Editor's note: This is the first in a series of stories on retiring teachers in East Contra Costa.

BRENTWOOD -- It's his first day of teaching, and if Rich Barrios wasn't nervous before, he is once he finds out his class is filled with the children of the superintendent, board members and about five veteran district teachers.

"I was so scared," he said of that debut day. "Now, I'm not so sure how the first day was going to go, let alone my first year. As it turns out, it was a great year and a great way to start my career."

Barrios, 62, is reflecting upon that big day as another milestone moment is about to hit: his retirement.

The Bristow Middle School teacher is saying goodbye to his career of 39 years, all of which has been in the Brentwood Union School District.

His first brush with education was as an instructional aide and coach while he finished his credential program. Then he hit the ground running, teaching sixth grade at Edna Hill Middle to that pressure-packed class.

He taught there for 18 years before moving to Bristow when it opened in 1994.

He'll finish out his career as a physical education teacher who also coaches several sports at the school. Over the years, he has also taught math. It's really no surprise that Barrios fell into the education field.

"My biggest role models growing up were teachers," he said. "I had always thought I wanted to teach and impact lives like mine was. The year that I got to student teach and do some coaching really got me hooked. There was no turning back for me."

His friendly style has brought much joy to students and staff alike.

Said colleague Greg Chappel: "We have had a special connection for a long time. We have both coached at Liberty and taught at Edna Hill and Bristow for the past 35 years. During that time, we have touched a lot of lives, but Rich has been the special one.

"He has always known what to say to students who are troubled. He is able to console them and make them feel better about themselves. The Brentwood Union School District and I are going to miss a great man."

Principal Russ Cornell concurs: "Rich is the glue that brings the staff together to go above and beyond for the students at Bristow -- to go that extra mile."

Ashlyn Drewry, a sixth-grader, said she loves "everything about him. He is easy to talk to ... You feel you have known him your whole life."

This comes from a student and basketball player who just met Barrios late last summer.

Barrios knows he's going to miss his time with the students the most.

"Middle school is an age that you either love or hate, and I have always really loved being around this age. The students really keep you going and on your toes. I will really miss them saying, 'Hey B,' which is what everyone calls me ... I will also really miss the staff at Bristow. I have made many great friends over the years and hope to never lose touch."

In the meantime, Barrios has plans to "enjoy life." He's going to work on his golf game and spend more time with his grandchildren and "get away to Arnold whenever I can."

He also hopes to continue his life as a coach "if the opportunity presents itself and visit ball parks across the country."

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