Subscribe Now

Heritage Elementary Students Soar

In the wake of the Tustin hangar fires, Heritage Elementary students and educators faced a myriad of challenges. One of the biggest hurdles was not being able to physically gather together at their school campus. Yet, in the face of adversity, a remarkable spirit of resilience and collaboration emerged. 

Despite displacement and disruption, the collective resolve of students, faculty, and local supporters propelled education forward and ensured that learning prevailed. Heritage Elementary students and staff persevered, emerging stronger than ever.


The Power of Community 

Courtney Smith, Heritage Elementary’s principal, was deeply impressed by the resilience and determination shown by the students and teachers during this difficult time. Despite being relocated to various host sites, the students were embraced by the community and local schools, providing them with a place to learn and grow together.

During this time, Smith observed firsthand the dedication that teachers had towards their students, as they did whatever necessary to ensure that their students were continuing to learn. "I was just really filled with hope,” said Smith. “And I was very encouraged when I would go to the different school sites and see them just jumping right in to get to work."

Teachers and students were grateful for having a place to learn together, despite the challenges they faced.

Everyone did what they needed to do in order to help their students learn, because ultimately we all want what’s best for our students.

- Courtney Smith, Heritage Elementary Principal, Tustin USD 

The experience of being displaced also led to unforeseen advantages. Smith and Heritage Elementary staff were able to glean new insights and ideas from the other schools that they were relocated to. This was a unique opportunity for them to observe exciting things happening across the district and come back to their own school with the ability to make changes that ultimately improved the classroom and school experience.

With a clear vision in mind, the team diligently mapped out action plans on how to bring some of these innovative ideas to life within their own school community. The result? A palpable sense of enthusiasm and drive, as positive changes began to manifest within the campus. 

Proven to be a catalyst for meaningful and beneficial transformations, the return to Heritage Elementary marked the beginning of an exciting new chapter for the school. Among the innovative changes were new practices related to their ST Math usage.

Since the beginning of their school year, in August 2023, Heritage Elementary has embraced ST Math, a visual instructional math program that would transform the way students engage with and learn math. Inspired by the success stories observed at Red Hill Elementary, the school incorporated innovative practices into their own system. 


Students Welcome JiJi to their Heritage Elementary Aviators Soar Assembly

ST Math Makes a Positive Impact at Heritage Elementary

Tustin Unified School District has a rich history with ST Math, and this year Heritage Elementary is the latest addition to the list of schools benefiting from the visual-instructional program. Smith shares that the response from students and teachers have been overwhelmingly positive. 

One of the key factors contributing to the positive reception of ST Math is its correlation to the STAR Assessment, the local district assessment used by Tustin USD. Classrooms that have consistently followed the recommended ST Math minutes usage have seen a significant correlation to their STAR Assessment results. In some classes, the growth on the STAR Assessments has doubled compared to previous assessments. 

I have heard very positive responses about ST Math. Students and teachers really love it. But also seeing that their scores are improving, that's even better. We want students to love it and be motivated, but when you're actually seeing results and seeing how effective ST Math is, that makes it all worth it.

- Courtney Smith, Heritage Elementary Principal, Tustin USD

Teachers at Heritage Elementary have also attested to the success of ST Math, noting that the program has provided students with a stronger understanding and foundation for learning math concepts. 

“When I first heard about ST Math, I wasn’t sure how impactful it would be,” said Smith. “I do think in-person instruction with a teacher is best. With ST Math, teachers can run small group sessions while other students work independently on their ST Math journey. Data breakdowns help teachers spot problem areas and focus on skill improvement. ST Math is an amazing tool that teachers can use to support their classroom instruction.” 

A New Tradition at Heritage Elementary

Upon returning to Heritage Elementary after the Tustin hangar fires forced a temporary closure, students and staff were greeted with newly implemented strategies, such as the Friday ST Math award recognition and the Friday ST Math lunch bunch. These initiatives not only fostered a deeper engagement with learning math but also served as a testament to the school's commitment to creating a dynamic and enriching educational environment.

A new tradition that emerged upon students’ and teachers' return to Heritage Elementary was the recognition of students who achieved 100% ST Math puzzle completion. This tradition not only celebrated their academic accomplishments but also served as a source of motivation and excitement for all students.

Every week, teachers at Heritage Elementary check their students' progress on ST Math, eagerly anticipating the moment when any student reaches 100% puzzle completion. As soon as a student achieves this milestone, their teacher would print out a special ST Math certificate to reward their hard work.

Smith was thrilled to discover that every class had several students who were being recognized.

It's really created an excitement and an interest on the campus, and organically created this desire for students to complete their goals. It's a fun way to recognize that progress that they've been making in ST Math.

- Courtney Smith, Heritage Elementary Principal, Tustin USD

As the announcement is made during what Heritage Elementary calls their weekly Friday Flag Assembly, a wave of thrill sweeps through the students. The tradition has quickly become a highlight of their Friday routine, adding an extra layer of enjoyment and celebration to end their week on a high note.

By recognizing and celebrating the accomplishments of students, Smith and the staff at Heritage Elementary have not only created a fun tradition but also fostered a greater sense of motivation and determination among their students. 

Students Greeting JiJi at their Heritage Elementary Aviators Soar Assembly

MIND Celebrates Heritage Elementary's Commitment to Student Success 

At MIND Education, we are committed to recognizing and celebrating the hard work and dedication of schools that are making a difference in their students' lives. That's why we were thrilled to honor Heritage Elementary with the Paco Bazaar Award for their commitment to student success and resilience.

Over the years, MIND artists and designers create limited edition and one-of-a-kind art pieces to raise money for school projects. Earlier this year, they sold these pieces, allowing their fellow MIND colleagues to participate in the fundraising effort. 

When we started Paco Bazaar almost 10 years ago, we wanted to find a way to utilize our artists' creativity to give back to the community. I have found so much joy when we go into the classroom and see firsthand how thankful the principal and teachers are and how much the kids' faces light up knowing that JiJi cares about them. It is such a rewarding experience to be a part of.

- Johanna Zafra, Creative Manager and Visual Designer at MIND Education

With all the money that MIND Education has raised this year, we were able to extend a helping hand to Heritage Elementary by awarding $1,000 to assist the school community during a challenging time. 

On Friday, March 29th, Heritage Elementary hosted an Aviators Soar assembly to honor and acknowledge students’ hard work and progress in their ST Math journey. 

One of the highlights of the award presentation was the appearance of JiJi! JiJi's presence added an element of fun and excitement to the event, and instantly lit up students' faces. They were thrilled to see the ST Math penguin and eagerly interacted with JiJi throughout the ceremony.

Principal Courtney Smith with MIND's Annie McGavren during Heritage Elementary's Aviators Soar Assembly 

A Catalyst for Positive Change 

Although the Tustin hangar fires left Heritage Elementary students and staff to contend with unexpected challenges, the experience brought back a sense of appreciation and gratitude towards their community. Alongside being inspired by other schools' success, the staff at Heritage Elementary could come together with a renewed appreciation for their community and for what they have.

The experience of displacement may have brought about challenges, but it also highlighted the strength of the school community and the determination of staff and students alike to continue learning and growing, no matter the circumstances.

“There’s a lot of power in being cared for by your community,” said Smith. “We were all very supported and encouraged, and it just filled our students and teachers with hope. Everyone came together to do what was best for our students. Perhaps most importantly, having the humility to learn from others and get inspiration from others so that you can always be learning and growing as a school. This is something to celebrate.” 

Victor Nguyen

About the Author

Victor Nguyen is MIND’s Content and Community Specialist. Victor is a passionate storyteller with a penchant for creative writing. In his free time, you can find him engrossed in books, going on long hikes, or trying to meditate.


Join Our Newsletter