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A Teacher’s Story

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Our Summer issue is dedicated to the celebration of education. So, it would make sense that HERLIFE Magazine journalist Andrea Bear, who’s also a teacher, shares her experience at
one of the top schools in the country, Stockton Early College Academy.

sharing a double profession as journalist and history teacher has been a true blessing. I’ve had the privilege to write amazing stories about local people while also highlighting historical figures to budding teenage minds. Both jobs celebrate the accounts of people’s lives that might not otherwise be shared. So, in those rare moments that I get to combine both worlds, I can’t help but celebrate and write about the hidden gem where I teach every day. In 2011, I joined the faculty of Stockton Early College Academy, or SECA, a high school dedicated to early college and higher learning. Most people in the San Joaquin Valley don’t have SECA on their radar, because the school houses fewer than 500 students. Despite its size, SECA has exceeded and out-performed other high schools in the area as well as nationally, making the US News & World Report Best Schools as one of the top 5 percent of schools in the country for several years running.

What has been the key to our success? Founded in 2009 as a dependent charter school by Stockton Unified School District, SECA was created to give students in the inner city the opportunity to complete college classes and develop higher-level skills at the high school level. Students are dually enrolled in college classes from San Joaquin Delta College while simultaneously enrolled in honors or AP high school classes. I was fortunate to join the school in its third year as a world history honors teacher, and I now teach pre-AP world history and geography along with AP European history. To be part of this community was at first both impressive and intimidating, but I soon learned the success behind these students was really about their desire to learn.

There’s a stigma that a school like SECA is filled with only gifted or talented students. And while there are certainly a handful of SECA students who fit this description, it’s really more about their drive. As one of my students, Josephine Bui, class of 2024, puts it, “Students are hard working. They know what they want to do and how they are going to get there.” Ty Pafford, who has taught at SECA for eight years and for the past three years has served as our principal, shared that the student population comes from the neighborhood it serves and it’s those who take advantage of its accessibility. “We have students who match the demographics of Stockton Unified School District exactly and all ability levels who take advantage of the opportunity.”

Make no mistake, the work is not for the faint of heart. Students who apply to the school know they’ll take eight classes, with a college-style schedule of rotating classes, but there’s also a balance for students. Classes such as High School Success, a class dedicated to helping students organize, plan and manage their workload, help them manage the skills needed for college. Students can also opt for support periods to assist in balancing workloads. Students also have easy access to counselors and teachers.

But what truly has made the course load and the rigor possible has much to do with the small-school environment. Josephine enjoys the ability to connect with her classmates as well as teachers. “I like that we all have lunch at the same time. It gives us the chance to get to know who we’re going to school with and provides a way for us to connect with teachers during lunch time,” she said. Having those connections has been a true blessing. “I cannot imagine being a principal anywhere else,” said Pafford. “It’s such a unique place.”

Another blessing that I’ve encountered at this school is seeing students return and become part of our staff. I was fortunate to encounter Rosa Martinez as a SECA student, class of 2014, and now she’s returned this year to teach math courses. “When I was a student, I really loved the connection with teachers,” Rosa said. She shares how she loved the close bond a small school brings that helped her thrive. As the first in her family to attend college, she wanted to show students through her example the success of working hard and become an encouraging voice. “I loved that teachers supported, motivated, guided and just believed in me, and I wanted to give back the same way.”

Sharing the experiences of teachers and students gives a greater picture of the success of our school, and I’m humbled by the brilliant minds of both staff and students who walk the halls. It’s been a true blessing being a part of something so distinguished. And while I will continue to write and teach history, SECA continues to make history.


Impressive Rankings by US News & World Report
Stockton Early College Academy performed nationally of 17,843 ranked schools and statewide of 1,603 schools ranked in California from 2018 through 2021 for the magazine’s Best Schools in the U.S.

289th in U.S. high schools
33rd in California high schools
1st in Stockton Unified School District
2nd in Stockton metro area
71st in charter high schools in the U.S.