Just around a year ago, I was honored to be informed that Downey Unified School District Board member (and current board president) Martha Sodetani had mentioned me and my work with the Downey Patriot in her comments during a School Board meeting.
As humbling as that was, I must give credit where credit is due.
Through my time writing for the Patriot, one of the things I’ve come to realize is how extremely fortunate Downey students are. Don’t get me wrong, I think I always knew how great we had it as kids in the DUSD. However, it’s admittedly a bit of an eye opener when you go out into the surrounding areas as a reporter.
I know every student probably has a handful of teachers that they say “made a huge and direct impact on their lives.”
Well, here’s a few of mine that I think about as I sit here typing at my desk.
I think of Steve Toay at Maude Price Elementary, who through his chorus program took a shy kid and pulled him out of his shell with song, dance, and performance. It was also Toay who took a frustrated college kid – disheartened with the world of journalism – and welcomed him into his classroom with open arms so that he could explore elementary education.
Jenny Liepitz, now retired from Maude Price, was always so patient and loving. I’m sure many of her students felt this way, but I always felt like I was her favorite student; if nothing else she was always one of my favorite teachers. To this day, I receive encouragement – and now, friendship – from her and her husband Gary.
Coincidentally, Gary Liepitz was one of my science teachers at Griffiths, and offered much of the same love and support that his wife had given to me prior. It was also one of his assignments that gave me my first real experience in writing other than the usual school essay: a book about California Sport Fishing. Needless to say, I knew I was in good hands when I entered a Liepitz classroom. I hope they’re both enjoying their well earned retirement.
I spent four years under David Niemeyer and Aaron Zeilinger, who instilled a sense of school pride in me through the instrumental music program at Warren. It was under the direction of Band Director Niemeyer and Assistant Director Zeilinger that I became more than just another student on campus.
It was David Lee, my junior year history teacher, who helped me start to develop my opinions about the world around me. Lee challenged me and my perceptions of life, history, and politics. His lectures weren’t just an hour or so of copying notes from a power point, and to say that our bi-weekly debates got heated might be a bit of an understatement.
Most of all though, I think of Erin Lavelle. I truly believe that without her, I would not be sitting at this desk now.
Lavelle was the one who recruited (or quite possibly drafted) me into the staff for the Warren High School newspaper, The Justice. This ended up being quite a significant event in my life, if you can’t already tell.
I spent one and a half years writing for the school paper; one semester as a writer, and a year as news editor.
More than just wanting a talented, hard-working writer on her staff, Lavelle saw potential in me. I think she saw the passion too.
I remember sitting at my desk in newspaper class one day my senior year, when I had received word that I was nominated for a Golden Bear Award. I was excitedly talking to a few of my friends, saying that I was positive it was for newspaper.
Lavelle called me over and burst my bubble.
“I didn’t nominate you,” she said. “I have another idea for something that I think you’d appreciate more.”
At the end of the year she gave me an investigative journalism style book on Columbine.
“I can see you doing this kind of work,” she said.
I definitely appreciate the gesture – and its significance - more now than I did back then.
Today, I hope to reach those individuals ranging from “K through 12” who will be returning to school in the coming days.
Have fun this year, but work hard. Your education now and onward will have significant impacts in your future.
DUSD is a wonderful place for a student to grow and learn, with its wealth of talented and caring teachers, staff, and administrative faculty; you just don’t know who is going to set you on the path to the rest of your life.