Archive for February 27, 2018

La Serna’s LaVigne teaches through accountability, cookies

By Tim Traeger
Ken LaVigne is the kindest tough-guy you’ll ever meet.
Follow the core values he’s entrenched in hundreds of Whittier students or end up on the wrong side of a knuckle sandwich on a dead-end street in Santa Fe Springs.
Your pick.
He is the genuine article in a world of fake news and disingenuous chatter.
Coach. Teacher. Mentor. Friend. The 64-year-old’s greatest achievement is assembling the OASIS (Organized Academic Support in School) and HAVEN (Harnessing Academic, Vocational and Educational Needs) programs at La Serna High School. They take at-risk kids with pathetic grade point averages and partner them with mentors to ensure every student graduates.
He uses cookies, candy, cups of soup and frozen burritos as bribes. The bounty overflows the cabinets in his classroom, which is always open to his kids. The secret to his program’s success is simple. Accountability.
“You give love unconditionally. I’m not going to throw you away, but I’m going to tell you the truth,” the former football coach at Pius X, Cal High and La Serna said. “I always tell my kids that people who don’t care about you will tell you anything you want to hear. People who love you are going to tell you what you need to know,” said LaVigne, a 2012 California Teacher of the Year.
For sophomore Adrian Gonzalez, who entered Oasis with a 0.96 GPA but now has a 4.0 after the first quarter, LaVigne is different than any other teacher.
“He’s more empathetic, more compassionate. The majority of time, teachers throw stuff at you and expect you to do the work automatically,” Gonzalez said. “He comes in and assists you individually.”
Asked about the impact LaVigne has had on his life, Gonzalez didn’t hesitate.
“Everlasting,” he said.
Same goes for senior Jolissa Pedroza, who entered Oasis with a 1.50 GPA but now sports a 3.2. She said she wants to work in the film industry doing makeup.
“He just motivated me. Since I’ve been in his class, he just opened my eyes and I realized that my grades are important,” Pedroza said. “He teaches a lot of rules we might not know about. I’ve met my best friends here. I feel comfortable here.”
Former Whittier Union High School Superintendent Sandra Thorstenson hired LaVigne at Cal High in 1988. She’s glad she did.
”Ken LaVigne, 2012 California Teacher of the Year, has led the OASIS and HAVEN programs at La Serna in the Whittier Union High School District with his heart, mind and soul as he continues just as strongly as in his first year to literally alter kids’ lives and infuse hope and opportunity into their futures,” Thorstenson said. “Ken LaVigne is a hero to his students, he is the father many of them have never had and he is a role model to all educators throughout the state. This extraordinary teacher is a humble servant leader who I love and admire dearly. I am thankful to have known him since the 1980s when I first hired him as a teacher leader in the Whittier Union High School District. My family and I are thankful to call him our friend.”
La Serna Principal Ann Fitzgerald echoed that sentiment.
“I think he has a huge soft spot for kids who have additional struggles,” Fitzgerald said. “Ken’s been through a lot in his life, but he’s always been able to take the right path. He has a huge heart for kids who don’t have support, either at home or in the community in their extended family. He wants them to get the tools they need to be successful in school.”

For senior Conner Hobbis, who plans to join the Marines and later pursue a career in law enforcement, LaVigne is a solid role model.
“Ken LaVigne cares about his students and his people like he’s their own family,” Hobbis said. “I know from personal experience he always cared for me and tried to help out with anything I needed. I was having family issues a couple years ago and he decided to talk with my family and me. Honestly, it was hard. But coming out and talking with him is really easy. It’s really hard not to be honest with him. For me, it’s like having a dad at school.”
Nearly every students alluded to the same thing. To them, LaVigne is their father away from home.
Much of the success of Oasis belongs to Superintendent Martin Plourde. After LaVigne’s incredible success as a football coach, Plourde asked LaVigne a simple question.
“So what are you going to do now?”
The two traveled to Chicago to see a program for at-risk kids.
“I asked him to tell me what he wanted it to look like,” LaVigne said. “He said, ‘I don’t care, as long as it works.’ I built the program like a football program. I built it like a team. I built it around positive peer pressure to bring out the best in each other – to hold each other accountable. Every week, I have a ‘word of the week’ that reflects a core value.”
Samples of those important words include “Resilience. Identity. Courage. Humility. Respect. Empathy. Honesty.” And, of course, “Accountability.”
Plourde reflected on the teacher he has in Ken LaVigne.
“Oasis continues in the Whittier Union High School District’s tradition of ‘Whatever it Takes.’ Ken is one of those special teachers who doesn’t give up on kids even if they have given up on themselves,” Plourde said. “His love, support, commitment and drive helps his students realize they are smart, capable and worthy of success. His career choice, like many teachers, has made the world a better place by those students whose lives he has changed.”
The unassuming LaVigne, who credits local coaching and teaching legends like Dick Torres, Jack Mahlsted, Leo Camalich, Hans Verstegen, Drew Passalacqua, Zigg Ziglar, Marty Blackstone, Plourde and Thorstenson for his 35 years of coaching and teaching success, grew up in a hardscrabble neighborhood in Santa Fe Springs. He was a tough guy who turned savior to so many.
“I’m going to love you,” said LaVigne, who has been married to Gisele for 34 years and has two sons, Clint and Mark. “I’m not here to save everybody. I’m here to save those who want to be saved.”

Sally Martin dead at 79

Sally Jo Martin, 79, passed away peacefully at her home on Wednesday, February 14, 2018 (Valentine’s Day) with her loving husband, Bruce, by her side. Born in Los Angeles on January 14, 1939, Sally was born to her parents, James Albert Gafford and Estalene Mae (Bailey) Gafford. Sally married the love of her life, Bruce G. Martin, on August 20, 1960 and they lived a wonderful and fulfilling life together. Sally’s life leaves a deep and meaningful impression on an inestimable number of lives.

In her early years, Sally grew up in Huntington Park. She graduated from Huntington Park High School in 1957. In the fall of 1957, Sally moved to Whittier to live with her extended family, the Whites, to attend Whittier College. In her first semester, she met and fell in love with Bruce. In an attempt to encourage the young couple, Sally’s uncle, Roland White, gave Bruce two tickets for the USC vs. Pittsburgh game to take Sally. This would be their first date. On March 21, 1960, they were engaged to be married while dining at their favorite restaurant, The El Cholo Mexican Restaurant in Los Angeles on Western Avenue, and they were married later that year on August 20.

Sally was an elementary teacher by trade. She taught for a few years at Santa Anita Elementary School in Arcadia. She loved what she did; impacting the young lives of her students. All this changed, however, when their daughter, Patricia “Pepper”, was born in 1969. Sally began working less so she could take part in the joys of motherhood. While her love as a wife and mother was indisputable, Sally’s family would say that her love for her animals was almost indistinguishable at times. Sally loved animals deeply. From attending animal shows to caring for her beloved pets, such as “Pugsley” the family pug, she had a special place in her heart for her critters. “She was the kind of person who made food from scratch for her pets,” said affectionately by her son-in-law, Morgan. The household joke among Bruce and Pepper was that the pets had better insurance than the rest of the household.

Among Sally’s many passions in life was her support for sight-related support organizations. Through her training as a teacher, she knew the importance of learning and gaining an education; all of which hinge on one’s ability to see & read. This passion also propelled her to support Bruce’s involvement in the Whittier Host Lions Club, a club that, among other activities, provides eyeglasses and sight exams to people at no cost. Sally’s interests didn’t stop there; she and Bruce were premier organizers in establishing the Ruth B. Shannon Center for the Performing Arts at Whittier College. Sally’s signature trait was that she always gave of herself to serve others. She was always more concerned about the needs of others than her own.

Sally was a strong woman with impeccable character. She faced many trials throughout her life which caused her to be a more formidable woman. Her greatest trial was in the loss of her daughter, Pepper, in 2015. This loss caused deep pain, yet, did not vanquish her spirit, for she still saw opportunity to serve in the lives of her granddaughters as they grieved the loss of their mother. This world has only seen few women of such noble character and strength as Sally Martin.

Sally is survived by her loving husband, Bruce; her son-in-law, Morgan along with his fiancée, Ms. Shelli Catone; and granddaughters, Lauren Elizabeth Blais and Emma Renée Blais. She is now reunited with her beloved daughter, Pepper.

A Celebration of Life will be held in Sally’s honor on Saturday, February 24, 2018 at 10am at the Whittier DoubleTree Hotel, 7320 Greenleaf Ave., Whittier. A reception luncheon will immediately follow the celebration service at the hotel.