LOS BANOS -- A Los Banos Junior High teacher who has expanded a math and science program exponentially was named Merced County Teacher of the Year on Tuesday.
Valentina Mascorro, 39, started the Mathematics, Engineering and 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 that she didn't see the same outlets when she came to town in 2001. "I was also teaching a math class (in Los Banos) where the majority of the students didn't know about college."
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 named MESA School of the Year in the middle school division in June.
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Mascorro said students are drawn to the weekly hands-on projects, periodic field trips to colleges and science institutes, and yearly competitions. Students have to keep a 3.3 GPA or better to participate.
Secondary Area Administrator Paul Enos, the junior high's 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 Adviser of the Year.
"It's the biggest success story that I can remember in all my years of education," Enos said.
For any club or class to be successful, Enos said, it takes a "dynamic and charismatic leader" such as Mascorro.
Born in a small town in Michoacán, Mexico, called El Platanal, Mascorro and her family moved to San Jose when she was 10. She graduated from San Jose State University and moved to Los Banos in 2001, looking to teach high school, but fell in love with middle school.
"At the junior high level, you can still push them or direct them toward college," Mascorro 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."
Los Banos Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or email@example.com.