PRIDE-ful Teachers Awarded


Aneska Smith

After listening to the kind words their colleagues shared about them during the holiday luncheon, teachers Eric Graham and Desmond Stevens are crowned the 2018-19 teachers of the year for demonstrating Portola’s PRIDE values.

Maryam Shama, Editor-In-Chief

Math teacher Eric Graham and visual and performing arts (VAPA) teacher Desmond Stevens were both awarded the Excellence in Teaching Award this year for Portola High. They were announced with a heartwarming speech by social studies department chair Jon Resendez and french teacher Megan Kirby during the teacher holiday luncheon on Dec. 19.

In the past two years, Portola High has only selected one teacher for the award. However, as a growing school, it was decided to select two teachers like other IUSD high schools.

Every year, teachers from each IUSD school nominate colleagues for the award by writing a short biography for nominees. The criteria to be selected is as follows: must be a teacher, counselor or library media specialist, must be nominated and accept nomination, must work on at least an 83% contract, must not have been awarded within the last 10 years and must demonstrate PRIDE values. Both Graham and Stevens have worked at the school since its inaugural year, and as agreed upon by the staff, consistently demonstrate PRIDE values on a daily basis.

“All of our nominees stand out and would have been great choices for this honor. That is what makes this process so difficult. We also encourage as many nominations as possible because so many teachers deserve recognition,” Resendez said. “In the cases of Mr. Stevens and Mr. Graham, they are both dynamic personalities who have served PHS unselfishly since the beginning.”

At the luncheon, Resendez stated that both recipients are role models to him, and many of their colleagues shared the same sentiment. In their nomination biographies, their colleagues wrote that the school is extremely fortunate to have both teachers in the Portola High community.

“Everything I try to do has some sort of intent. There’s a method to the madness so to speak that I hope will have an impact on student learning. A little mystery I hope sparks student’s curiosity, and if there is a student with curiosity, then there is opportunity for them to learn,” Graham said. “If I can tell a joke or tell a funny story, then a student can feel more comfortable, and if they are more comfortable in a classroom then they are more likely to ask me questions. If I can show up for a student’s VAPA performance or athletic event, then hopefully I can show how much I do care about them, and then that student will want to work even harder for you.”

Over the three years spent at Portola High, Graham has written curriculum for Math 1, Math 2, Enhanced Math 2, Math 3, AP Statistics and AP Computer Science. He is additionally a district math mentor, Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) committee leader and volleyball coach.

“What makes Eric truly exceptional – beyond the 14-hour days, Saturdays and Sundays, beyond the sheer number of papers collected, tests written and flipped videos created – is his way with kids,” according to Graham’s nomination biography. “Students love him because he tells them exactly what they need to fix, because he ties in life lessons to math, art and sports and because he really and truly cares about their overall well-being. Mr. Graham is mysterious, but he’s also hilarious, caring, helpful and encouraging. The real question kids should be asking: Is there anything Papa G can’t do?”

Stevens has taught guitar, orchestra, band and marching band. He is also a mock trial club adviser, he was one of the first staff members hired to be part of the leadership team that developed the initial vision of Portola High over the year prior to its opening and he helped coach girls’ volleyball in the fall.

“Desmond works to build a positive relationship with each student. His positivity and energy as a director is contagious and resonates with his student population and the Portola staff,” according to Stevens’ nomination biography. “Desmond is a one-of-a-kind educator who has fully embraced Portola’s mission to provide balance to our learners while encouraging them to pursue their passions and dreams.”

Both recipients have worked diligently by being involved in a variety of activities campus-wide and allowing their students to reach their maximum potentials.

“The title is great, but the process of earning it is much more meaningful. In talking with Mr. Graham, I think we both agree that without the process of being nominated and recognized by such an all-star staff as we have here at PHS, the title of ‘teacher of the year’ would be meaningless,” Stevens said. “The fact that we’re selected among so many great teachers is great, but it was these same great staff members who we greatly respect that selected us that makes it so much more meaningful.”

As both teachers have touched upon the utter appreciation they have for their colleagues, they have also given insight into the determination necessary to be awarded.

“Whenever I come to school I try to practice what I preach: work hard, be yourself, look out for others and no sneezing. To have the other teachers at our school recognize those characteristics and want to celebrate them gives me a lot of confidence that something is working and that I have chosen the right life path for myself,” Graham said.