The Stanislaus County Office of Education (SCOE) announced the 2020-21 Teachers of the Year last week. There are four local educators that have been selected including Riverbank High School (RHS) Teacher Ismael Mercado for the high school division. The four teachers will represent Stanislaus County in the State Teacher of the Year (TOY) program and then one state winner will proceed to the national level.
“I’m deeply honored and humbled to receive this award, but I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today if it wasn’t for this school, district, and community,” stated Mercado. “When Mr. Scott Kuykendall, Stanislaus County Superintendent, called my name I was stunned and excited at the same time. Can’t really describe the feeling. I knew I was there as a finalist, but I didn’t think I was going to win. It was an awesome moment.”
The luncheon was held last week to honor the finalists and the winners were announced. As a finalist, Mercado was able to bring four guests with him to the luncheon which included his wife Marisa, RUSD Superintendent Christine Facella, RHS Principal Greg Diaz, and RUSD Board member Susan Taylor. When his name was called he walked up to the podium, gave thanks and said a few words.
Officials noted that it was the first time an RUSD teacher has been selected since Board Member Taylor back in 1996.
“I think that Mr. Mercado is deserving of this recognition as he teaches math to freshmen along with a history of teaching math interventions which requires working with our most needy and reluctant students,” remarked Facella. “He is able to build positive relationships with students and makes an effort to connect with all. Mr. Mercado epitomizes all of the qualities we want to see in teachers and he does represent our district. We have many teachers that possess those qualities as well so it is in many ways reflective of our district.”
In the announcement Jason Maggard, SCOE Chief of Staff stated, “Last year, before COVID took us all by surprise, SCOE received 74 nominations from public and private school principals representing 13 districts and 74 schools throughout the county. A selection committee, composed of local Rotarians and educators, narrowed the nominations through a paper screening process and then visited the classrooms of 24 semi-finalists before narrowing it down to the 12 finalists. We are thrilled that we were finally able to recognize our Teacher of the Year Finalists.”
“Amazing is probably a better adjective because it truly is an amazing and well-deserved honor,” Diaz added about Mercado being selected. “There is an intangible quality that some teachers have—we refer to it as the “It factor”—and Ismael has ‘It.’ The way he interacts with students in a professional but fun manner makes his students want to learn from him. With math being a challenging subject for many students, Ismael has a way to keep them engaged and get the best out of each of his students. He creates an environment in which his students are comfortable and enjoy the learning process.”
Diaz nominated Mercado for Teacher of the Year and notified him of the nomination. After being surprised with the news he filled out the required paperwork and had the TOY committee observe one of his teaching lessons.
“Ismael is deserving of the nomination,” expressed Diaz. “Ismael’s priority is his students, both in the classroom and in athletics, even if that may require him doing something that would not necessarily be his first choice in things to do. If it is in the best interest of the students here at RHS, Ismael will do anything necessary. He is the consummate professional and team player.”
Mercado not only has been teaching at Riverbank High School for 14 years but he is also alumni from the class of 1999. Currently, he is a math teacher and coaches boy and girls golf at RHS. His career began in 2007 where he coached varsity baseball for six years.
“Being able to come back and teach at my high school has been a great experience,” said Mercado. “I have been surrounded by so many positive influences throughout my career here at RHS. We have amazing students and teachers and I’m just proud to be a part of it.”
Although teaching was not the original career choice, Mercado realized the new path his first year of college where he played collegiate baseball and had several positive influential teachers and coaches. This opened his mind to pursue teaching and coaching.
“One of my favorite parts of being a teacher is the relationship I get to build with my students,” added Mercado. “The look on their faces when they learn something new and their smiles when they say, “thank you Mr. Mercado I get it now”. I really enjoy working with young students and giving them the belief that they can do anything if they are willing to work hard. I was fortunate to have some great teachers here at RHS who motivated and believed in me. Ultimately that is what I am trying to do here.”
For the 22nd year the Modesto Rotary and SCOE collaborated to honor the teachers. Sponsors for the Teacher of the Year program include the Modesto Rotary Club Foundation, SCOE and Mocse Credit Union.