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Posted by: Date: October 5, 2014 In: ,

Lots of Lutes at Ferrucci

A quorum of the 15 Lutes on staff at Ferrucci Junior High pose for a group photo outside the Puyallup school. From left: Jeanine Wernofsky ’82, Ron Baltazar ’00, Joan Forseth ’91, Kim Lawson ’82, Brent Anderson ’97, Steve Leifsen ’96, Bob Rink ’92, Cindy VanHulle ’76, Baron Coleman ’02, Erica Lightbody ’95, Tawana Bens ’05, Krista McBride ’90 and Deirdre Davis ’05. Two more Lutes are not pictured: Dan Floyd ’92 and Brooke Gustafson ’05. (Photo courtesy of Ferrucci Junior High)

A quorum of the 15 Lutes on staff at Ferrucci Junior High pose for a group photo outside the Puyallup school. From left: Jeanine Wernofsky ’82, Ron Baltazar ’00, Joan Forseth ’91, Kim Lawson ’82, Brent Anderson ’97, Steve Leifsen ’96, Bob Rink ’92, Cindy VanHulle ’76, Baron Coleman ’02, Erica Lightbody ’95, Tawana Bens ’05, Krista McBride ’90 and Deirdre Davis ’05. Two more Lutes are not pictured: Dan Floyd ’92 and Brooke Gustafson ’05. (Photo courtesy of Ferrucci Junior High)

15 PLU Alumni Use Alma Mater
Pride to get Junior High Students
Thinking About College Early

By Sandy Deneau Dunham
PLU Marketing & Communications

It’s hard to imagine a workplace more loaded with Lutes than Ferrucci Junior High School in Puyallup—outside of PLU itself, of course.

Of the 40 teachers on Ferrucci’s staff, 15 have attended and/or graduated from Pacific Lutheran Universityand their stories just keep intertwining:

•    Ferrucci Principal Steven Leifsen ’96 and ’04 used to be PLU study buddies with seventh-grade Social Studies teacher Brent Anderson ’97;
•    Brooke Gustafson ’05 and Tawana Bens ’05 not only graduated from PLU the same year; they now teach together in a combined English/Special Education classroom; and
•    one current Lute—who is a Ferrucci graduate!—to this day credits Leifsen and teacher Ron Baltazar ’00 with, basically, changing the course of her life. Ferrucci’s extraordinary concentration of Lutes could be coincidental (or geographical), but the way Ferrucci Lutes show their alma mater pride is not only a purposeful part of the school’s décor, but also its mission.

Bigger-picture, the Puyallup School District works to create a college-going atmosphere in all its schools. Smaller-picture, Ferrucci takes that strategy to a whole new level.

Every teacher at Ferrucci hangs a bold banner outside the classroom showing his or her college. More than 200 college pennants from all across the country line hallway and office walls. One counselor writes to colleges constantly asking for swag—and keeps getting more and more.

“We want to create the mindset that college is an option,” Principal Leifsen said. “We tell students that decisions they make at 12 or 15 will impact their choices at graduation. We talk college readiness all the time.”

The alma mater banners, he said, open a dialogue between students and teachers: Why did a teacher pick that college? What colleges are out there? What do I need to do now?Then Ferrucci’s AVID classes (Advancement Via Individual Determination) deepen the dialogue. Three AVID teachers (two of them Lutes!) work with students—many whose parents did not go to college—to build “hidden skills” such as organization, note-taking and review necessary for college planning, Leifsen said.

An eighth-grade Alex Mattich is among these Ferrucci Junior High students who toured PLU as part of an AVID class. (Photo courtesy of Alex Mattich)

An eighth-grade Alex Mattich is among these Ferrucci Junior
High students who toured PLU as part of an AVID class.
(Photo courtesy of Alex Mattich)

College students come to Ferrucci to mentor the younger ones, and whole AVID classes take field trips to local colleges and universities (“PLU is a phenomenal partner,” Leifsen said.)

“We want them to be prepared to get into college but also to do well,” Leifsen said. “We tell them, ‘It’s great to get in, and it’s even better to finish.’”

Nationally, Leifsen said, 98% of AVID students graduate from high school, and 95% get into college.

Maybe not surprisingly, several have landed at PLU—including current student Alex Mattich ’16. She was raised to become the first in her family to finish college, but the summer before she entered seventh grade, her little brother died.

“Everything got foggy,” Mattich said.

But AVID was clarifying.

Alex Mattich ’16 hopes to get back to Ferrucci Junior High as an AVID tutor. (Photo: John Froschauer/PLU)

Alex Mattich ’16 hopes to get
back to Ferrucci Junior High
as an AVID tutor. (Photo:
John Froschauer/PLU)

“In my junior-high years I was very vulnerable,” said Mattich, who was in Ferrucci’s first AVID class. “Steve Leifsen and Ron Baltazar took me under their wings and understood where I was coming from and helped me find my inner self and strength. The AVID program was the best thing for me. It made me think about the future and push myself.”Mattich attended another college right out of Emerald Ridge High School but transferred to PLU her junior year. She’s majoring in Elementary Education with an emphasis in Special Education and hopes to stay in the area to teach first- to third-graders. But first she wants to be an AVID tutor—at Ferrucci.

Mattich said she has maintained relationships with Ferrucci teachers and stops in to observe and talk to students, but so far her PLU classes haven’t synced well enough with AVID classes for tutoring.

“There’s still time,” she said. “If it wasn’t for them, my school career would have been a lot harder with a different outcome. I’m so very grateful for that relationship because I have done so much more than academics.”