2013-06-07 / Schools

Educator uncovers ‘diamonds in the rough’

Frontier teacher retires after 39 years
By Dawn Witlin


FINAL FRONTIER—Mary Jerez, a teacher at Frontier High School for nearly 40 years, will retire after the continuation high school’s June 13 graduation ceremony. “I really love these teachers, and the whole sta is like one big family,” Jerez said of the Camarillo school. 
IRIS SMOOT/Acorn Newspapers FINAL FRONTIER—Mary Jerez, a teacher at Frontier High School for nearly 40 years, will retire after the continuation high school’s June 13 graduation ceremony. “I really love these teachers, and the whole sta is like one big family,” Jerez said of the Camarillo school. IRIS SMOOT/Acorn Newspapers Mary Jerez attributes her lifelong career as an English teacher at Frontier High School to a passion for helping students who struggle with the one-sizefits-all approach common at many traditional high schools.

“A big school is not for everybody, and a lot of students do need more individualized help,” Jerez said. “Those students get lost in the regular high school routine. They fall through the cracks.”

The 62-year-old Moorpark resident will retire this year after 39 years of teaching at Frontier High. The school’s Class of 2013 will graduate on June 13.

Frontier, a continuation school in Oxnard Union High School District, gives students who have fallen behind the opportunity to make up credits so they can graduate on time.

“I’ve seen a lot of students who I call my diamonds in the rough,” Jerez said. “They are all diamonds inside, but they just need to be polished up a bit.”

Jerez was hired at Frontier High School in 1973 after she graduated from Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks with degrees in English and French. She obtained her teaching credentials at USC and master’s degree in secondary education at Cal State Northridge in 1985.

Despite many opportunities to transfer to other schools, Jerez said she remained on the campus at the Camarillo Airport because of her connection with her students.

“I’ve never taught anywhere else because I felt I couldn’t leave the students,” Jerez said. “I really felt like I was needed here and I would be abandoning them.”

Jerez said even her most troubled students thrive in the stability she provides in her classroom.

“I run a very structured class, and you wouldn’t think the students want that, but they do,” Jerez said. “My students know what to expect from me.”

She also credits the success of Frontier students to the dedicated teaching staff and Principal Wayne Lamas.

“We have a terrific staff, and our principal is very good because he’s strict when he has to be, but he’s also very understanding,” Jerez said. “I really love these teachers, and the whole staff is like one big family.”

Graduation day is a very special time for Jerez.

“I’ve seen so many graduations, but they still bring tears to my eyes because you remember how the students entered your class and how challenging it was as their teacher because some of them may have had a bad attitude or maybe weren’t trying,” she said. “Some of them have accomplished so much, and it’s very rewarding.”

During her retirement, Jerez plans to travel with Carlos, her husband of nearly 40 years, and spend more time with her four children and nine grandchildren.

She also plans to volunteer at Cornerstone Christian Church in Moorpark.

Jerez said her students have taught her many valuable lessons in her decades of teaching.

“My students have taught me that not everyone has a structured life, not all children are blessed and that life is difficult,” she said. “I have really enjoyed working with them, getting to know them, and making them feel there is opportunity out there.”

She hopes her students leave her classroom with the confidence to pursue their goals. “I always tell my students, if they really want something, you’ll find a way,” Jerez said. “Just because you may have failed elsewhere, you are still worth something.”

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