Enrichment

KidWorks Teacher Spotlight: Dianna Valdez

Editor’s note:  In the fourth story in our “The Teachers” blog series, we celebrate Dianna Valdez, Site Director of our Cedar Evergreen Center.

Dianna Valdez stands in front of her small classroom filled with about a dozen first and second graders.  She has a question for them as they work through snacks consisting of half a sandwich, an apple, baby carrots, yoghurt and milk.

“What is the opposite of ‘first’?” she asks.

“Second?” one student tentatively volunteers.

“Not exactly,” Dianna gently answers.

“Last!” first grader Adrian says confidently.

“That’s correct,” Dianna says, handing him a sticker that he proudly affixes next to the others on his yellow homework folder.

If Dianna seems like a natural-born teacher, it’s probably because she’s been at it awhile—since she was seven years old, in fact!

“I had a four-year-old cousin, and instead of playing house or dress-up, I was the teacher and she was my student,” Dianna says.  “I taught her to read, and to this day my uncle thanks me for doing that.”

Dianna has been a valued member of the KidWorks team for three years, and has led our Cedar Evergreen Center since it opened.  From its humble beginnings where only a handful of students attended after school programs, Cedar Evergreen now serves 55 students in grades kindergarten through 12.

She thanks Art Quiroz, Program Leader at Cedar Evergreen, for helping her make the center such a vital part of the surrounding community.

Dianna grew up in Santa Ana and she has a heart for the underserved.  She knows firsthand what it’s like for a family to struggle.  Dianna, along with her four brothers, was raised by a single mother who worked three jobs to support them.

Dianna also says her personal teaching style evolved from her own experiences as a youngster in elementary school.

“I was a pretty quiet child and probably an average student,” she says.  “I saw how the ones who got the most attention were those who were either always in trouble or those who were superstars.  Students like me kind of faded into the background.”

Her own approach is the opposite; it’s to involve each and every student.

“We’re all multi-layered, and so I try to see all parts of the student, including the spiritual, intellectual, psychological, emotional and physical,” she says. “I see those layers in every student I serve; they are a soul as well.”

A recent example of Dianna’s caring heart was when she noticed a kindergarten boy had not shown up to class for over a week.

“We value each child in our programs, and I eventually found out that this boy had been in the hospital to have his appendix out,” Dianna says.  “I had all his classmates write little ‘get well’ notes, and I brought them to him at his home, along with crayons and a coloring book.”

The little boy fully recovered and happily returned to the Cedar Evergreen Center as soon as he was able.

Outside of her teaching duties, Dianna enjoys hiking and is and perhaps the biggest Disneyland fan you’ll ever meet.

“I go to the park about a dozen times a year,” she confesses.  Thunder Mountain is her favorite attraction.

Dianna is also a person of deep Christian faith, and very active in her church, Templo Calvario in Santa Ana, where she serves as Assistant Director of Youth.

Dianna, thanks for sharing your deep passion for teaching with every student under your care, and for seeing him or her as individuals with limitless potential.

KidWorks’ Halls Are Alive With the Beautiful Sound of Our Students’ Music!

“Music has always been part of my life, and as I grew older I decided to make it my career,” says Shellsea, a 17-year-old high school senior and KidWorks’ student.

Shellsea’s dream is well on its way to becoming true.

She is one of 18 youth who participate in a KidWorks program called Avanti, founded in 2012 by volunteer Joe Cristina.  In Joe, the students learn from a professional musician with 37 years of experience in composition, arranging, orchestration and production.

Joe and KidWorks also thank St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach for their strong support of our music program.

“Avanti is designed to guide serious, college-bound students to reach their artistic goals by gaining performance and theoretical experience by working with music industry professionals,” Joe explains.

Avanti offers performance experience and college preparatory music classes, along with exposure to music genres that include pop, rock, jazz, sacred, classical, Latin and world music.

Lilian is an 18-year-old high school senior enrolled in Avanti.  She shares Shellsea’s goal of becoming a musician.

“Avanti has given me access to so many things I never had access to before,” she says.  “I am getting so much help with my musical future!”

Liliana, a 17-year-old high school student and KidWorks youth adds:  “I could not afford such musical training on my own.  Avanti has given me more than just the material instruments to pursue music.  I have also been given the opportunity to perform what I love and to express myself.”

The students also get a chance to build their musical confidence in front of live audiences.  They've performed at Steamers Jazz Club, Village of Hope, Santa Ana street fairs and St. Andrew’s Church.

We are so grateful to Joe and St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church for helping our youth to develop their God-given talent for music.

 

By Glenn Leibowitz, KidWorks Community Volunteer and Content Writer