Michelle Lamons teaches English 4 and American Sign Language to a number of very fortunate
students at Pinole Valley High School. She is the Sponsor of the African American Student
Union. She is also the program Sponsor ofthe Forensics (or Speech and Debate) program. In
only her second year in that role, she was named Coach ofthe Year by the Golden Gate Speech

There is a sign on her classroom that says, “Ms. Lamons’ House.” Michelle intends the sign to
convey a sense of family and belonging to many of her students who come from broken homes.
As we have discovered, she has found a way to bring that sign inside the classroom as well.
Michelle spends as much time at school as many of us do at home. She arrives at 7 a.m. and
leaves at 7 p.m. She devotes 14 weekends to traveling and competing with her speech and
debate group and another 10 Saturdays working with the sign language class.

Michelle greets everyone of her students as they enter the classroom. She provides snacks for
hungry students, especially at test time. Her classroom is a declared “safe environment” where
students, many from other classes, come during their lunch periods to avoid conflict and drama
they find elsewhere at their school.

Michelle gives her students her cell phone number and encourages them to call if need be. They
can call for homework questions or to discuss a problem in their personal lives. It is not an easy
decision to give out your cell phone number to such a vast number of young adults and accept
the responsibility that entails. But, as Michelle told us, having someone to talk to at a critical
time, might just help them to avoid making a bad decision that could affect them the rest of their

Michelle strives to show her students that what they learn in the classroom is relevant to their
everyday lives. Her English classes include instruction on writing business letters and resumes.
She developed a curriculum called “Music as Poetry” studying genres from hip-hop to reggae
and from jazz to rock. In that way, along with learning to appreciate Shakespeare’s sonnets,
Michelle’s students become aware of the poetry that surrounds them every day.

As part of her American Sign Language class, she has instituted study trips. Students travel to
the California School for the Deaf in Freemont and attend their basketball and football games.
By doing so, her students meet new friends, put their language skills to use, and learn about a
different culture.

Michelle demonstrates to students that they can succeed. She has developed a strong alumni
network with students from Harvard, Stanford, and Cal. She invites them to mentor current
students, judge debate events or simply participate in school events. But that’s not really the
point. As Michelle told us, once her current students see that kids from Pinole Valley High go to
all these schools, they feel like they can do it too.

Success can also be demonstrated through the Speech and Debate team. Her team now travels to
as many as 15 tournaments all over Northern California. Their awards and trophies have become
record-breaking. They have been featured in the West County Times on numerous occasions
and have received accolades from their congressman.

As you can imagine, Michelle’s students respond. We are told that students are not late to her
classroom. They are never rude or disruptive. They try their best academically. As her
Principal told us, “The bottom line is that Ms. Lamons’ students know that she cares about them
and that she is personally invested in providing them with the tools they need to be successful in
education and in life.”