Archive for December, 2010

Once a Colt, always a Colt: The story of Robert Turnberg as a former student at El Camino

December 10, 2010 Leave a comment

By Catherine Tadina

Robert Turnberg as a student.

Robert Turnberg’s love for El Camino certainly shows with his loyalty and dedication to the school spanning decades. His experience with El Camino spans several decades: he first attended as a student in the 1960s, eventually became a teacher in 1981, and even after retiring in 2005 he still loves to work to this day at El Camino as a substitute teacher. Indeed, Turnberg has become an enduring mainstay at El Camino.

Turnberg’s first job as a teacher was at Alta Loma Middle School in 1971. However, in 1981, the ninth grade level was eventually moved from middle school to high school, generating vacant spots for teaching at El Camino. To Turnberg, this was an opportunity that was too good to pass up. “It had always been my dream to return to El Camino,” Turnberg says.

Turnberg always wanted to come back to El Camino because he always felt very close to the school. Things that keep him coming back to El Camino are the sense of community, the school spirit, good classes and the teachers who care—which, according to him, have always persisted in the school.

In Turnberg’s first year, homecoming rallies were held in the courtyard as the gym was still being built. Floats and cars were also used during homecoming.

Turnberg as a teacher at El Camino, circa 1980s.

Upon hearing the news that John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, Turnberg remembers the whole school fall silent. “Everything was quiet, and the only sounds heard were girls crying. It was a very emotional moment,” Turnberg said. “It still gets me today; when I once substituted Ms. Vosberg’s class, where the students watched a film about JFK’s assassination, I found myself tearing up a bit.”

During Turnberg’s time, the Bell Games used to be held at night, which usually resulted in fights breaking out between the opposing schools. This was the reason why the Bell Games were changed to day games instead, as fights were easier to control.

As a true testament to Turnberg’s love for El Camino, Turnberg has three shelves full of yearbooks, ranging from his years as a student, to his years as a teacher at El Camino. Except for one missing year—which was his sophomore year—his collection would otherwise be complete. He says he still searches the eBay pages every now and then to see if he can find old copies of the yearbook.

Categories: Feature

Once a Colt, always a Colt: The story of Derek Padilla as a former student at El Camino

December 10, 2010 Leave a comment

By Catherine Tadina

Leadership and English teacher Derek Padilla as a student.

A principal hugged him and almost knocked him over when Leadership and English teacher Derek Padilla mentioned in a speech he made during Honors Graduation night IN 1997 that he always wanted to be a teacher. As a student, Padilla dedicated so much of his time and energy to the school, people knew that his heart was always set on coming back to El Camino.


Padilla transferred to El Camino during his sophomore year because he wanted to get away from all the violence that was rampant at Seaside High School near Monterey. In his freshman year alone, fights broke all the time, two girls were raped, and his lab partner was knocked down in a drive-by. However, violence did not just stay at school, but also spread to people’s houses. Fearing for his safety, he wanted to start over at El Camino.

The way Padilla had first entered El Camino was a unique one; he joined the El Camino JV Football Team the summer before his sophomore year, and he had continued playing all the way to playing for the varsity team his senior year. He says he is still friends with first person he had met in his first period class.

Back then, honors and AP classes were a lot harder to get into. “You had to fight to get into AP,” Padilla said. There also was an AP Chemistry during that time, but there was only one class period per honors or AP subject. According to Padilla, there were seven valedictorians the year after he graduated. Schedules were also slightly different: people had their lunch period at different times, depending on their classes; some students took their lunch after third period, while some took theirs after fourth. This was the main reason why Homecoming skits were performed in the morning and why club meetings were usually held in the morning and after school. Any lunch skits usually had to be performed twice.

Padilla’s Junior Class Homecoming all-nighter on October 17, 1989 was the night the 6.9-magnitude Loma Prieta Earthquake had occurred. The incident fostered a sense of closeness among the students; instead of doing the all-nighter, they all tried to find one another and tried to make sure everyone and their families were okay.

Padilla as a teacher at El Camino.

Padilla’s senior Bell Game experience ended with a bang—literally. Several minutes before the first half of the game was over, while Padilla was in the middle of South San Francisco High School’s football field, he heard a big, loud bang. He remembers turning back to the source of the explosion and seeing a gigantic hole in the scoreboard. A pipe bomb had exploded in Clifford Field during the Bell Game! Luckily, there were no injuries. No evacuation was implemented; they simply had cleaned up the debris and resumed the game as usual. In the end, the culprit of the pipe bombing was never found.

El Camino dances were very popular during Padilla’s time. “Everyone goes to El Camino dances,” Padilla said. “That’s what we’re known for.” About 700 to 800 people came to El Camino’s school dances, with one-third being guests from other schools. Private school students sometimes came to the dances to meet girls, much to the chagrin of El Camino boys.

Socially, Padilla, who was class president his senior year, saw himself as a little bit of an outsider. While he took honors classes, he was not part of the honors clique; the honors kids were already familiar with one another, having formed relationships during freshman year, whereas he had only transferred in his sophomore year. Although he played football, he was not a typical jock, being the only football player on the team taking honors classes.  He also listened to rock music. “I was a guy who did his own things … I didn’t associate myself with stereotypes. I tried different things,” Padilla said.

Padilla’s family history at El Camino spans many years, even as far back as 1972. “There’s always someone from my family at this school.” His siblings, his cousins, and his cousin’s children all went to El Camino. However, this is not uncommon for many students in El Camino. As a teacher, Padilla always sees family names repeatedly among different generations. “You can trace back [a student’s] family history [at El Camino.] It gives El Camino a small town feel.”

Padilla administrates the El Camino’s 50th Anniversary Facebook page, where El Camino alumni can get in touch with each other in celebration of El Camino’s golden year. School pride is still evident with El Camino alumni, as can be shown by the comments this Facebook page gets, with classes from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s arguing which class is the best. Padilla is pleased to see that this kind of school pride still continues to exist, not only with the alumni but in current El Camino students as well. “When you walk to the mall, you’ll see mostly EC sweatshirts,” Padilla said.

Categories: Feature

Once a Colt, always a Colt: The story of Jolene Jordan as a former student at El Camino

December 10, 2010 Leave a comment

By Catherine Tadina

Science teacher Jolene Jordan as a student.

Science teacher Jolene Jordan attended El Camino starting as a tenth grader, since ninth grade moved to the middle schools at the time. Jordan was already native to El Camino by the time she transitioned to high school. “El Camino was my backyard,” Jordan said. “I played at school during the weekends.”

Jordan recalls with a laugh that she and her friends used to sit on the railings of the stairs by the blacktop and slide down the railings. Jordan is filled with enthusiasm as she recounts moments she spent with her friends, such as finding beetle bugs around school and naming them “John,” “Paul,” “Ringo,” and “George,” building forts on the overhang between the hill and the front of the big gym, or riding bikes down the hill beside McLellan street.

Jordan at present.

As a dare, Jordan and her friends even walked on top of the concrete wall by the swimming pool and the tennis courts. “We all dared each other to scale that huge concrete wall,” Jordan said. “It seemed scary because looked so tall, so high at the time that we considered it a feat to be able to climb on top and walk like you’re on a tightrope.”

The positive change Jordan has seen over the years is the increasing diversity of the students. When Jordan was a student, the student population was mostly Caucasian and Latino. Now, the student body is much more diverse. Jordan also remarks that the cliques were a lot more obvious during the seventies than today. “I think that I didn’t feel a sense of community as a student than what I am observing in students now,” Jordan says. “There’s a lot more respect among today’s students, especially with people they don’t know.”

Categories: Feature

Once a Colt, always a Colt: The story of Jeff Cosico as a former student at El Camino

December 10, 2010 Leave a comment

By Catherine Tadina

Physical Education teacher Jeff Cosico as a student.

Physical Education teacher Jeff Cosico’s first impression of El Camino was a sense of overwhelm. Compared to Alta Loma Middle School during his seventh and eighth grade years, El Camino had a bigger student body as well as a size difference between the freshmen as compared to the seniors.

According to Cosico, back in the 90s, El Camino always had a very diverse student population as today. Although they had different “cliques” that hung out with one another, everyone respected each others’ differences. Academics were always a focal point of El Camino. “We ranked very high compared to the other high schools in the county,” he said.
One aspect of El Camino that has always persisted is the school spirit. “Just like today, El Camino students take pride in their school,” he said.

Cosico’s favorite El Camino tradition is Homecoming Week.  “Starting with the class skits, the rally, followed by the homecoming game, the school spirit is at its peek during this time of year,” he said.

While going through college, Cosico served as after school coach for both the frosh/soph and varsity football teams.  Cosico decided to come back to teach at El Camino because of what he has experienced as a student during the early ‘90s. “I’ve always wanted to work with kids after I finished high school,” Cosico said. “I’ve always had a connection with this school even after I graduated.”

Cosico said he felt very nostalgic upon coming back to El Camino after several years. “It brought back memories of when I was a student here at El Camino,” Cosico said. “I feel very fortunate to work at such a good school.  We have respectable students and a very supportive staff.  El Camino is a great school for both students and staff alike.”

“I’m very honored to be working [with] some staff members that were here back in the early 90s …[I’m very honored to be working with] teachers such as Mr. Arias, Mr. Cresta, Mrs. Jordan, Mr. Simondi, and Mrs. Webb,” Cosico said. “They were excellent teachers then, and they’re even better teachers now.”

Categories: Feature

Once a Colt, always a Colt: The story of Shannon Allen as a former student at El Camino

December 10, 2010 Leave a comment

By Catherine Tadina

Allen as a student.

While El Camino in the 1990s was physically very similar to that of the present, the surrounding areas were quite different; El Camino in the ‘90s had a rural atmosphere. “It was kind of like the Wild West,” English teacher Shannon Allen said. In order to go to school every morning, Allen remembers having to walk through a “scary path” across what is now the track field. The areas surrounding El Camino were grass fields: there was no South San Francisco BART, Starbucks, or Costco. The area where the nearest Trader Joe’s is currently located was once full of trees. “It was shady,” Allen said. “There was not a lot of adult supervision in the surroundings back then.”

The issue of building South San Francisco BART in 1997 was a source of contention among students. While South San Francisco BART was being built, many El Camino students protested, arguing the safety of making El Camino too accessible.

The Columbine School Massacre on April 20, 1999 had a profound effect on El Camino students. Allen recalls hearing the news in English teacher Thomas Crockett’s senior AP English class.

Allen at present.

“Everyone was in shock,” Allen said. “While there were school shootings before, they were fairly small; this was the first time a big scale school shooting—a mass murder—had occurred.” People all over the country blamed rock music as the driving force behind the Columbine high school shooters. Since Allen listened to rock music, there was some scrutiny put on students like Allen and her friends. To dispel suspicions, Allen organized a peace march, wherein about 30-40 students, as well as Crockett, walked to the South San Francisco City Hall. There, they passed candles and discussed what it meant to be peaceful.

Gangs were also more prominent at the time. While the gangs never bothered Allen, she had a Latino friend who was assaulted by a rival gang. “You really had to watch yourself back then,” Allen said.

Once a Colt, always a Colt: The story of Anthony Khoo as a former student at El Camino

December 10, 2010 Leave a comment

By Catherine Tadina

Math teacher Anthony Khoo as a student.

When Basketball coach and Math teacher Anthony Khoo was a student at El Camino, he felt that the teachers had believed in him. Eventually, years later, he and his friends agreed that while other people were interested in making money, they wanted to invest in people and give back to the community.

Khoo at first studied civil engineering, but he ended up disliking his job, so he switched to education. He started coaching around the community but eventually came back to coach at El Camino. He was eventually offered a math teaching job by Principal Adele Berg.
Khoo had since dedicated several years as a coach at El Camino. As a teacher, he has always advocated for various renovations to the school and good equipment for the sports teams.

“I always want to have El Camino to have things other schools have,” he said. Back when he was a student, El Camino did not have a lot of the privileges students have today: several things from the classroom doors to bathrooms and the gym looked older, the academic building had no elevator, the portables looked older, and there was no air conditioning.
When asked on what it feels to become a teacher at El Camino after being a former student, Khoo said that it feels different to see the other side. “You get to appreciate [teachers’] job more,” he said.

Khoo still has a lot of respect for his former teachers, despite being their colleagues now. He confessed to feeling awkward when his former basketball coach Richard Arias had asked to be addressed as “Rich.” Also, “I’m still scared of [Steve] Simondi,” Khoo said, giving reverence to Simondi’s imposing personality. He says he still remembers Simondi’s purple squirrel story. While he had always viewed Spanish teacher Denise Webb as motherly, becoming a teacher has led him to view her as such moreso than ever. He also recalls having health and autos teacher James Cresta for a semester his freshman year, and has always respected him.

Khoo at present.

During Khoo’s freshman year, he was a member of a lightweight basketball division at El Camino. This lightweight basketball team was made specifically for short and skinny teens like Khoo was. With Arias as their coach, El Camino’s lightweight team competed with other lightweight basketball teams in the area, including South San Francisco’s own lightweight team.

Khoo’s first period Senior AP English class, taught by English teacher Thomas Crockett, had challenged the second period class to a basketball game. He remembers that weeks leading up to the game, students from both periods would pass messages to the opposing team through Crockett. Crockett, also being a drama teacher, would usually “hype up” the message to try to taunt the opposing period. The most memorable part of this event was that Crockett had actually participated in the game, playing both the teams on each half of the game.

Homecoming was done differently in Khoo’s time. Homecoming rallies were performed in the mornings before school started, usually around 7:30 a.m. in the courtyard. It happened to rain on Khoo’s Senior Homecoming Day, so the Senior Class performance had to be postponed to lunch in the gym. According to Khoo, the other classes got angry because of this, saying that the better acoustics of the gym gave the Senior Class the advantage. The better acoustics of the gym was probably one of the reasons why Homecoming performances are now performed in the gym.

Khoo remembers how difficult it was to clean up the campus after Senior Class prank, as everything had been adorned with toilet paper. When asked whether Khoo himself had participated in the pranks, he refused to comment.

Categories: Feature

Once a Colt, always a Colt: The story of Patty Vlahakos as a former student at El Camino

December 10, 2010 Leave a comment

By Catherine Tadina

Vlahakos as a student.

Counselor Patty Vlahakos had several family members attend El Camino before her arrival, giving her many opportunities to attend football games and dance shows. “I was always really excited about the level of school spirit that presented itself during these events,” Vlahakos says. “Students were always incredibly approachable and parents were always present at the events.”

According to Vlahakos, her most memorable moment in high school was her senior year homecoming, where she created a strong bond with her classmates. Participating in homecoming allowed her to create new friendships and made her feel as if she was a part of her graduating class. Her biggest regret was not participating in homecoming in the years prior. “After experiencing the excitement of homecoming in my senior year, I definitely regretted not participating earlier,” Vlahakos said.

All students at one point in their high school career were able to access other students outside of their typical “clique”. All of the students were open to socializing with many different types of students. “When I participated in our school musical productions, we had a very diverse group of students participate: there were athletes, dancers, cheerleaders, drama students, art students, et cetera. Were all involved in different aspects of the events,” Vlahakos said. There was definitely a sense of inclusion when such opportunities presented themselves.”

Vlahakos was born and raised in South San Francisco, and thus, she considers El Camino home. When she was given the opportunity to work at El Camino, she could not let the opportunity pass. She chose to work in education so that she could help reach out to all students and provide them with the support they need to reach their full potential. “What better way to give back to my community than to serve youth in such a rewarding way!” Vlahakos said.

Transitioning back to El Camino was easy for Vlahakos, as teachers, counselors, and staff members made her feel right at home. “It was refreshing to see that the school had maintained the positive vibe that I had recalled,” Vlahakos said. She had the honor of having some of the current teachers as her own – Social Studies teachers Richard Arias and Steve Simondi, English teacher Thomas Crockett, and Math teachers Megan Connery and Richard Finacom. “It has been a pleasure to work with them all,” Vlahakos said. “I know how powerful they all are in the classroom and it is always exciting to hear my students speak highly of them also.”

Vlahakos at present.

Students nowadays have more opportunities to enroll in rigorous courses than when Vlahakos was a student. The only decline she has seen is in the school’s elective department due to the budget cuts which have taken a toll on the school’s resources; when Vlahakos attended, they had classes such as accounting, metals, wood, home economics, and speech. Nevertheless, the presence and involvement of counselors has increased drastically, as well as the amount of Honors and AP classes, according to Vlahakos. Students now have numerous opportunities to seek out counseling resources, speak with college representatives, and attend “life after high school” presentations more regularly.

Vlahakos believes that over the years, El Camino has always maintained its spirit. “I think that our teachers, staff and students take pride in our school,” she said. To her, the most impressive thing about El Camino is how effective it is in maintaining a safe environment. “As a whole, we have been successful in allowing for our students to uphold their individuality,” Vlahakos said. El Camino has held strong in creating a second home for its students, teachers and staff.