”Muir Family.” In her four years Ella has been a part of a renaissance of sorts at the high school with more privileged families, seeking to do more than talk of “positive social change,” returning to the public schools. Ella remembers when the Mighty Mustang Marching Band wasn’t so mighty, “my freshman year we only had fourteen members and now we have over sixty!”
An honors student in Muir’s Engineering & Environmental Science Academy, Ella has also been part of the resurgence of the aquatics program as part of its growing water polo and swim teams, once one of the area’s powerhouse high school programs. “Being on the water polo team has been an especially bonding experience. A majority of the team is also involved in band and my favorite moments during the school day are spending lunches in the library with our coach Ms. Issa.” As Ella begins to look back on her time at Muir she is especially proud of her time as a founding member of the LGBTQ+ Alliance and playing music with the Muir Orchestra and John Tirabasso Jazz Band.
The honor of being chosen as a drum major in the Rose Parade came as a shock to Ella, “even after the announcement I was blown away by the support not only by my own community at Muir but by Pasadena as a whole. I truly have so much love for this All Star Band and I could not have made this journey without the other student leaders, Nalani Viray from PHS especially.”
But the choice of where a child will go to school is not for the child alone. For Ella’s parents, Scott and Angela Uriu, choosing a high school for their child was not taken lightly. “We toured it several times before her freshman year and each time we learned something new that just blew us away. There was never any doubt for us but ultimately, it was Ella’s decision. In the end, Muir was the school for all of us – our neighborhood school.”
When asked to describe the Muir community Angela is quick to reply, “the Muir community is supportive and invested in your child’s success. Not only are there staff who are alumni who have their children attending Muir, and staff who have worked there for decades, but there is also a strong alumni association that works very hard to support our students. The Muir community is our family.”
Standing on the cold Colorado Boulevard sidewalk, Angela and Scott will not only be watching Ella lead the PUSD All-Star Band but also Ella’s little brother Isaak, a sousaphone player and Muir Sophomore. “Scott and I are happy to have more time at Muir as we see Isaak through to his Senior year,” says Angela.
Ella will soon be heading East to study Education at Bucknell University, a task made easier by Muir’s partnership with PCC. Ella’s freshman year was the inaugural year of the Early College Magnet and she will be graduating from high school with 32 transferable college credits.
“Coming to Muir has been one of the best decisions of my life so far,” Ella states. “Muir was the first place in which I really learned how to build community. I learned about how to be on a team and I learned how to be a leader.”
Author Pablo Miralles has over 20 years of film and video production experience. His most recent film, the award-winning documentary “Can We All Get Along? The Segregation of John Muir High School” is his second film under the Arroyo Seco Films banner. Previous experience has included Production Coordinator on the Academy Award-winning short “Visas and VIrtue” and Co-Producer of the Emmy nominated short film “Day of Independence.” He is President of Arroyo Seco Films, which was founded in 2008 to create fictional and non-fictional projects that are both entertaining and informative.