New Year, New Staff!
Graduating in 2020 from San Jose State University (SJSU) with a major in English and a focus on teaching, Kevin Bermudez has started his first year of teaching at Washington. Mr. Bermudez attended Irvington High School, where he developed a love for literature. After he graduated, he went to Chabot College and then transferred to SJSU. Washington High School had always been on Mr. Bermudez’s “shortlist,” so he was happy to have been accepted to teach at WHS after applying to all the schools in the Fremont Unified School District. Since this is Mr. Bermudez’s first year teaching English, he is starting with underclassmen. So far, Mr. Bermudez enjoys teaching at Washington because of the staff. With the transition from distance to in-person learning, he does not want to put too much pressure on students. “By giving a reasonable amount of work, I can fully focus on the necessary skills that my students don’t have,” he says. Mr. Bermudez also knows the downsides of being a student during distance learning because he spent his last year of college online. In order to help his students succeed, Bermudez believes that he first needs to improve their teamwork skills. To that end, Mr. Bermudez and Mr. Sotelo are forming a Latino Male Focus Group to give students an opportunity to express their voices, and Mr. Bermudez is looking forward to it.
Manjinder Nagra, a first year math teacher at Washington, talks similarly about students and staff. Nagra uses logic to teach students and show them its importance. As for why she enjoys math, Nagra described that “It was mainly because I’m interested in math, and I love to explain the logic of it. It’s a system based on logic, and I enjoy that.” Though it’s her first year teaching at Washington, she mentioned that “I’ve been teaching since 2003, but there’s been a lot of gaps in between. My teaching style is mainly from India, and this is my first time at Washington. I also used to teach in Santa Clara.” Nagra wanted a fresh start, so she decided to use her experience to work at Washington. She explained that she was interested in teaching at a school with good reviews, and Washington checked that box for her. She remarked that Washington has been an enjoyable experience so far, saying “My experience has been great. Everyone is really supportive, and the students are very respectful.”
Lover of all things spooky, new teacher Matthew Hagmann has started to write his own story at Washington High School. From attending American High School to studying at National University in San Diego, California. Mr. Hagmann always knew he would teach English and ELD (English Language Development). Mr. Hagmann’s first teaching position was at San Benito High School in Hollister, CA. When he applied to schools in Fremont, he was sent a request to teach by Washington. He felt comfortable with the transition from Hollister to Fremont because he joined a community he already knew a little about. Mr. Hagmann decided to take it slow with students for the first couple of months because he wanted to focus more on how his students enjoyed the course. He decided to teach English because “It felt like a class that teaches students how to think and it is my favorite subject. English lends itself for introspection, and it is a form of personal reflection on what you read,” he says. Returning to in-person learning, Mr. Hagmann has noticed that “There’s a lot more pressure on students. It’s already exhausting to get up, get ready, and drive to school.” To ease this transition, Hagmann wants to get to know his students better. A new mindset he’s introducing to his students is that “Even if the work may look less manageable, you can still do it. It doesn’t have to be something that you love, but you can still do the work.”
Therissa Thein is also a new math teacher at Washington. She teaches Algebra 1 and Business Math. She says that math is her favorite subject to teach, because she struggled with it when she was in school. Thein went to San Jose State University, and got her Bachelor’s in Child and Adolescent Development. She then attended the University of California, Irvine to get her Master’s in Teaching. Thein says what makes her teaching style unique is how honest she is with her students: she doesn’t filter herself the way many teachers might. She argues that this builds trust and makes communicating with students easier. She also is able to relate to her students that may be struggling in math, since she has struggled with math before. Her hobbies include hanging out with friends, playing board games, hiking, and watching TV.
Beginning his journey as a varsity water polo player and swimmer at Washington, new teacher Scott Harvey became a coach for Washington Water Polo in 2014. This year, Mr. Harvey has decided to take on one more challenge: becoming a teacher. With a major in history and a minor in political science at the University of San Diego, Mr. Harvey thought he would excel in the fields of history and law. However, he later on felt that becoming a lawyer had too many commitments, and he wanted to do something else. Since he was already a coach at Washington, he went ahead and applied for the open position as a Geography teacher. When he was accepted, he saw it to be a good fit for him. He now teaches Geography to freshmen at Washington. In the class, Mr. Harvey wants to keep coursework light to allow students to get as much done as possible in class. As a coach during distance learning, Mr. Harvey struggled with getting teams together for games and practices. Though he wished for a longer season, Harvey was still grateful for the time he had with his teams. He hopes to slowly get back to normal with his students this year, and has seen a major amount of improvement during the first three months of school.
Helen Zou, a new librarian, is entering her first year working at Washington. She decided to become a librarian because of her love for reading. “I love books, I love keeping up with the newest books that come out, and I like the peace and quiet,” Zou said. Ms. Zou is from Fremont and is a Mission San Jose High School alumnus. Her decision to stay local isn’t too surprising, but her choice to come to Washington also came down to history. “I grew up in Fremont, and Washington is one of the oldest schools in Fremont. I also wanted to be close to my parents.” Her first year has been going well, and she credits both Washington’s administration and students for being kind and welcoming to her during her first year.
Jeff Alves is the new Assistant Principal at Washington High School. He is taking the position vacated by Nathania Chaney-Aiello. Dr. Alves began his career in Newark Unified School District as a U.S. History and World History teacher. Dr. Alves transitioned to Fremont Unified in 2013 at Mission San Jose High School. Dr. Alves has been teaching U.S. History and Civics as well as serving as the Social Science department chair and WASC chair. Dr. Alves worked with Human Resources in evaluating the Peer Evaluation program and he has worked extensively with the Curriculum and Instruction department on the Civics curriculum planning team.
Garima Mittal is a new math teacher at Washington High School. She teaches Algebra 1 and CC 3. She went to National University in San Diego for her Bachelor’s of Education and teaching credentials, and she got her Master’s in Art & Philosophy from Punjab University, India. She chose to work at Washington High School because it was close to her home, and it gave her an opportunity to teach high school students. She describes her approach to teaching as finding interesting and engaging resources. She uses unique methods of learning with her students to help them learn math topics, including lessons, videos, and projects. She was inspired to become a teacher because of her family. Her mother and grandfather were both teachers, so it felt natural for her to follow in their footsteps. One example of her teaching methodology was a project where from a small concept, she had students show how each part of the equation affected the concept. This approach helps students understand the concepts, and enjoy learning. In her free time, Mrs. Mittal enjoys art and painting, and spends most of her time taking care of her children.
Maria Ponssen is the new College and Career Specialist at Washington High School. She helps students by assisting them with career planning and college admissions. She is originally from San Francisco and has lived in the Fremont community for twenty years. She regularly sees familiar faces among students, parents, and staff. In what inspired her to join Washington, Ponssen stated, “I love helping people and I feel that the best way to contribute to the community is by educating our youth.” Prior to coming to Washington, Ponssen met with many students over 12 years as a classroom volunteer, PTA officer, AVID tutor, substitute teacher, and independent education consultant. Her hobbies include watching movies, dining out, and going on walks with friends. As for her future, Ponssen simply said, “This is exactly where I want to be and I’m happy in my job right now.”
Austin Block is a new AP Government teacher at Washington. He calls both the Bay Area and Los Angeles home, going to high school in L.A., and then moving to the Bay Area to attend college at Stanford. Mr. Block loves music, traveling, sports, running, reading, eating pizza, and talking about anything from politics to movies to food. Prior to working here at Washington High, he worked as a history and government teacher and an education liaison providing academic support for students on juvenile probation. He’s excited to be here working with Washington this year and believes that government and history are exciting as they give us the tools to make today’s world a better place. By understanding the mechanics of our government and by analyzing the past and how we got here, we can learn to make informed decisions about how to act within our own lives to make positive contributions to the world we live in today. Someday, Mr. Block would like to work in politics to help write laws in order to make sure that everyone has the chance to earn a fair wage, support their family, and have access to good health care and a quality education. For a long time, though, he wants to be in the classroom, thinking with students about how we can use our academic studies to make ourselves more informed, conscientious thinkers.