Wooden leaves a legacy

Mariners Elementary School takes John Wooden's famous Pyramid of Success to heart.

June 11, 2010|By Tom Ragan

“Make every day a masterpiece.”

It’s one of the many sayings by the late coach John Wooden of UCLA.

Pat McLaughlin, a teacher at Mariners Elementary in Newport Beach, tries to follow the philosophy every day.

She also tries to encourage her third-grade class to embrace the 15 building blocks of Wooden’s famous Pyramid of Success, something that’s long caught fire within the corridors of the 750-student school on Irvine Avenue.

If you haven’t heard about them, the blocks, which ultimately form a pyramid, contain character traits that run the gamut from “action” to “friendship” to “determination” to “alertness” to “self-control.”

The cornerstones — the end blocks that give the pyramid its true strength and foundation — are “hard work” and “enthusiasm.”

While Catholic schools incorporate the teachings of Jesus Christ into the curriculum and borrow from the Bible, sometimes to no avail or great success, there are a few public schools in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District that have embraced the philosophy of Wooden, who died last week at the age of 99.


It all started seven years ago one late May evening on a Friday. McLaughlin had just finished Wooden’s 28-page children’s masterpiece, “Inch and Miles: The Journey to Success,” and thought how wonderful it would be to get his permission to introduce it at Mariners.

Wooden, of course, gave the go-ahead and since that day, the pyramid’s philosophy is in the back of just about every child’s head.

It’s hard to avoid, after all. If the blocks aren’t painted on the blacktop in bright colors, they’re put up on the walls inside classrooms or handed out in the form of congratulatory carbon-copy slips to students who are “caught” doing something wonderfully in accordance with the pyramid.

But they’re not doled out too often, for that would be an overkill and lessen the impact of having received what essentially amounts to a great big gold star of years past. Or a smiley face. Or a huge A+ on the report card.

“I think there is a need for children to have values in their lives and our school has embraced that,” says McLaughlin, who’s been teaching at the elementary school for nearly two decades and knows, as much as anybody, what it takes to inspire a student.

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