By Kathy Chouteau
Amid the backdrop of the pandemic, four teachers and 10 scholarship-earning students from the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) were honored last week for rising up and prevailing over the most challenging of circumstances.
On Thursday, May 4, the Ed Fund, tasked with mobilizing resources to help WCCUSD students succeed in college, career, and life, recognized teachers Christina Ferry of DeJean Middle School, Molly Wahl of Madera Elementary and Carlo Juntilla and Laura Garriguez of Richmond High School as Teaching Excellence Award winners at its virtual “Soaring to Excellence” celebration, sponsored by Chevron Richmond, WCCUSD, Chamberlin Education Foundation, Travis Credit Union and Lozano & Smith.
Students honored during the ceremony included Catherine Rojo of El Cerrito High (Ed Fund West Scholarship); Luis Carillo of Richmond High and Valerie Ambriz Castro of Kennedy High (STEM Scholarship); Suchita Khanal and Laiba Noor, both of El Cerrito High (Schroeder Family Foundation Scholarship); Mara Bravo-Santos of El Cerrito High (ECHS Higher Education Scholarship); Naja Ji Jaga of Middle College High and Madison Weller of DeAnza High (Contra Costa Chorale Vocal Music Studies Scholarship); and Stephanie Garcia-Avila and Lizbeth Zaragoza Ponce of Richmond High, (Freggarrio Family Scholarship).
The Soaring to Excellence celebration featured an inspiring performance by Richmond poet laureate Ciera-Jevae “Cici” Gordon, who shared her work For Wave Makers—which honored the work of students throughout the Bay Area—and which the poet delivered to the audience in both spoken word and through song. The Pinole Valley High School Concert Choir also delivered a beautiful rendition of Lift Every Voice and Sing.
The teachers and students are reminders of “how much our communities have to offer,” said Jesus Galindo, a teacher at Lincoln Elementary, recipient of the 2020 Teaching Excellence Award, and host of Soaring to Excellence.
Added Ed Fund Executive Director Jasmine Jones, “No one could have imagined how drastically the pandemic would change all of our lives. Yet, here we are adjusting to the crisis that was presented before us.”
During the pandemic, the Ed Fund raised more than $1.7 million in COVID-19 relief, Jones said. The Fund’s critical related work has included assisting families whose income was decimated by the pandemic, addressing the digital divide and providing access to technology for distance learning.
Outgoing WCCUSD Superintendent Matthew Duffy, who is set to leave the district after five years, praised the Ed Fund leadership for going “above and beyond….constantly seeking philanthropy partnership funds, anything you can do to support the teachers and the students in our district.”
“And I just want to say a personal thank you for that—it’s been amazing,” said Duffy.
Galindo recognized Duffy as the superintendent “who is not afraid to interact with students, not afraid to provide teachers with feedback—he’s given me feedback.”
“And I think I speak on behalf of a lot of stakeholders, a lot of community members, when I say thank you Superintendent Duffy for all you’ve done for our community, for all you’ve done for our students—I’m immensely grateful,” said Galindo.
WCCUSD’s next superintendent, Dr. Kenneth “Chris” Hurst, Sr., starts in his role on May 17.
Want to watch the hourlong Soaring to Excellence event? Check out the recording here. Learn more about the work of the Ed Fund here.