Michelle Maltais Gurdal, ‘86: Writing Her WayThe Cuevas Family: Careful PlanningThe James Family: 5 Reasons Why We Love PVSAlumni Newsletter: Zach Jenkins ’17 Feature

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.”

Over ten years ago, my wife and I scoured the Coachella valley looking for the best Pre-k program for our then four-year-old son. Having a B.A. in Child Development with an emphasis in Early Childhood Education, I quickly discovered Palm Valley School had no equal in the valley. Every component of the program from play and pretend to read alouds and community outings were exactly what children in a Pre-Kindergarten program needed.

    The research started again before Kindergarten only to discover that Palm Valley School’s emphasis on the whole child as a learner far outweighed the basic reading and mathematics as a focused approach taken by every other elementary school in the Coachella Valley. Palm Valley School understands the value of art, music, technology, and languages beyond English. Add to that, the close-knit community in the Lower School. To this day, we still greet our son’s Lower School teachers with a warm embrace and questions about one another’s families.

    Being a middle school teacher of almost twenty years allowed for our family’s full confidence in keeping our son at Palm Valley School. The ease in making the decision was not in any way because other middle schools are less than competent, but rather because Palm Valley students learn in middle school what most high school students don’t learn until their Junior or Senior years. With a challenging curriculum as such, how could we not select Palm Valley?

    Here we are, ten years later, with the choice of a big, traditional high school experience for our son, or a Palm Valley experience. After ten years of attending Palm Valley School commencement ceremonies, we are convinced. We have witnessed students who would never in their lives have had the confidence to perform on stage, or play a varsity sport, or take numerous AP exams all while challenging themselves academically. Here at Palm Valley School, students do that every single year.

    Palm Valley graduates move forward confident and strong. Each graduating class proud of their number of college acceptances, their nationally recognized monologue competitors, their Eagle Scout representatives and their strong bonds with one another.

    Four years from now, we look forward to the day our son Elijah walks down from that stage and embraces us as he takes his very last recess during his commencement ceremony in 2022.

-Mayra Rodriguez, Rufino & Elijah Cuevas

For more PVS Testimonials, click here.

Palm Valley has been a wonderful experience for my family. My daughter, a happy and bright little girl in her fourth year at Palm Valley, loves the school. I also love PVS for a number of reasons.

The first reason is the teachers. They are caring, capable, and committed. Most, if not all, have advanced degrees, bring rich experiences to the classrooms, and pay attention to the details. Each of my daughter's teachers has been caring, empowering, and made sure each and every student receives what he or she needs. For example, during the last two school years, both of my daughter's teachers, without being prompted, volunteered to stay late a few afternoons a week to tutor my daughter through some tough spots.Stone Family

A second reason I am a fan of PVS is the administration. The administration team is made up of well-educated, and caring professionals. They take time to address issues, provide updates, and ensure each of the kids receive what that individual student needs to thrive.  In my case, the staff has been especially patient with my family situation and has kept a loving eye out over my daughter. I can't tell you how much this means.  The administration's care has truly been a blessing. They each interact with my daughter in a way that shows they are good-hearted, ethical individuals who take pride in what they do. They are great influences.

Small class sizes and the quality of resources available to my daughter brings me to reason number three. There are a total of nine students in my daughter's classroom.  She can't help but get one-on-one time and attention. This would not be possible if she were attending a school with 30 or 40 students per classroom. There are many enrichment programs such as technology, robotics, music, physical education, language, and a robust arts program. PVS also values critical thinking and reasoning. They begin to introduce the rigors of college-level education as the students advance in their PVS education. I watch the graduating seniors each year and each year, they are accepted into a number of the nation's top universities with significant scholarship offers. I want this for my daughter.

Fourth is the other parents. The majority of the parents I've met are accomplished professionals from a variety of fields who care about their children's education. Please know I have a number of friends who are similarly impressive people and professionals. These friends care deeply about their child and chose to send their kids to public school. That works for them, and I am confident their kids are going to do incredible in life.   That being said, I like knowing that when my daughter makes friends at school and spends time with these friends outside of school, there is a high likelihood that the parents of the other kids similarly value academics, achievement, and integrity.

Lastly, my daughter has made a number of great friends. The kids in her classes are bright, good-hearted, and come from an ethnically diverse background.  Great kids, great parents, and enriching experiences - all good things. We could not be happier with all Palm Valley has provided to us so far and I am excited to see my daughter continue to learn, grow, and make new accomplishments during her time here.

-Stone, Laura and Sierra James

For more PVS Testimonials, click here.

Zach Jenkins ‘17, a Palm Valley “lifer” who now attends Lake Forest College (Class of 2021), offers insights based on lessons imparted after his first school year away from the desert.


Make new friends: At Palm Valley, you know everyone and you’re all friends. When you get to college, you have to learn to build a new group of friends. It was different, but the nice thing about going to college, especially during freshman year, is that everyone else is also confused and an outsider. Everyone’s looking for someone else to hold on to, which makes making friends easier. Living on campus and with your peers all the time, you get close to a lot of people quickly. Everyone’s in the same boat, trying to figure out what type of person you’re going to be in college.

But keep the old: Someone set up a Snapchat group that the entire class is on. We all chat, send stuff back and forth that relates to something we did in high school. If we ran into each other, we’d post a picture and it would start up a conversation. We have tons of inside jokes, like about things Ms. Steinman would say that we’d all crack up about.

The Winds of Winter: Most everyone wants to get out of the desert heat. I was in a small group who was okay with the palm trees and the 102 degrees. I ended up in the Midwest, where the winters are harsh. Going from the desert to Illinois was something else. It is so cold. I’d never owned a snow jacket before. I recommend getting a good jacket. You can get away with hiking shoes rather than snow boots, but the jacket is the most important thing. Also, it’s a pain, in general, to get going when you have an early class; I can’t imagine doing that during the winter. The weather app on your phone -- check it religiously and don’t trust it at all. Just subtract ten degrees; that’s how it feels.

Money, money, money:  I picked my college for the scholarships it offered. That was the main reason behind it. It is nice to know my student debt is going to be small, as opposed to a heavy burden. I really do appreciate that Palm Valley got me so geared toward that.  I felt like it was the right decision, that Mr. Hewitt had helped steer me to the colleges that were right for me. There was really no going wrong with any of my choices. Looking back at my freshman year, I had a great first year of college and that’s something that a lot of Palm Valley students may not realize -- college is going to be a lot of fun.

Know thyself: I’ve settled on a business major. I wasn’t sure going into college. I started undeclared. My entire family is into business. I enjoy it. Others found new passions. David Kocen, a PVS classmate of mine, he’s a triple-major now.

Surviving dorm life: I’m very fortunate - I got a position as a resident advisor for next year, so I’ll be living on campus again in a freshman dorm. Have a snack drawer. Use shower shoes. Clif Bars - they’re a miracle food. Be smart and eat a Clif Bar. Get a good coat. Get involved. That’s general for all colleges and that’s how you meet people. Follow the stuff you were interested in at Palm Valley because it carries over to college. I got involved in student government, which was really nice. It’s a passion of mine and I didn’t realize it until Palm Valley. I picked up model U.N. again, too.

You were right: I hate to admit it, and I’d never actually admit it to her, but Ms. Steinman made us write a 15-page paper at the end of AP Government which all the seniors hated so much, but her style and helping us to set up that entire paper was super-useful for college. In other ways, because I have more choices, I’ve been doing my absolute best to avoid STEM. As a business major, I can avoid chemistry and biology. One thing that Mr. Hewitt explained, when we were all hanging out in his office one day, was about how you can change your personality and be a little more expressive when you go to college. It’s true.

Stay tuned for the full Alumni Newsletter, coming Fall 2018. To receive this newsletter, update your information on our alumni form.