The following is a submission from the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

Nefertari Perez-Figueroa is a senior at the Project-Based Learning (PBL) Pathway at Santa Monica High School (Samohi). Her creativity and love for fashion design have fueled her transformative educational journey and success within PBL.

Perez-Figueroa’s educational career began when she entered kindergarten as part of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s (SMMUSD) Dual Immersion program at Edison Language Academy. She then attended John Adams Middle School. However, it was PerezFigueroa’s enrollment in Samohi’s PBL Pathway that ignited her academic passion and set the stage for her future endeavors.

“My older sister, Isis Perez-Figueroa, was in the first graduating class of PBL,” said PerezFigueroa. “She told me about all the good things such as the learning through interest advisory period, constant field trips, supporting teachers and more. I ultimately chose to be a part of the PBL Pathway because of my sister’s great experience.”

Throughout her four-year journey within the PBL Pathway, Perez-Figueroa discovered her profound love for fashion and art, thanks to the pathway’s innovative Learning through Interest advisory period. This dedicated time allowed her to nurture her creativity, explore the realms of fashion design and forge meaningful connections within the industry.

“I feel that being part of the PBL Pathway set me up for success by being an incubator for my creativity and love for fashion. Having the Learning through Interest advisory time period, I was able to explore my interest in fashion and art,” said Perez-Figueroa. “This led me to learn new skills and delve into my interests. I was able to connect with the community of fashion designers and creative people through interviews, and a mentorship at The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM). With the encouragement of dual enrollment at PBL I participated in art and fashion SMC classes.”

Nefertari Perez-Figueroa Perez-Figueroa’s proudest academic achievement thus far came with her acceptance into FIDM’s Otis College of Design as a first-generation college student.

“The most impactful moment of my academic career has been getting accepted into Otis College of Design as a first-generation college student,” said Perez-Figueroa. “I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to attend college and over the past 12 academic years to have been able to have such a great education.”

Among the influential figures who shaped Perez-Figueroa’s academic journey is Jean Kaneko, whose mentorship and guidance motivated Perez-Figueroa to excel in her creativity.

“The most influential mentor and teacher has been Jean Kaneko because she pushed me to do better every time,” said Perez-Figueroa. “With her help I was able to explore my interests further and have structure in my creative projects. When she was in charge of the I-Studio I felt inspired to be creative.”

Perez-Figueroa plans to continue her academic and fashion career at FIDM’s Otis College of Design as a fashion major. Her journey from Samohi’s PBL Pathway to FIDM personifies the impact of project-based learning, highlighting SMMUSD’s commitment supporting all students in reaching their full capacity academically and becoming a thriving member of society.

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