There are more than 7,900 teachers educating about 169,000 students in this area, according to the county Office of Education. "To recognize their efforts and bring much-deserved honor to the teaching profession," participating school districts recently named their Teacher of the Year representatives.
From East County -- ranging from Pittsburg to Byron -- seven instructors were honored. They are Erin Clark, Lloyd Cornwell, Lois Laza, Melanie Long, Shannon Morton, Jeanne Turner and Miranda Viechec-Lingbaoan.
Erin Clark, Sutter Elementary, Antioch, first grade:
"This is a moment in my career that I will cherish. I couldn't be more ecstatic and grateful," Clark said.
A teacher for 15 years, Clark said she loves giving her students the gift of reading. "There is no better feeling for me than having a child read a book and proclaim out loud, 'I am a reader!' I feel so fortunate to be in a position where I can impact a child's life in such a profound way."
One of her most poignant career memories involved her effort with a second-language learner who needed intense reading intervention.
"Through hard work and confidence building, (he) finally broke through and read a book he had been practicing. ... It brought tears to my eyes. I will never forget the pride and delight on his face.
"That's when I realized the impact good teaching and hard work has on the lives of students. I am so glad it happened to me so early in my career that I can celebrate it even now when this moment happens over and over again."
Paula McEvoy, principal, said, "Erin's talents as a teacher are most obviously seen in the faces of her students. The amount of rigor, the relevance she creates for them with real-life interactions, and the relationships she has developed over the years are augmented by her kindness and hard work. Erin is a gem among stars and sets the standard for education."
Lloyd Cornwell, Liberty High, Brentwood, 9th- through 12th-grades, art:
"I am greatly appreciative of this distinction. ... It also made me realize that my work does get noticed beyond the four walls of a classroom."
Cornwell said he enjoys student reaction "to new concepts that they are learning ... The best part is when (the students) express where they saw something that they learned from a movie, actual monument in San Francisco and so on."
A teacher for more than 17 years, Cornwell said a favorite moment is his Paris trip with a group of students. "As we were literally running through the Louvre, one of my art history students stopped and said: 'I have to stop and absorb this painting because it was my favorite that we studied in class.' It was Gericault's Raft of the Medusa, which is a 24-foot wide painting depicting a horrific historical event about a ship wreck and the survival of these people. We stayed for 10 minutes; the expression of admiration on his face (was) one of the most rewarding experiences."
Said principal Patrick Walsh: "(This) outstanding teacher is capable of inspiring all types of students. He is an amazing yearbook adviser, guiding students each year to produce award-winning yearbooks that touch the lives of all of our students. He's a forward-thinking educator; a dedicated professional in every sense of the word."
Lois Laza, Knightsen Elementary, 4th- through 6th-grades, science and algebra:
"It's quite an honor to have your colleagues recognize you for your dedication and achievements," Laza said, adding that she enjoys working with children, "expanding their knowledge and helping them along the way to becoming responsible, contributing adults."
During her 10 years at this school, she is "always moved when a struggling student makes huge strides. It is a goal of mine to teach them required content as well as strategies for studying and retaining the material."
She just recently had such a moment when a student who had never passed one of her science tests earned an A on a test. "He actually was so moved by his achievement that happy tears streamed down his face, and the entire class started applauding him. Those are the moments that keep me in this profession."
Principal Theresa Estrada said, "Students love her. She definitely deserves this. She's gotten the kids involved in science and done a lot to promote math."
Melanie Long, Delta Vista Middle, Oakley, 6th-grade language arts and social studies:
"I'm still shocked about winning this honor for my district. There were so many phenomenal teachers from Oakley, ... I had never in a million years expected to be selected," Long said.
With nine years at Delta Vista, she said "hands down, the best thing about teaching is getting to walk on the school campus each day. I simply thrive on the educational setting: the people, the learning, the possibilities and the community."
One of her favorite memories? "A particularly rambunctious group of three boys shared with me a prank they pulled on their parents. I didn't believe (their story), and finally accepted their challenge to repeat the experiment on me. A few weeks later, as promised, they brought in the pristine glass jar. In front of the whole class, I opened the jar and immediately gagged. The class erupted in laughter and these boys had sweet victory. That day, I learned ... laughter belongs in a classroom, challenge your students and let them challenge you, and never be ashamed to admit you were wrong."
Greg Hetric, principal, said, "(She) has transformed her teaching style and the strategies to best meet the needs of her students. She has a style and approach to her delivery that daily gets the best out of her students academically, as well as behaviorally. ... She has raised the bar, leads by example and is a true team player."
Shannon Morton, Brentwood Elementary, second grade:
"(This) is a true honor. ... I am always amazed by the exceptional teaching that goes on at Brentwood School. My own children have benefited."
In her 11th year at this school, she said her favorite aspect of teaching is "watching my students reach their goals -- big and small. ... As I get to know the children and their families, we make connections, have fun through learning and create relationships that sometimes last well beyond second grade.
"Children are such a true gift in life. Their exuberance and wonder are exhilarating."
She said one of her best memories is the Kindness Project, a unit where second-graders read stories about kindness, wrote about it and found examples of kindness.
Morton shared that project's idea and incorporated it into the district's anti-bullying campaign, along with morphing it into an annual activity for Kids Against Hunger, a national nonprofit organization.
"Shannon is the 'triple threat' of education (great teacher, great colleague and great leader)," said Guy Rohlfs, principal. "She is truly about students first, in her words and her actions. She makes (our school) a better place to be. We are extremely fortunate to have her."
Jeanne Turner, Excelsior Middle School, Byron, sixth-grade language arts and history:
"I am humbled to be considered one of the top teachers. ... I feel I learn from all of my co-workers daily," she said.
She said she loves teaching and that the best part is "sharing my passion for learning with my students. I love sharing new perceptions and ideas with students, who are just discovering how big the world really is."
One of her favorite school memories is when a student told her: 'You know, Mrs. Turner, I'm not a reader but I really liked that book we read. I think I'm going to read the sequel. Don't tell anyone, OK?'
"Hooking 11- and 12-year-olds on reading can be a daunting task, but the satisfaction is phenomenal."
Kelly Basmagian, principal, said that Turner "is one of the first to arrive and one of the last to leave. One of the attributes I love is how she advocates for all students to be well-rounded. She emphasizes the importance of incorporating visual and performing arts, art class and music into the student's school day. I am amazed how these programs have positively impacted students, school culture and climate.
"What impresses me most is the way she establishes meaningful relationships with her students. She learns about their interests and experiences outside of school, and then infuses that information into her lessons."
Miranda Viechec-Lingbaoan, Heights Elementary, Pittsburg, fourth grade:
"I feel very honored to have been chosen ... It is refreshing to know my colleagues and district staff see the many positives present in the profession."
Her favorite aspect of teaching is exposing students to the "wonders of the world, introducing them to information and new concepts. I love seeing the fascination and wonder in their eyes and their yearning for knowledge."
In her five years, a memory that lives on is about a then-new student whose parents were divorcing. "She was having a very difficult time ... and had a mind set to be defiant. I (asked) her to read in class. 'No, I hate reading. No one can make me like reading,' she responded. I worked to establish a rapport; we read a lot and took frequent (library) trips. One day she walked into class very ecstatic, ranting about a book. ... I said: 'This from the girl who hates reading.' She got the biggest smile. ... She and I knew the journey we had taken, and I knew I had made a difference in her life."
Principal Karen Clark said Viechec-Lingbaoan's class instruction is often used as a model for others. ... She tutors 4th- and 5th-grade students after school three days a week in an effort to boost our below-basic students. She is always willing to help where needed and is a fabulous asset to Heights."
Later this month, the county Office of Education will announce the Teacher of the Year finalists. For more information about this, call 925-942-3429 or visit www.cocoschools.org.
Editor's note: Photos of Melanie Long and Miranda Viechec-Lingbaoan were note available at press time,
If you have school news to share, contact Trine Gallegos at firstname.lastname@example.org.