About Jerell Maneja
Jerell Maneja (@jayraffe87) is an Activities Director for Milpitas High School. Since stepping into this role two years ago, Jerell is working to redefine the role of ASB Student Government for his campus.
His students have dramatically improved the school climate by establishing a clear and unifying vision and adopting an objective-based framework used at tech companies like Google and Intel known as OKRs.
**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.
Sam Demma (00:00):
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Sam Demma (00:35):
Welcome back to another episode of the high-performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Jerell Maneja. He is the activities director for Milpitas high school. Since stepping into this role two years ago, Jerell has been working to redefine the role of ASB student government for his campus. His students have dramatically improved the school climate by establishing a clear and unifying vision and adopting an objective based framework. Use that tech companies like Google and Intel known as OKR’S, which stands for objectives and key results. I know you will love and enjoy today’s episode. I will see you on the other side of my conversation with Jerell talk soon.
Sam Demma (01:24):
Jerell, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what brought you to where you are in education today?
Jerell Maneja (01:35):
For sure. Thank you for having me. My name is Jerell Maneja. I am the activities director at Milpitas high school. I’ve been an educator for nine years and I started off wanting to teach science. I was one of those that got through school as a high tune suit with zero direction, got into college, and it said, I think I science and computer. So I got into biotech, realized I enjoy working with people a lot more. And so I said, I’m wants to be a science teacher. I want to get our youth to care about science and the world they live in. And so I, it took me a few years. Went through my credential program, got started teaching in 2013, teaching science. And over time I realized that there’s, that I love the environment I was working. I felt our students deserve more. And so there came to a point where I decided I need to move up into a position where I can influence school culture more because I think our school culture was strong academically, but for our students, they needed much more than that thing is to know what it’s like to be a student in a campus where they felt comfortable and connected. And so I became a class advisor and then eventually transitioned to be the activities director. And I’ve been doing this for three years now.
Sam Demma (02:54):
That’s awesome. And did you get a tap on your shoulder to go into this role that someone else recognized that you had some skills and pushed you in this, in this way? Or is it something that you more so observed, like you mentioned and decided I want to try this and do this.
Jerell Maneja (03:10):
I think it’s a combination. The activities director at the time when I was, when I was invited to be a class advisor she saw that I love volunteering. I love being a referee for the, for the lunch football games. I love participant events just because I’m here for the students. And so when she saw that she saw me as potentially an easy target to volunteer for this four year long commitment, or just saw as someone as someone who can lead the campus. And so I oversaw the class of 2020, and for those three years, I helped them in their homecoming. We have a big spirit event in March called Trojan Olympics. And I enjoyed that work. And then there came to a point where the position open and I said, I think I can do even more for the school if I was in that role. And so I had to leave my class of 2020 to be activities director which was funny enough the year that COVID hit and we had to go into shutdown. And so I’m hoping this year is the first year. It gets to be an Exodus director for a full in-person there. But yeah, I think it’s a combination of both. It required me to see the potential that the school can help, but it didn’t, it also helped that I had some of the motivational, Hey, you should consider going to this role.
Sam Demma (04:28):
You talked a little bit about the different roles you’ve done, but what got you into education and its whole, like what led you to teaching and working with youth, you know, growing up, did you know that you were going to be an educator and working with young people or was it a career you kind of fell into and then fell in love with it?
Jerell Maneja (04:47):
It’s a good question. I don’t think about a lot, but I realize, you know, growing up being in a Filipino household, teaching was one, it was a very respected you know, career choice, but one where the pay was definitely not the ideal that you want to encourage your children to go to as a, as an immigrant parent. But then I realized, you know, all my life experiences show me. I love working with people. I love working with people. I was an RA in college. I did a lot of tutoring. My first job right out of college was a tutoring job. And then I started teaching science classes and science camps for elementary kids. It was a company called mad science where it would just do just random science experience as an afterschool program. And I have that experience.
Jerell Maneja (05:37):
I graduated biotech within 10 houses to work in a lab. I got into a lab, I got to work in a research Institute and it has, this is cool. I can not do this for the rest of my life. I’ve worked behind the lab bench on your own, just doing kind of the same routines. I love the exploration of it, but I need to work with people. And so every thing in my life showed me, teaching was just one of those places that could be at unfortunately there was a teaching program at UC Davis where I did my undergrad where you can get some hours in the classroom. And once I stepped in there, I was like, yeah, this is where I need to be. This is, this is where I belong.
Sam Demma (06:17):
That’s amazing. And when you think about your own high school experience, I’m asking you to go really far back, not that you’re old, but you know, when you think about your own high school experience how did, how did the teachers in your life play an impact in your own educational experience? Did you have some teachers that stick out that you can remember like, wow, this person really made a big difference on my life and upbringing as a kid. Or was that an absent thing in your experience, which kind of inspired you to be that person for other students?
Jerell Maneja (06:49):
I joke a lot with my friends that some, that a lot of the things that I do in school is because I want to be different than what I experienced. I did not have one of the most positive school experiences. I, I had, you know, I had teachers who knew their stuff, helped me succeed from an academic standpoint, but in terms of helping me find who I was and making me feel like I was connected to the school, it was kind of lacking. And I, it was, I it’s ironic that max who’s director, because I applied for the ASB program when I was in high school and I wasn’t selected, I wasn’t, I wasn’t, I was not invited to after they interviewed. And it’s one where my entire life being a teacher and just as a professional in the school campus where I realized what I would have loved to have and seeing if I could deliver that to the students, but also realizing, you know, this is a new time where student needs are very different and at the very least it’s helped me realize not to think about my own person needs, but the needs of the campus and the students.
Jerell Maneja (07:53):
And how can I work to that? So, yeah, to answer your question, high school was exempt was exemplar. Just how much better it could have been for me, but I mean, that’s, that’s why we need educators, right? We need teachers who have that mindset of our youth are our future and what experiences and guidance can we provide and search our campus to give the students what they deserve. Yeah.
Sam Demma (08:18):
I love that. And w so what gets you fired up about activity directors or the role in and of itself? So what is you responsible for doing, because some of your colleagues from Canada might be listening where we don’t have activity directors. Can you explain what the role entails, what you do in the role and why you’re so passionate about it?
Jerell Maneja (08:37):
For sure. I guess it’s been one that’s redefined. So before I was, I got into the role, it was, you oversee the ASB officer. So your student officers that are elected, you oversee them, you oversee some of the on-campus activities like rallies campus decorations, any class, spirit events dances, and you oversee also oversee the club system. Our campus is big. It’s the largest in Silicon valley with 3,200 students. Now we have more than 90 student clubs and really overseeing that system, making sure they’re following the rules, but also that we’re supporting them. So that’s what was advertised to me. But when I came in, I redefined my role as just someone who has an influence on school climate and school culture. And now that I had a vision of what kind of culture I want to create, and because I talked with the students I was working with in my organization to say, what do you envisioned for your school?
Jerell Maneja (09:35):
What is your ideal campus? Really? That’s what defines my work. And to be honest with you for the last two and a half years, a lot of my work has been almost dismantling or completely recreating some of those old traditions just because they did not serve our campus anymore in this new age of education and with this new generation. And so we it’s, it’s been a lot of work, but that’s, I really that’s what inspires me is to idea that I have such a large influence in school culture and that I have, I’m giving students the power to implement their vision and their voice. I think that was the biggest shift that I made with this organization is that the students are controlling the show. I’m truly just witnessed to their work. And that’s what pushes me every day.
Sam Demma (10:22):
I’m curious now about these conversations. So what do the students tell you? What is the school culture that they want to build on campus? Cause I would assume that most students similar in their age are all all thinking the same thing. So another educator might be listening to this thinking, oh man, I’ve never had those conversations with my students, but maybe I can hear what drills kids are saying. So what, yeah. What are some of your students saying?
Jerell Maneja (10:47):
So this year I’m adopting a model that’s used that Google and in selfie objective and key result where the OKR model, where basically you allow your team to establish, these are, these are objectives. There’s so much work we can do on campus. Let’s focus on our three. And so the three that we focused on, because as soon as it says, this is our biggest areas in the campus. First one is campus unification. It is just unreal how you can have the largest campus, but still have students feel the most lonely. We have students who are sitting out there during lunch by themselves. This year we have a huge situation with ninth and 10th graders. Who’ve been virtual and now they’re on campus in person and not knowing how to make friends and not knowing where to go. So how do you allow them to have a place where not only they feel included and feel connected to campus, but they feel included, connected with each other.
Jerell Maneja (11:40):
You know, we have, we have this epidemic of cliques and groups. How do you dismantle some of those old traditions and old ways? It’s a one where everyone feels like they belong. Even they’re part of a 3,300 student campus. The second area is inclusivity. Our, when I first started, we were in the news for an unfortunate event, the blackface incident during Halloween. And we, you know, it really exposed how much oh, need, we need to reflect on the diversity we have on campus and where we’re inclusive, all the different of the diversity that we have. And so students are really focused on how do we feel make each person feel included. And then our third objective is social-emotional wellness. We focus, we’re a very academically rigorous school. Us news, top 100 academics is number one, but at what, at what sacrifice for students’ wellbeing and really finding themselves. And so when I first started first exercise with my students is okay, we’re going to create a mantra. That’s going to drive our work. And so we came up with a simple slogan, embraces individuals together as Trojans. And it’s just really, this overall need that in the end, we need to be together. We need to feel like a campus, but not at sacrificing who each individual is. And really showing that each individual brings something a really interesting story for a campus. How can we empower that rather than force them to hide it?
Sam Demma (13:11):
That’s awesome, man. That’s so that’s such with great power comes great responsibility. Thinking about Spiderman. It’s a huge responsibility, but it’s a, it’s a worthy one and it sounds like you’re, you’re off to a great start. I mean, school just started right. A couple of days ago.
Jerell Maneja (13:25):
We started last Thursday.
Sam Demma (13:27):
Okay, nice. And how has it been so far?
Jerell Maneja (13:31):
Yeah, it’s been wild. It’s, it’s the, it’s the balance of what does our campus need? And our students are my students in this organization. We looked at how do we, what kind of campus we want the students to feel welcome to w what’s the, what’s the climate we want to create early on. And so the school started Thursday, but the students were, had been starting since July because they understand this is a very critical time. What the tone and culture we set now will pay off in the long-term. And so we’ve done a lot of great activities so far. We’ve already having our first spirit week. And then last Thursday is one of our key market events. We call it the welcome splash. You have students who are entering campus for the first time in a year and a half.
Jerell Maneja (14:19):
What’s their first experience when they stepped foot. Our hope is that it’s a positive one. And so for the welcome splash, what we did, we invited all our club officers. We had all our ESP individuals, our MGA ROTC program. And we sit, we spread them around our campus because our campus is difficult. It’s a largely outdoor campus and there’s many points of entry. So we spread them around and I give them one objective. Your objective is to say hi to every single student and say, good morning, because if the first thing you could do to someone is help them smile or say good morning, or hello, we’ve already won battle because that’s their first ever experience. And for our ninth and 10th graders, it’s the first ever experience of MHS is the first person that gets a seat is saying hello to them. And it’s a, it’s a unbelievable experience. And one that we want to carry out throughout the year. And then on Monday, we start our club rush. We have 97 clubs the most we’ve ever had, and we’re going to be helping them build membership throughout the week. Because if we can create this home for each individual student based on their interests, then their engagement will be higher, which means in the long run, academic performance can be even better.
Sam Demma (15:26):
And they also feel like they’re a part of a family, right? Exactly. I’m not just, I don’t just go to this school, but I’m on this club. Like I dedicate my time to this group of individuals to work towards this common goal and vision that we all agree on and believe in. And I guess that ties back into the unification piece of the whole culture. Right. that’s amazing. That’s so cool. And you also wear a nice Palm shirt. I don’t know. I can see it cause they’re listening, but
Jerell Maneja (15:54):
Today is beach day. And so you have to, you have to show up, you have to be the model of the leader for two.
Sam Demma (16:03):
No, it’s a nice shirt. I was curious. I know. No, one’s actually going to see it, cause this is all audio, but oh, that’s amazing. And so where do you, like if you were to fast forward five years from now and the culture is what you’re planning it to be, and you’re no longer in this role? I think because it’s a four year thing, I think you said, or maybe you renew it and you do it again. But you know, yeah. Sorry. Correct me. How long is it?
Jerell Maneja (16:29):
Oh, so to, for class advisor, it was four years because you go from them from their freshman year to their senior year for activities records, as long as I choose to stay here.
Sam Demma (16:38):
Got it. Cool. So if you could fast forward five years from now and everything that you guys are doing is working out and it’s, it’s building this never-ending culture at the school. What is different? What is the school look like? What does the vision look like if it’s fully like complete and obviously it’s going to be forever growing, but you know, if you could dream about a perfect campus, what would it look like if five years?
Jerell Maneja (17:02):
I think it will be, it’ll start off with a unified campus, all behind the same culture and vision where you see it. Not only during the lunch periods or Donna spirit days, but every minute that a students on campus, they feel connected. They feel included. They see their culture represented and they feel this is truly their second home. How we talk about how you ask a student to describe their school and how many times the students get to say to boring? Oh, it’s okay. And in the, I want them to change. I want them to see that this four year experience is a transformational experience for them because in the end, whatever we can give to them, that’s what they carry on to in their future. If we show them, we are in a campus where you are accepted, that they go out to the world and start accepting others for who they are.
Jerell Maneja (17:53):
If we show that mental wellness is a important thing, that it’s not about just running yourself to the ground, but you need to care for yourself. And we model that and we include as part our systems. Then as students got to go out to college career and they’re going to take care of theirselves, they’re not going to sacrifice their own well-being for this pipe dream. And so to me, I can, it’s one, that’s hardest part, but it’s one you just feel when you’re going on campus and you just feel, and you see students’ faces. This year I look at how many students are actually looking up, actively looking for people to say hello, to and say, hi, give eye contact versus what we see today. People on their phones, people head down just thinking, okay, let me just make it to my first period. I want that to change. I want people to be excited to be on campus. You are excited to go to place because you feel like you belong. You feel like this is where you need to be.
Sam Demma (18:45):
Ah, I love that. And yeah, it comes back to this idea of feeling like it’s a health, like it’s home. Like you want the school to feel like home. Right? You treat everything with respect in your health. So hopefully, and the people that are in it. So, you know, you do the same at school. I think that’s really cool. I’m not a rapper. I don’t know why that rhyme, but it’s kind of funny. This is amazing. So did you have a what do you call it? Like did you have events that you have run in the past? And I know last year was virtual, so it might be a little bit different, but if you have been a part of events at the school that have occurred that have had a big impact on the students, you know, sometimes we, we see and we hear about the impact that school culture has on our kids and our staff.
Sam Demma (19:30):
Right? Cause there are some great news stories that come out and, you know, a kid might come up to you and tell you, you know, draw, this really helped me. Thank you so much for putting this together. Thank you to all the students and everyone who put it together. Other times you don’t hear about it. Right. But, but five years later, a kid comes back and says, oh, Jerell. When you said that thing, it changed my life. And when you, when we did that event, it changed my life. And, and you’re like, what event? You don’t even remember, it’s so long ago. Right. And both of those experiences are true, but I’m wondering if you can share any stories that come to mind of how culture has impacted students on campus. And if any of those come to mind and there’s very serious, you could change your name and if not, that’s okay too. Cause I I’m putting you on the spot
Jerell Maneja (20:07):
For sure. Oh man, we,we’ve run so many events and rather than go through the counter, I feel I’m just going to rely on. So at the end of the semester, I asked my students to think about what is the most impactful event that they experienced. And, you know, we could talk about rallies and just the different way we did rallies. Last year we would normally do an end-of-the-year rally it’s it was in a weird environment, not the most participating, not the most well-received. And so we said, let’s change it. Especially since it’s virtual, let’s do a 20 minutes show where everyone gets the play, everyone gets to participate and you can find that on our YouTube channel. And it’s great because everyone feels like they’re a part of the rally rather than just watching. But to be honest with you, it was never a big, it was rarely a big event that was the most impactful for this group.
Jerell Maneja (20:54):
It was actually some of the smallest initiatives that seems so simple. But to them it meant the world, our current ASP president, when he was a sophomore, he realized there was a problem with that lunch where so many students were sitting by themselves. And so what he devised was a lunch buddy program. Everyone in the organization would sign up for a date where their job is to go around and find someone who’s just sitting by themselves and just say hello, sit down, get to know them if they are well-received and just reconnect with them. And for nearly 25% students, 25% of students, it was life-changing for them. That was their biggest moment compared to the rallies all the spirit weeks. That was the key mark moment for them because they felt like they made a direct impact with one student. And that alone was enough for them because we worked so hard to do rallies for 3,200 students.
Jerell Maneja (21:48):
We’re like, God, that’s over. But this is a case where it’s truly a, one-on-one where they get to see immediate results. And then for another group, it was, we decided we have like kind of an advisory period. And we invited our English learner teacher to have their group of newcomers, brand new to the country to just hang out with the leadership students, no prompt, just go talk. And that alone made a huge difference to us because these are students that are mainstream students, mainstream students never get to see because are different classes, almost a different part of the campus. But here they are in one room of student leaders who are really trying to change the world and individuals who are brand new to the country and they are talking with each other about cartoons, about video games. You never re your my role is to facilitate and just stand back and hope and cross a fierce. It works and you can see the demeanor change. It becomes so impactful and all it was was just the invitation to go talk in a classroom. And, you know, it’s, it’s unreal how some of the smallest initiatives can create the biggest impact on both sides, not only for the campus, but for the student leaders who get to really experience it. And so that’s the mantra we talked about. It’s not about how much time it takes, how much money we spend, but really who are we trying to impact and how can we measure it? Hmm.
Sam Demma (23:22):
I love that. Okay. Back to the OKR objective key results. Yeah. I’m right back to that. Okay. That’s awesome. So cool. So cool. And you’ve been teaching for nine years. There might be some educators listening right now who are in their first year or even second year of teaching. And, you know, they might be a little nervous still knowing the first couple of years of education, even, you know, your whole career. It’s it can be a tough job at certain, certain times. It’s not for all people. It’s a tough calling. But you’ve been through it now for nine years, maybe nine, more than someone else who’s listening. And if you could go back in time and speak to DRL at year one, knowing what you know now and gone through the experiences you’ve been through, what advice would you give your younger self or another educator? Who’s just starting out listening.
Jerell Maneja (24:09):
I think it’s not being afraid to remind yourself what you care about, what you value and allowing that to drive your work. It’s very easy. When I came in the science department, you, you want to impress people. You want that tenure, you want that job security and you want to fit in with your department. And so you get, you get all these lessons too. Like, this is how we do it and you just fall and you just follow suit. And it’s important to think about, look at the school as a whole and look at the students and realizing this is not about you being the Sage on the stage that needs to know everything. It’s. This is you. Who’s leading a group of young individuals who are depending on you to give them a classroom experience that they need to not only learn but to grow.
Jerell Maneja (24:57):
And so the advice I give myself is not to be afraid to find your own path early on, and to really change some of those old traditions. It’s so hard to be a teacher in this day and age, because for like in my case, I didn’t have a good model in high school. We don’t have a lot of those good models. And so yet we see what research shows is. Good practice. It’s really trusting yourself that what you experienced the past is doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to be what you do in your own future. And the moment that I changed what science teaching looks like for me was the moment I found my stride because it made me realize this is, it doesn’t matter how I teach it, all that embarrasses. How are students learning? Hmm.
Sam Demma (25:42):
That’s so cool. When you mentioned changing the way you taught science, what did that look like? Very quickly?
Jerell Maneja (25:47):
Yeah. you know, when I, when I go through science, it’s true. You can imagine, what do you remember doing in school? Oh, sometimes we do it lectures. Sometimes we do this lab where you follow these instructions and you just try to get the entire results. And then you take some tests very rarely, but then work. Luckily working in science, I realized that’s not the case. It’s a lot of exploration and guessing and trying to figure out how am I going to do this problem? And so I luckily went to this conference that taught me about argument based inquiry, where ultimately you give a student a challenging question, you give them the tools and you say, good luck. I’m here to help you, but you need to find the answer. And so you don’t tell them how to use a tool. One of my favorite labs I did was looking at bird migration patterns due to climate change.
Jerell Maneja (26:39):
I mean, in my day, we would be learning about the carbon cycle. Here’s what climate change is. And look at. What’s happened in this, in the past. This article that’s already been studied in this lab. What I do is I tell them, look at this birding website that avid birder submits. Anytime they see a bird and you can go look in the history the last 10 years and see where these birds are spotted and their job. The challenge question is how has bird migration change due to climate change? Tough question that is still being researched. There’s article, research articles being done right now about it. And now you’re having students learn how to use this tool and figure out their own way to study it. They have to figure out how do I show climate change? How do I look at bird migration using this tool?
Jerell Maneja (27:26):
And how can I put those two pieces together? How do I describe it? It is, it is the best to see your students struggling even more, but that’s finally have that aha moment. And when they don’t, that’s where I found my stress as an educator. My job as educators is not to just tell them, this is how the world works. It’s Hey, here’s some ideas which one of these do you think works for you? And I carry that mentality all the way to my work here as an ASB director in my first year, I said, okay, here’s all the things that was done in the past. You’re going to do this. You’re going to do this. And it didn’t vibe well with me because the students aren’t learning to be leaders. They’re learning to be followers of what I want. So since a year and a half ago, right on the same semester of pandemic story, I said, everyone, you’re going to do a project. It’s your call? What it is, I’ll give you a FIM, but you decide what this campus needs. And that’s where the, the ASIS, the advisory period English learner talk came up. The lunch buddy program got created. We have a brand new week called start with hello week where the job is getting everyone on campus, say hello with each other. That’s where real magic happens because now it’s not one brain dictating the world. It’s my 90 students who get to really impact school culture.
Sam Demma (28:46):
That’s awesome. I love it, man. It’s so cool. It’s so interesting to hear about, and I can’t wait to see what the culture looks like in five years, and I’m sure by then you’ll have new OKRs and new goals that you’re working on, but it’s definitely exciting to hear your passion for this role. I think you have to be a really passionate person to be in the position you’re in. And you know, if someone’s listening and they’re really inspired by anything you’ve shared, or might have a question for you, a fellow educator from around the world what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you, reach out and set up a chat?
Jerell Maneja (29:16):
I invite them to email me. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org. Email me. Connect with me. Being the activities director is a tough job because there’s only of you on every campus and sometimes they can be a lonely island, but, the more we connect with individuals like at CADA was another reason that drove me to be in this role because I realized how much power and influence I can have in this position. And so if there are others that I can work with, I’m not here to act as the master of this. I’m still figuring this out. This might hopefully again, first, the full year, hopefully, cross my fingers up. In-person actually as director and I can use all the help I can get. Oh, I love collaborating. It’s the only way we can get through all of this.
Sam Demma (30:15):
Awesome. Jerell, thank you so much again for coming on. The show has been a pleasure. Keep up the great work.
Jerell Maneja (30:20):
We’ll talk soon. Thank you so much.
Sam Demma (30:23):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest and amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www dot high-performing educator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not feel your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you in the next episode.
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