Longtime science teacher Steve Saracino retired in December this year after a total of 41 years teaching, with the past 17 years working with the sixth, seventh and eighth-graders at David Starr Jordan Middle School. In the years at Jordan, Saracino has not just taught science, but has been deeply involved in arts programs at the school as well. Many celebrations of the beloved teacher were held in the final months of his tenure at Jordan, including student-organized lunches, a honored spotlight at the Jordan Choir’s holiday show and a recognition by the Jordan PTA for his years of service and dedication to the students and the school.
“Part of my success as a teacher is trying to understand your kids at ages 11, 12 and 13,” Saracino told the PTA members, parents and school administrators at the November meeting at which he spoke about his time at Jordan.
“One of the reasons I am so effective with kids this age is that I’ve had a wide variety of experiences which includes being a teacher on special assignment with gang and drug intervention,” Saracino explained further, in an interview on his final day at the school, December 20. He spoke about his previous work in the early-mid 1990s at Garfield Continuation High School in San Diego. “Every other Monday, I got a group of gangsters, basically, who got thrown out of other schools for narcotics and weapons problems, and I had to talk with them and work with them.”
“I’ve taught many different classes… eighth grade science my first year in New Jersey, then I moved to Kansas and taught high school Biology, Earth Science, Chemistry, Physical Science and Psychology. And I think the variety of experiences I’ve had has kept me open to people in general. I treat students as people, rather than as students, and I think that’s key.”
Saracino’s humor and rational approach to sensitive topics was important as he taught the district’s human development/sex ed curriculum as part of seventh-grade science class. “It’s a very fine line. I don’t want it to be a deep dark secret that they’re afraid of and then make up stories about this stuff,” he commented. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there and it comes from not giving kids the truth, not having the facts. It’s a fine line to present it. So I try to make it accessible by combining serious information with humor and everything I taught was district-approved.”
“Mr. Saracino was an amazing teacher. He not only taught science but supported the arts and many other programs around the campus,” eighth-grader Sela Moretti-Hitchcock commented. “He was the best teacher around and he was funny, always happy, and really supportive. So, as a brilliant teacher deserves, a few friends and I decided to throw a party for him. Two actually.”
“Because of him, I not only have more friends but more self esteem and more confidence to try new things. He was one of the best teachers I have ever had or probably will ever have. Jordan Middle School won’t be the same without him. I— and my friends and teachers— will miss him greatly teaching at our school.”
That connection with Jordan students also translated into a strong connection with their parents.
“I have taught in New Jersey, Kansas, many schools in San Diego, and Burbank parents are just amazingly great. These kids, of course they have problems here and there and they go through their middle school angst and their high school angst, but the parents in this community… I’ve never felt more supported,” Saracino commented. “When I’ve called a parent and explained rationally what’s going on with a child, they were 100% supportive. I’ve had a lot of parent interactions in 17 years here and Burbank has such great parents – thank you for raising your kids so well. And they’re such great kids as they are.”
Saracino has taught several thousand children over his time at Jordan, with an average of 160 students per year in his academic classes. When the school had the seventh period extracurricular class and Saracino led the theater program at the school, he worked with an additional 150 young people per year. As Director of the Jordan Theater Company for various productions between 2002 – 2009, he presented many popular shows at the school including Fiddler on the Roof, Guys and Dolls and The King and I.
Saracino continues to plays guitar and piano. His Christian rock band Broken Bread is working on their second album, due in April 2014, and planning a concert tour starting in April. He is also very involved in his church as a lector.
As a master of several dialects with a host of interests, including a love of the stage, Saracino intends to step back into the theater spotlight with acting and writing. He also looks forward to finishing a book he’s been working on and developing a television show about musicians.
Although Saracino has retired from teaching, that doesn’t mean he’ll be slowing down or leaving Burbank behind. In fact, he plans to step up his involvement in arts-related programs, including developing a series of national workshops for show choirs with Jordan Choir Director Christine DeMore, Burroughs High School Choir Director Brendan Jennings and Burroughs choreographer Jen Oundjian among others. Saracino also plans to work with Burbank Arts For All foundation, on the encouragement of BAFA Community Outreach Director Suzanne Weerts.
“I’m never going to give up helping people and helping kids. It’s just in me,” Saracino added. “Burbank is just a beautiful town. When I came up here in June of 1997 to interview – I was just so impressed with the friendliness of people up here and the cleanliness of the town. They really cared about our youth. People here in Burbank are just wonderful people.”
“My daughter grew up in this community. When we moved here, she was in kindergarten. She graduated from Burroughs in 2009,” Saracino concluded. “I love Burbank, it’s where my daughter grew up, and we had great times here and will continue to have great times here. I love the town.”