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SCV Education Foundation honors teachers

Annual gathering pays tribute to the valley’s best educators from all districts

Posted: May 1, 2009 10:12 p.m.
Updated: May 2, 2009 6:00 a.m.

Charles Helmers Elementary School teacher Dobbin Farrell, far right, waves to her friends and family as she stands with other teachers from the Saugus Union School District who were honored during the Teacher Tribute ceremony at the College of the Canyons Performing Arts Center on Thursday evening.

 
Students, teachers, families, principals and friends gathered at the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center to honor more than 50 teachers from five Santa Clarita Valley school districts during the SCV Education Foundation's annual Teacher Tribute.

As each of the 54 teachers crossed the stage at the College of the Canyons facility to the sound of applause and cheers, their superintendents praised them for their contributions and for their impact on student education.

Teachers were rewarded with gift bags and plaques given out by district administrators.

The tribute, which marked its 25th anniversary, also provided scholarships to graduating high school seniors Rachel Kempler, Katie Wirtz and Brittany Bernstein, all planning to go into the education field.

The scholarship program was renamed Thursday for Jim Backer, president of the Education Foundation, as a salute to his dedication to local school districts.

The SCV Education Foundation began as an education committee for the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce in 1984 to develop partnerships between local businesses and public schools. The foundation has since evolved to become a non-profit organization focused on supporting education through various programs.

In between awards for teachers from the Newhall, Sulphur Springs, Saugus Union, Castaic Union and William S. Hart Union High school districts, various speakers and performers took the stage to offer their thanks to local educators.

Santa Clarita Valley students expressed their appreciation to teachers through song and video presentations chronicling the award-winning teachers in the classroom.

Rebecca Wessel, a second-grade teacher at Old Orchard Elementary School, shared the lessons she's learned and her hope to inspire students.

"Teaching, like parenting, is a truly humbling experience," she said.

"When I look into (students') eyes, I see the measure of my own capacity as a human being," said Wessel, who is in her seventh year of teaching.

Becky Mastrobuono, currently Saugus Union School District's teacher of the year, used examples from her colleagues at Rosedell Elementary School to explain why teachers teach.

"I teach because it gives me the opportunity to be an example of integrity," she said.

As much as teachers impact students, Mastrobuono shared how students impact her through a video presentation that showed her students in the classroom.

"The students I've had an honor to meet have made a huge difference in my life," she said.

Speaker Tony Becerra spoke about how education affected his life growing up in a rough Long Beach neighborhood in which gang violence was common.

While Becerra loved learning, he hated school because "school wasn't made for me," he told the audience.

After years of struggling in the classroom and transferring from school to school, Becerra found a connection to a high-school English teacher.

"I saw this teacher that was bubbly and perky and had a Starbucks in each hand and wouldn't stop," he recalled, adding that it wasn't something he was used to.

In the four years, the teacher never gave Becerra a referral for misbehaving, opting instead to guide him and listen to his problems, he said.

The connection to his teacher changed his views on teachers and how they impact students.

"I always thought that amazing teachers were like superheroes," he said, later adding, "An amazing teacher is just someone that's there every single day for you."

He was the first in his family to graduate from high school and go to college, he said.

He found acceptance at school by writing stories with his classmates about their lives. The stories were published in "The Freedom Writers Diary." The book inspired the movie, "Freedom Writers."

Becerra now works for the Freedom Writers Foundation, speaking to audiences across the country and working in the classroom with students in Southern California.

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