MERCED -- Andrea DeLeon loves Merced, the people in her life and her job, teaching English to students at Merced High School.
Among many career choices, the 34-year-old Merced native decided education was the way to go and hasn't regretted it one bit.
"I love intereacting with kids," DeLeon said. "They're just fun. They have distinct personalities at each grade and I like the rapport you develop with kids; they know they can come to you."
DeLeon grew up at 11th and Canal streets in South Merced, across from McNamara Park and said she wouldn't trade those early experiences for anything. As a teenager, she found the community boring, with only movies and a billiard parlor for amusement. Lately, that has changed.
Now there is Art Hop, the periodic artistic celebration in downtown Merced, regular theatrical productions at Playhouse Merced, the influence of UC Merced, several nice restaurants and other local attractions.
"When I was growing up here, I didn't like it. There weren't the activities that they have now. Merced may not be the most exciting place in the world but it's getting there," DeLeon said. "It's an amazing place to live. I wouldn't trade it for anything. The community is tight-knit and supportive."
DeLeon teaches six classes, including three periods of English language development, two sessions of English 4 for seniors and one period of academic support for freshmen.
Kay Malhi, Merced High's associate principal for guidance services, praises DeLeon.
"She is a gem," DeLeon said. "She is so passionate about student success and is open to trying anything and everything to make students successful."
DeLeon attended Ada Givens, Peterson and Hoover schools before graduating from Merced High School in 1996. Originally she intended to become a university professor and enrolled at San Francisco State University, majoring in English literature.
As part of the university's credentialing program, she did field observation at San Francisco's Balboa High School and said she fell in love with being in the classroom. She was inspired by her teacher, Eric Wilcox, and the relationships he built with students.
DeLeon then did her student teaching at Galileo Academy of Science and Technology in San Francisco. She remains friends with her mentor teacher there, Mike Roman, and still talks to him regularly.
After graduating from SFSU in 2004, she could have stayed in The City, but the ties to her parents, grandmother, nieces and nephews drew her back home. She has been at Merced High for seven years.
DeLeon's goals include getting a master's degree in education in December 2013 from Grand Canyon University in Phoenix and hopefully going on to a doctoral program in education. She jokingly said she also would like to marry San Francisco Giants' pitcher Tim Lincecum.
Before going to college, DeLeon worked for a social worker for six years, doing case management and clerical tasks. While she thought social work might be a great way to help people, she decided she wanted to have an influence on young people's lives before things are "set in stone."
Fellow Merced High teacher Katina Austin said DeLeon is very student-oriented and puts the kids first. She is active in club events and other things on campus.
"Her students love her, which speaks a lot," Austin said.
When growing up in South Merced, DeLeon said she saw some of her peers succumb to cycles of poverty and gang life.
"They were smart, good kids," DeLeon said. "I want to share my light with the world. It sounds idealistic but it's what I want to do. I want them to make good choices and live life to their fullest potential."
Lindsay Gentry, also an MHS teacher, said she has become close friends with DeLeon since coming to the school.
"She has the biggest heart," Gentry said. "She definitely is in the right profession. She puts her heart and soul into everything she does."
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or email@example.com.