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Published on December 19, 2001
© 2001- The Press Democrat



A Windsor High School teacher is one of five California instructors to win a $15,000 award for ``extraordinary efforts'' to educate and inspire students.

An additional $5,000 will go to Windsor High School.

Roberto Ramirez, a Healdsburg High School alumni who emigrated to the United States at age 16, was nominated by former students for the difference he made in their lives.

The San Rafael-based Carlston Family Foundation selected the five high school teachers after interviewing more than 500 students and recent graduates from schools around the state. The former students, not educators, nominated the candidates.

``We really want to find those teachers that just bubble to the top in their fields,'' said Elizabeth Houde, the foundation's executive director.

The 56-year-old Ramirez, she said, ``has changed the lives of so many students, particularly Hispanic students.''

The student who first nominated Ramirez arrived in the United States as a high school student learning to speak English, Houde said.

Three years later, he was able to receive a full scholarship to UC Berkeley. Ramirez inspired him and also helped in other ways, including driving him to Berkeley for his scholarship interview.

A math and physics teacher, Ramirez has long been known for both challenging his students and nuturing them.

He recalled that when the high school was first formed in the mid-1990s, he and his fellow teachers helped persuade the Windsor school board to require that all students complete both algebra and geometry classes to receive a diploma. That exceeds the requirements of the state and most districts in Sonoma County.

``He sets extremely high expectations for his students,'' said Windsor High Principal Jeff Harding. ``And as a result, students who otherwise wouldn't consider a university future see themselves as university students.''

Students and other educators praised Ramirez in a 1998 Press Democrat story about his work.

``I thought I would never go to college ... But he believed in me,'' said former student Maritza Martinez, who went on to graduate from Sacramento State and to work as a testing engineer for Intel.

The Carlston Family Foundation, which was formed in 1987 by the founders of Broderbund Software in Marin County, began the teaching award program on a pilot basis this year. Its board of directors, which has named the program the Outstanding High School Teachers of America award, intends to expand the awards nationally, Houde said.

This year the foundation sought out young people, especially college students who had managed to overcome various obstacles to learning, including poverty and language. In interviews, it was left to students to volunteer the names of teachers who had made a difference for them. The foundation then followed up with further contacts of school officials and other students.

Ramirez, a native of Mexico, recalled the teachers there that helped him develop a love for math and physics, as well as those at Healdsburg High who not only helped him learn English but also took him under their wing.

Of such teachers and his parents, he said, ``Somehow you feel you owe your success to these people because they care.''

He now teaches classes promoting careers in math and science, especially for minority students.

After graduating from Sonoma State University and earning his teaching credential at UCLA, he returned to Healdsburg High and taught there for 22 years. He moved to Windsor High when the school opened in 1995.

``He's an inspiration, not only to students but to other faculty members,'' Harding said. ``He has an enthusiasm for learning.''

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or PHOTO: 2 by Kent Porter/The Press Democrat

1: $15,000 prize awarded to Windsor High instructor.
2: Windsor High School math teacher Roberto Ramirez, middle left, instructs sophomores Cecila Gonzalez and Fernando Nieto during his MESA (Mathematics Engineering and Science Achievement) class Tuesday.

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