Burbank Masonic Lodge Recognizes Educators and Student Essay Winners

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(Photo by © Ross A Benson)

After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Burbank Masonic Lodge once again honored outstanding elementary, middle, and high school teachers. The ceremony, held on May 20, marks the Masonic Lodge’s 103rd annual recognition of the importance of public education and the role that Masons have historically played in the furtherance of public education which dates back hundreds of years. This year’s celebration also saw the return of the Burbank Masonic Lodge’s Student Essay Contest, which was open to all Burbank students aged 12-21 and included prize money of $1,000 for first place and $500 for the students whose essays placed second and third.

Burbank Chamber

Serving as judges for the essay contest were Nick Schultz, Burbank City Council Member; Char Tabet, President, Board of Education; Kimberley Clark, Executive Assistant to the Board of Education and Superintendent; and Jeffrey Yates, Paul Bazerkanian, and Kenneth Barnes, Past Masters of the Burbank Masonic Lodge. The organizers of this year’s event were Lodge Members Rick Cervantes, David Ter-Petrosyan, who also acted as Co-Masters of Ceremonies; Denis Vitorelli; Armen Khalafyan; and Jhairo Echevarria.

This year Judges Char Tabet,Kimberly Clark and Nick Schultz. (Photo by © Ross A Benson)

In attendance were Superintendent Matt Hill, Assistant Superintendents Debbie Kukta, Sarah Niemann, and Teresa Lamb, District Representative for Congressman Adam Schiff. Congressman Schiff’s office prepared certificates honoring this year’s Masonic Teachers of the Year winners. The principals of the winning teachers’ schools, Liz Costella of William McKinley Elementary School, Dr. Greg Miller of John Muir Middle School; and Wendy Heard, Director of the Independent Learning Academy, co-presented the awards with Burbank City Councilmember Bob Frutos, and read the write-ups they provided for these inspirational educators who go above and beyond in their pursuit of the BUSD standards of “equity and excellence.”

Congratulations to all of our winning teachers and students!

2022 Masonic Teachers of the Year

William McKinley Elementary School

Principal: Liz Costella

Elementary School Winner: Lisa Fuentez

Lisa Fuentez is an outstanding educator who always does what is best for her students. She is dedicated fully to her job and is always available to her students, their families, and her colleagues. She is always positive, bright, and a great leader. She serves on our school’s PBIS, Leadership, and Social committees. Lisa is an organized and prepared educator whose experience and love of teaching shines through every day. She is creative and provides opportunities daily for students to master skills and standards while engaging them in hands-on meaningful activities. She supports her students academically and socially, helping them build their self-esteem and supporting their social-emotional health. Lisa is a constant cheerleader for her students and our school. The McKinley Elementary School community is so lucky to have Ms. Fuentez on our staff and her positive energy is encouraging to all.

John Muir Middle School

Principal: Dr. Greg Miller

Middle School Winner: Dena Bigger

Dena is such a joy to have as part of the John Muir Middle School team. Her advocacy for Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) students goes above and beyond. She has such a diverse group of students and no matter their level, she plans incredibly inclusive lessons for them. She also teaches ASL to a full class of students. Dena is one of the first people on campus in the morning and one of the last to leave. She eats lunch two or three times a week with students and hosts ASL club, DHH Lunch Bunch, and Minecraft Club. She recently walked with a student and offered to stay with him during his first time at LGBTQ + Club.  She teaches students in all three grade levels as well as students enrolled in the GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) program. Not only is Dena independent and proactive, but she is also the kindest person on our campus. We know that Dena must be overwhelmed by this recognition because she often says “I am just doing my job.” 

Independent Learning Academy

Principal: Wendy Heard

High School Winner: Dara Lee

Dara Lee does an excellent job as social studies teacher, which at the Independent Learning Academy also consists of supervising teacher duties. Her warm, caring attitude is infectious, and she has been an integral part of training new staff during this busy year. Her willingness to help new and veteran staff members alike and her total commitment to her students is an inspiration to all who are fortunate enough to work with her. 

Second Annual Student Essay Contest Winners

Nicole Quiterio (1st Place Winner)

After graduating from John Burroughs High School in 2019, Nicole Quiterio enrolled at California State University, Northridge. Nicole is scheduled to graduate from CSUN in the Fall of 2023, but first, she will get to experience studying for a year abroad and will complete her senior year at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. Nicole is studying Journalism with an emphasis in Public Relations and a minor in Marketing. Her impressive grades have earned her a spot on the CSUN Dean’s List. She also serves as Chapter President of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) and co-produces the “Monday Memo,” the CSUN Journalism newsletter. Nicole’s essay on the dangers of online disinformation and the importance of news consumers double-checking sources and educating themselves on how to spot disinformation in the information age won her first prize.

Nina Ripoll (2nd Place Winner)

Nina Ripoll is a BUSD institution, having started her education at Horace Mann Pre-School before moving on to Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School, where she found her first love, ice skating, at the Pickwick ice-skating rink. As Nina grew so did her interests, and upon entering Dolores Huerta Middle School she discovered the world of video production and graphic design. Nina thrived in this new creative terrain, creating graphics and filming and editing content for the school news program. Born to a musical family, Nina has perfect pitch, can sight read, and plays the piano, guitar, and ukulele. Her next challenge will be learning to play drums. Nina just completed her freshman year at John Burroughs High School, where she is enrolled in the NAF program and is a member of the basketball team. Next year Nina is looking forward to auditioning for the JBHS Band. Over the summer this budding entrepreneur will bring back her successful car washing and babysitting businesses. Nina’s essay on the challenges of being a student during the pandemic and how she transformed those challenges into an opportunity for personal growth, including developing her sense of self-reliance and better organization and time management skills, was awarded second prize.

Katelyn Young (3rd Place Winner)

Katelyn Young just completed her freshman year at John Burroughs High School. While she was a student at Robert Louis Stevenson Elementary School, Katelyn won 2nd place in the PTA Reflections contest for Photography. While attending Dolores Huerta Middle School she received numerous academic awards and won the honor of presenting the “Looking Ahead” speech at her 8th Grade Promotion. In her spare time, Katelyn enjoys reading, writing, and designing digital artwork. Katelyn recently completed a dual-enrollment Screenwriting Course through Los Angeles Valley College and is an aspiring artist and screenwriter. This summer, Katelyn will develop her office skills by volunteering as a student intern at the BUSD District Offices. In addition to helping out with office tasks, and given her interest in the arts, we hope to provide some opportunities for Katelyn to work with Peggy Flynn, the District’s Coordinator of Arts and Career Technical Education. Katelyn’s well-written and heartfelt essay about the importance of practicing acts of kindness in turbulent times was awarded the third-place prize in the essay contest. Putting actions behind her words, Katelyn designed “Heart Mail” plush gifts that can be given to lift people up and remind them that they are loved.