We had the good fortune of connecting with Allyson Smith and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Allyson, can you talk us a bit about why you love what you do?
I call what I do a ministry, not a job. All children, especially those in the inner-city from immigrant families, deserve quality well-rounded education and each day I strive hard to ensure that my kids have this. As a principal, I am able to help mold the minds and hearts of students in a macro level so they are equipped to lead and love in this ever-changing world.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My unforeseen call to education and then eventually to leadership began as a child. Who would have known that this little girl who didn’t speak a wink of English from the inner-city Bay Area would be called to educational leadership? My first day of Kindergarten was miserable! I felt like an alien, not being able to express myself fully to my classmates and teachers. My grandparents took care of me because my parents worked long hours, so Tagalog was my very first language. I am a first generation Filipino-American born and raised in inner-city Bay Area. My immigrant parents worked double shifts in order to put my sister and me into an inner-city Catholic school down the street from my grandparents’ home. My English progressed throughout the years and I began to realize that elementary school was too easy for me (or so I thought). From Kindergarten to Eighth Grade I got straight A’s. I thought it was because I was smart, but I later learned they graded simply for submission of work and not for mastering the content. I was then accepted to one of the most rigorous college-preparatory private high schools in San Francisco, where academics and hands-on shop classes were invaluable (such as metal shop, wood-carving, robotics, computer design, and architecture). Little did I know that I was NOT prepared for this school at all! I got in because of my “superior” grades and, honestly, probably through affirmative action. They needed more diversity and giving scholarship to inner-city youth of color was my saving grace. Upon reflecting as a ninth grader, I realized that my elementary school was, in fact, a safe-haven. It was not academically challenging, but it was a place that kept us inner-city kids off of the streets and away from trouble. I missed it so much that I continued to tutor the students there throughout my high school years. It took the help of patient and amazing teachers and mentors, as well as the high expectations of my high school, to help me reach my full potential. I did not give up because my teachers and the school itself never gave up on me. Who would have known that this English Language Learner from the inner-city would one day be applying to four-year universities all over the country! As most high school seniors, I wanted to get out of my hometown (San Francisco), so I took out my own loans, savings from tutoring, and moved to my dream place: Hollywood!!! I was going to fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming the next Oprah Winfrey. I accepted the offer to Loyola Marymount University (LMU) as a Communications Major. Upon taking a sociology class I grew very passionate about this area of study and decided to take it as my minor. I enjoyed my Communications classes, but I felt a sense of fulfillment when talking about social justice issues. In college I joined a service organization and began working with inner-city youth, battered women and children, the homeless, victims of natural disasters, and high school drop-outs. It was during these moments that I found a sense of happiness. Upon landing an internship for The Filipino Channel and being offered a job after graduation my senior year, I realized that streamlining news about fashion and gossip was not bringing me happiness. Therefore, I applied to the PLACE Corps program at LMU, where you live in community with eight other first-year teachers, while teaching at an inner-city Catholic school in LA and while getting your Masters at LMU. I lived in a former convent in South Central and was placed at Immaculate Heart of Mary School in East Hollywood where I taught junior high math and science, while completing my Masters in Special Education. To make a long story short, I fell in love with my students, the school, and the community. I was placed in the perfect community that helped me improve as a teacher! As the years progressed I encountered my share of administrators. I took on the responsibility of being Vice Principal because I felt that I wanted to help the wider community and not just my twenty students. I also wanted to help re-direct our school in innovation and technology. Seven years ago I was blessed with the ministry of becoming principal of this school. I wanted to help the school in a bigger capacity and I feel that this is my ministry: to help people who, just like me, need the motivation, inspiration, knowledge, and faith to become leaders in today’s society. How ironic. I came here to Hollywood to pursue my life as the next Oprah Winfrey. I look outside of my school window and this is the Hollywood that I see. An inner-city neighborhood (filled with homelessness, drugs, violence, and poverty) that is home to my amazing students where there is a beacon of hope here at Immaculate Heart of Mary School. IHM is the hidden pearl in the bustling inner-city of East Hollywood, focusing on faith and moral formation, Performing Arts, Blended Learning, and Academic Excellence. IHM is home to immigrant and first-generation Filipino and Latino families. The staff implements Blended Learning, a student-centered structure, in which students are working in centers with technology (iPads, laptops, and desktops) as a tool to differentiate instruction. With small class sizes and technology to promote individualized learning paths, the students each get the personal attention that they need to be successful in today’s society. Because of this, Distance Learning has been an easier transition for our school community since we have been implementing Blended Learning for years. So I may not be a talk show host who owns her own TV channel. But I hope to instill that same passion in my students so that THEY can one day become the next Oprah Winfrey… or doctor… or web designer… or whatever they want to be.
Any great local spots you’d like to shoutout?
I am a food-lover! I would take my best friend to all of the greatest places to eat in LA! My friends know to come to me with empty bellies! We would do brunches at Overland Cafe, Terra, Margot, Sqirl, Salt’s Cure, Here’s Looking at You, and Little Dom’s. We would do lunches at Din Tai Fung, Public School, EMC Seafood, Park’s Finest, Tender Greens, Rosalind’s Ethiopian Restaurant, Republique, and Oak Tree Inn Chinese Restaurant. We would do Happy Hour at El Cholo, Perch, the Standard, Harold and Belle’s, Pips on La Brea, Messhall, La Barca, and the Backhouse. We would do dinners at Ruth’s Chris, Road to Seoul Korean BBQ, Mastro’s Steakhouse, Samba Brazilian Steakhouse, and Kura Revolving Sushi. We would grab dessert at the Pie Hole, Birdies, Drips and Swirls, Milk, Copenhagen Pastry, Sprinkles, Vanilla Bakeshop, Magnolia Bakery, Coolhaus, and Bubble U.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
To our amazing IHM students… I just want to tell you how proud I am of your hard work during these past few weeks of distance learning. Your hard work and dedication to your schoolwork are commendable. From zooming with your classmates and teachers.. To practicing on IXL… To posting videos and work on Seesaw… To logging into Google Classroom… To singing, dancing, exercising, cooking, baking, and doing chores with your families. So proud of the phenomenal work you are doing. You have transitioned so well in these past few weeks and we can’t thank you enough for continuing to be the best student, child, grandchild, and sibling you could be! Parents… Many of you are working from home or are essential workers, working the frontlines… You are all juggling being parents, workers, and teachers. You were already superheroes before this and now you have powered-up tremendously. I also know that some of you, unfortunately, have lost your jobs. I am sorry to hear this and we’re here to come together to help you through this. Parents… Thank you for keeping your heads up, for rolling up your sleeves, and going that 200% above and beyond for your children and for our IHM community. It’s no easy task and we are forever grateful. Teachers… In less than 24 hours, you took physical learning and turned it into distance learning. You work around the clock, tirelessly, to create and execute quality plans, to continue to assess our students learning, to help with technical issues, and to ensure that our kids are safe… that they’re still learning and thinking critically, and that they’re still continuing to pray and have faith. You have shown the world now more than ever that teaching is no easy task and we are truly blessed to have you amazing and dedicated teachers as part of our IHM family.
Mr. Lim, Mr. Cunanan, Mr. Martinez