Michelle Maltais Gurdal, ‘86: Writing Her Way

Michelle Maltais Gurdal remembers well her first day at Palm Valley School. With her English professor mother distracted as the morning bell rang, the intrepid four and a half year old made her own way across the campus in search of her class. “I saw the playground, so I knew I must be in the right place,” Maltais Gurdal recalled. “A couple of teachers directed me to Kindergarten, where I was welcomed so warmly by Mrs. Null. To this day, it’s a warm, indelible memory, walking into that Kindergarten room, seeing a bunch of faces I had never met before, but knowing this was my community.” It would remain so for the next nine years as she and many classmates advanced together.

At Palm Valley School, Maltais Gurdal would regularly start each day greeted by a friendly face. “Millie Lynch drove the bus I rode for nine years and she was as much a part of my daily experience and my Palm Valley family as any of my teachers,” stated Maltais Gurdal. “She was a teacher for me, too. She was there for a long time and at the time, there wasn’t a great deal of diversity among the student body or among the faculty, but she was one person I could relate to daily who looked like me.”

Her four older Wade cousins who had attended PVS made the school the top choice for Maltais Gurdal when she started her educational journey. Maltais Gurdal felt well-prepared to face the larger world once she had completed eighth grade. “Palm Valley was a nurturing community that was safe to explore,” Maltais Gurdal said. “I felt confident in who I had become with the help of my class and the teachers who had become not just teachers, but mentors.”

Mr. Schutz and Mr. Roop were among those mentors for a student who liked computers early on. Latin classes with Mr. McGowan would prove useful for years to come when puzzling out unfamiliar words. Music teacher Mrs. Uhls broadened the horizons of all her students by taking them to perform in and out of the desert community, while a variety of English teachers at PVS nurtured the love of literature which her own mother had instilled in Maltais Gurdal. By her own example of serving for years on the Board of Trustees, Dr. Joyce Wade-Maltais also impressed upon her daughter the importance of giving back to the community.

“We were not a wealthy family and we were fortunate to receive financial aid, but my mom was an educator and she donated time, knowledge, and guidance to the school,” Maltais Gurdal said.

Now a mother to Gabrielle, age 5, and Christopher, age 7, Maltais Gurdal lives in Los Angeles. After a 20-year stint at the Los Angeles Times, she is now the National Consumer Editor for USA Today.  “As a journalist, my main focus is to enlighten, educate and represent the voices of the community of readers that we have and hope to reach,” stated Maltais Gurdal. “Particularly as consumer editor, my focus is providing information to help navigate lives in the best possible way. We hold proof and accountability as two of our missions.”

On a more personal note, she and her husband Rodney prioritize for their children’s schooling finding a learning community similar to the one which shaped her. “The things I value as a parent now, it all comes back to elements that were important to me as a student at Palm Valley,” said Maltais Gurdal. “It was the academic rigor, but also the chance to try, to learn something in a new way.”