A Los Banos Junior High teacher, who has exponentially grown a math and science program in the area, was named Merced County Teacher of the Year on Tuesday.
Valentina Mascorro, 39, started the Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement program, known as MESA, in Los Banos in 2007 with a club of 16. MESA nudges students to seek higher education.
"I was in MESA, back when I was in high school," Mascorro said, adding she didn't see the same outlets when she came to town in 2001.
"I was also teaching a math class where the majority of the students didn't know about college," she said.
This year, she had 280 applicants for 112 seats in the class. The MESA club is available to the rest. Los Banos Junior High was also named MESA "School of the Year" in the middle school division in June.
Mascorro said students are drawn to the weekly hands-on projects, periodic field trips to colleges and science institutes and yearly competitions. Students must maintain a 3.3 GPA or better to participate.
Secondary Area Administrator Paul Enos, who was the Los Banos Junior High principal until December 2010, said Mascorro's successes spread MESA to Los Banos and Pacheco high schools. The high schools had about 80 active students and club members between them in 2011.
Pacheco High was named "School of the Year" in the high school division last year, while Los Banos High staff won an award for "Advisor of the Year."
"It's the biggest success story that I can remember in all my years of education," Enos said.
In order for any club or class to be successful, Enos said, it takes a "dynamic and charismatic leader" like Mascorro.
Born in El Platanal in Michoacán, Mexico, Mascorro and her family moved to San Jose when she was 10.
Mascorro graduated from California State University, San Jose, and moved to Los Banos in 2001, looking to teach high school, but she fell in love with middle school.
"I love it," Mascorro said. "At the junior high level you can still push them or direct them towards college."
Married for 19 years, Mascorro has two high school-aged sons.
Monday morning, students in the MESA class were making a rudimentary mechanical arm out of straws, strings, crafts sticks and tape. One of this year's MESA competitions includes a prosthetic arm.
Julian Arrechavala, an eighth-grader, said Mascorro knows what each of her students needs and puts in the time to help.
"She has communication with every student," the 13-year-old said.
Mascorro is honored to receive the award, she said, but she won't be resting on her laurels.
"It's very nice, I'm very happy to get it," Mascorro said. "But, it comes with a lot of responsibility and a lot more pressure to continue to work hard."
Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos enterprise.com.