I can recall the moment I met JJ Sclar. We were standing in line at a job fair.
He had just finished his master’s at UC Santa Barbara and had heard about a small but mighty district called Ramona. I, too, had heard the positive chatter, and I remember wishing him good luck as he stepped forward for his turn.
Months later, we met again on our first day at Olive Peirce Middle School and I was thrilled to get the chance to work with him.
There is a saying by Maya Angelou: “People will never forget how you made them feel.”
That is the very essence of Sclar and why, in his five years with Ramona Unified School District, he has most certainly made a difference to his hundreds of young students as well as the community. His character and enthusiasm cause everyone around him to believe in their potential and strive to become the best they can be. And, he has this way to of getting his students, and athletes, excited — even about the little things.
Recently Sclar was nominated by his principal, Linda Solis, for the California League of Middle Schools Region 9 Educator of the Year.
“How could I not nominate JJ for this award?” she said. “He is one of those dynamic educators who instinctively know adults have an important role to play during this intense period of growing up. JJ has provided outstanding instruction in seventh (grade) world history, has modeled personal best and enthusiasm as our cross country and basketball coach, and has built a solid, effective AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program that bridges our elementary and high school partners.”
Sclar started at OPMS teaching seventh grade world history but has most recently embraced the role of AVID coordinator. He is responsible for organizing all the AVID data, workshops, paperwork, recruitment, field trips, and more. He also teaches one seventh-grade AVID class and three eighth-grade AVID classes, plus a leadership class made up of National Junior Honor Society officers, WEB Leaders, and Associated Student Body organizers. But, he is not just a teacher. He also adds to the community through his services as a cross country, basketball and track coach. Lastly, he is the teacher liaison for PTSA.
“I initially became a teacher because I realized I truly enjoyed working with kids and wanted to share my love of history with them and also coach them,” Sclar said.
It was his junior year when he made the switch from computer science/psychology major to a history major and coaching minor. And, he never looked back.
“Teaching, to me, isn’t a job,” he said. “It becomes a part of your life, but to have students and parents accept you as a major part of theirs because of the impact you are making on them is an amazing feeling. I think it is one of the things that get overlooked by many teachers. It’s easy to feel the pressure and get caught up with all the standards of teaching and forget the simple fact that we have such an impact on adolescents and can make them happy and successful people.”
Between the students who adore him, the parents who appreciate him, and the staff who respect him, the nomination was an obvious choice for Solis.
“Mr. Sclar was always excited about everything he did,” former student Grace Hallums said. “No matter what it was, he was always pumped up, ready to go, and in turn we loved being in his classroom.”
“Mr. Sclar is really one in a million. He is so positive, hard working, and the kids just love him,” said Julie Doria, fellow teacher and assistant coach. “He has a spark and we are always intrigued by what he will do next.”
And, Solis shared a quote from a parent. It read, “I have to say for the first time in 16 years being at a Ramona Unified school, I’ve never seen a more outpouring of love for a teacher or a coach. Mr. Sclar has been a TRUE GIFT to our kids. “
When he heard of the nomination, he was honored but surprised. “To be honest, it was unexpected. No matter what you do in life, it feels great to be acknowledged for what you do. Being in my fifth year, I didn’t expect any awards from teaching, but it did feel awesome to be nominated because I feel great about the program I am building at OPMS. One of the first things I thought about was what everyone else on our staff would think. I know in my head I try to do amazing things for my students, the school and community, but I want the rest of my colleagues to feel the same way.”
The CLMS Educator of the Year award is given annually to 11 educators, representing regions throughout California, who exemplify educational excellence and have made significant efforts to implement elements of educational reform in the middle school. The winners will be announced early spring.