Three New Kennedy Staff Featured

by Valentina Duong, Clarion Staff

Mrs. Emelina Emaas – Science Teacher

Before she went into the teaching profession forty-two years ago, Mrs. Emelina Emaas was an independent, hardworking twenty-year old woman soldier connected to the Philippines Army. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, she served two years in the Woman’s Auxiliary Training Corp (WATC) and then immigrated to the United States in 2002 by the Department of Education in California. Dedication to service, discipline, commitment, and the courage to face circumstances in life, especially in the classroom, are military values Mrs. Emaas applies to her life and to teaching today. She has been an independent study schoolteacher for the last twelve years.

Mrs. Emaas now teaches biology and human anatomy and physiology courses at Kennedy. She plays an active role as a Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) provider and has completed international scholarship training at Malaysia, Japan, Singapore, and Thailand to explore educational development. In May 2012, she received the Most Outstanding Filipino Education in America award. Having reached her peak as an educator and past administrator from the Philippines, she looks forward to a productive school year of teaching and a graceful retirement from educational service. “I am blessed as a teacher. You’ve got to love and believe in your students. Believe in your students and yourself,” Mrs. Emaas assures.

Mrs. Emelina Emaas


Ms. Vanessa Buitrago

Despite being a non-English speaking immigrant, Ms. Vanessa Buitrago’s academic experience and accomplishments prepared her to work hard and excel in leadership roles in following her dreams. After graduating from Modesto High School, Ms. Buitrago received a bachelor’s degree in political science, a master’s degree at San Diego State University, a second master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of the Pacific, and studied abroad in West Africa for a year. Ms. Buitrago originally wanted to work for the United Nations (UN). Specifically interested in sustainable environment of community development, she wanted to live abroad and work in small communities. “It’s funny how I got into education kind of by accident. I needed a job and thought I would be a good teacher. Then I fell in love with it,” laughed Ms. Buitrago. Following the career path of education seemed like an accident at first, but it is nothing that Ms. Buitrago would ever regret.

Everyday at Kennedy is a new and different experience for Ms. Buitrago, the assistant principal in charge of student support services. At the end of every day, she likes to reflect on what she could have done better or done differently to benefit students. Being able to listen to and talk with students about their future plans motivates her to keep coming back every day. According to Ms. Buitrago, you’re not in control of what happens in your future most of the time. “What’s important is to work hard and follow your dreams,” said Ms. Buitrago. “If you’re able to figure out what makes you happy, that is the biggest piece. It’s never about what your parents or teachers want for you. It’s always about what makes you happy. That’s the most important.”

Mrs. Vanessa Buitrago


Mr. Ben Ballenger

Due to physical limitations and lack of employment in the industrial workforce, Mr. Ben Ballenger, a former business owner in forklift repair, made the most important career change in his life — teaching AutoTech. After graduating high school, Mr. Ballenger attended technical trade school and studied at the Universal Technical Institute at Phoenix, Arizona in 1989. For four to five months, he worked as an auto-mechanic for Nissan in his hometown and then for Crown, an electric forklift company, for 21 to 22 years. In 2009-2010, he started his own forklift mobile repair business. Coming out of the private industrial industry, Mr. Ballenger was not a teacher by trade. Teaching classes for students, not adults, was by far a different experience. Handling all the different personalities and learning styles of his students were challenging. “Some soak up information like a sponge. For some, you could see it hit their ear and bounce out,” said Mr. Ballenger. To combat these challenges, Mr. Ballenger has implemented multiple teaching methods through hands-on learning, lectures, auditory lessons, presentations, written tests, and in-class discussion.

Mr. Ballenger hopes his students at the very least will learn the importance of safety and changing a car tire. “Having a better awareness of safety in general is a value students can pick up in life. I try to talk to students more like adults to teach them what it’s like in the real world. It’s a different world,” he said. Mr. Ballenger wishes to accomplish generating enough student interest for an AutoTech 2 class or expanding his course curriculum to industrial equipment in the next few years.

Mr. Ben Ballenger

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