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By Emily Rasmussen
Junipero Serra Alternative High School’s science teacher, David Pino, was awarded High School Teach of the Year for the Capistrano Unified School District at a surprise announcement celebration on Friday, Feb. 2.
Members of the CUSD board of trustees made rounds to all three Teacher of the Year winners in the school district: Carol Cutkomp from Tijeras Creek Elementary School; Susan Peterson at Niguel Hills Middle School; and Pino at Junipero Serra High School. Pino, who has been a teacher for 15 years and has been at Junipero Serra for nine, received the award recognition on Friday morning during one of his classes.
“The students are very special,” Pino said, holding back tears upon receiving the award.
Pino, a Laguna Niguel resident, was selected because of his efforts to motivate students at the continuation school of about 160 students, who typically take his class at least once. Principal Meg Ervais said that Pino has taken great strides in motivating students to go to college, being that he is also an adjunct instructor at Saddleback Community College.
“His passion for working with diverse students, he’s our English learner coordinator also, but he’s done a great job of bringing the community together and doing outreach to students and parents so that they feel welcome here,” Ervais said, noting that typically students at Junipero Serra need extra help and a second chance.
Gila Jones, Capo Unified board member, said that Pino is a strong motivator for school staff and students, in addition to making important changes when necessary.
“I know that he is here to motivate students, I hope that he is motivating you and helping you be the best you can academically, socially and with everything,” Jones said to Pino’s class.
Senior Danielle Reznicek, 17, Pino’s teacher aide and student of one year, said that Pino “most definitely” deserved the award.
“He’s taught me more than any teacher honestly ever has,” Reznicek said. “He’ll be giving you life lessons, and to this day, I remember them so clearly because he cares so much about the students. He puts up with so much bad stuff from so many kids who are just disrespectful and he brushes it off, keeps teaching them and keeps loving on them.”
Reznicek said if she had to describe Pino in one word, it would be “passionate.”
Pino’s wife Elizabeth, who came to the surprise announcement with their two sons, Sayil, 11, and Mateo, 6, echoed Reznicek.
“Teaching is his passion, we know it and you can tell. We’re just really happy for him,” Elizabeth said.
Pino, who went to Junipero Serra in middle school, has become a relatable role-model for his students.
“It’s been a long struggle,” Pino said. “I was pretty much a Serra student myself, I struggled a lot through high school–a lot of F’s and D’s — it was a very difficult time. so for me, I try to tell my students, look: I have a master’s (degree), my bachelor’s (degree), I’ve been accepted to a Ph.D. program, I’ve traveled to Europe. Don’t let whatever struggles you have now define your future.”