April 22, 2009
hug. A hand clasp. A caring look into a troubled teenager's eyes.
These gestures come naturally to Annie Nolen and Skip Weinstock, who have each spent more than three decades inspiring students to overcome obstacles and pursue diplomas at Olympic Continuation High School.
"I'm leaving knowing that I've helped some kids and that's been the best part of my job," said Nolen, 64, who will retire in June after working as a campus supervisor at the school for 31 years. "They amaze me sometimes about how much they know. I think they're so much smarter than they think they are."
Students and school officials showed their appreciation for Nolen by dedicating a new organic garden to her today, marking Earth Day. Nolen shared the spotlight with Weinstock, who was honored with a Green Technology Center named for him, recognizing his 37 years of teaching at the school.
Amid raucous cheers, hoops and hollers, interim Mt. Diablo school district superintendent Dick Nicoll acknowledged the dedication both employees have demonstrated to students.
"I can't think of better living legends to honor today," he said.
Weinstock, 63, joked earlier in the week that he was overwhelmed to have a building dedicated to him, even though he was not dead or retiring. The good humor he shares with Nolen resonates with students, who are grateful for his compassionate and innovative approach to teaching, which focuses on experiential learning.
For more than 30 years, he has placed students in "service learning" positions, where they tutor younger children in reading or assist in other business environments. These experiences build confidence in students, reinforce what they're learning in school and help them feel connected to the community, Weinstock said.
Student Ashley Hoagland, 17, learned to teach second-graders at Silverwood
Elementary School. "I loved the looks on their faces when they finally
grasped something, like 'I got it now!' " she said. "Knowing that I helped them
do that was just amazing."
On campus, Weinstock has turned classes into mini-offices or courtrooms, assigning students roles as bankers, business owners, judges, lawyers and jurors. Students learn real-life lessons by balancing checkbooks, figuring their monthly expenses and doling out justice when necessary, such as the time one student was caught embezzling "Skip" dollars from others, then depositing them into his own classroom account.
Like Nolen, Weinstock said he builds personal connections with students by treating them with respect and getting to know them and their family situations. Many students at the school have been unsuccessful on other campuses and are looking for a place they can flourish, under the tutelage of teachers and other staff members who care about them, he said.
"My philosophy is: 'One kid at a time, one moment at a time,' " Weinstock said. "When you have my attention, you have all of me. Annie's the same way."
Nolen and Weinstock speak affectionately about each other and the teens they interact with daily.
"Skippy and I have been together forever," Nolen said warmly, adding that the entire staff shares a special bond based on its commitment to nurturing students.
"Sometimes I'll see one crying, and I'll say, 'What's the matter, baby?' " Nolen said. "I came from Texas, so everybody is 'honey' or 'baby.' "
The faces of teens light up when they see Nolen and Weinstock. Some gravitate toward the longtime staffers, just to say hi or to enjoy the genuinely friendly, interested and responses they know they will receive, often accompanied by reassuring hugs.
"We love her," 17-year-old Jonathan Cooke said of Nolen. "She keeps us in line. She's nice with us, like she knows where we're coming from."
Former student Michael Moore, who graduated in 1990, was equally enthusiastic about Weinstock, whom he called his favorite teacher. "He actually listened," said Moore, who is now a construction foreman. "He pointed me in the right direction."
Heather Riggs, 18, said Weinstock has helped her with problems at school. "He has been around so long," she said. "He's like a father figure."
Both Nolen and Weinstock said their roles in students' lives go far beyond their job descriptions.
"You're mothers, fathers, nurses, protectors," Nolen said. "You're everything."
Theresa Harrington covers the Mt. Diablo school district. Reach her at 925-945-4764 or firstname.lastname@example.org
In addition to the entire Olympic staff and student body many former teachers and principals were also on hand to take part in the celebration. Both Skip and Annie were completely surprised and delighted by the attendance of Olympics' founding principal, Jack Donovan, pictured below center, surrounded by former teachers and staff (left to right): Sara Booth, Sue Matamoris, Marcy Miller, Annie Nolen, Jack Campbell, Jack Donovan, Dick France, Barbara Scott, Skip Weinstock, Jim Neel, Bob Toppin, Hildie Spritzer.