City Councilmember Laurie Capitelli wears a potted plant from the newly cleaned up downtown area. He promised to donate it to the largest contributor to the BPEF. The winning bid was $5,001. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD

Hundreds of people gathered at HS Lordship’s restaurant Friday to honor the teachers who shine in the Berkeley Unified School District.

The Berkeley Public Education Foundation recognized three middle school teachers for their dedication to their students, inventiveness, and collegiality. The crowd at the annual fundraiser was also wowed by a performance by Berkeley High sophomore Noah Silverman St. John, a spoken word poet who was featured on Berkeleyside in January, and whose work has been heard on NPR.

The luncheon was a “Who’s Who?” of Berkeley with numerous city councilmembers in attendance (Laurie Capitelli was the emcee), as well as state legislators including Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner and State Senator Loni Hancock. Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan was there, as was Interim City Manager Christine Daniel, Auditor Anne-Marie Hogan, Economic Development Program Coordinator Michael Caplan, and other officials.

Sponsors included the Saul Zaentz Company, Wareham Development, Bayer HeathCare, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Meyer Sound, Union Bank, Mechanics Bank, Wells Fargo, Pacific Steel Casting Company, Oliver & Company, Red Oak Realty, Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, and more.

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner was one of the guests at the annual BPEF luncheon. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD
Outgoing BUSD Superintendent Bill Huyett got a BPEF apron as a going-away gift. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD

BPEF raises hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to support teachers and projects in Berkeley’s 19 schools. In the 2011-2012 school year, BPEF gave out 243 grants totaling $224,000.

The Distinguished Educator Awards went to:

Akemi Hamai, a science teacher at King Middle School. Hamai, who went through Berkeley public schools herself and is the parent of an eighth grader, started her career in Berkeley teaching science to students newly arrived in the United States with limited English skills. Hamai still teaches about 25 of these student a year, who among them speak 10 to 15 different languages. Her students have gone on to college and industry and achieved great success. Hamai has also coached PE and the girl’s basketball team, helped strategize on a curriculum for the Edible Schoolyard, and launched the Junior Asian Student Union.

Mary Patterson took her first job as a Spanish teacher at Berkeley High in 1990. She organized a cultural exchange program where Berkeley students went to live with families in Mexico. In 2003, Patterson went on to build the district’s middle school Spanish/English dual immersion program at Longfellow, where she teaches today. In 2010, Patterson took on leadership of the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program at Longfellow, which identifies under-represented students and helps them map out a path to college.

George Rose, a Willard Middle School teacher, has taught English, History, Debate, and other topics and developed the school’s well-regarded drama program. Rose enlisted parent volunteers years ago to clean out an old shop classroom. They transformed it into the “Metal Shop Theater,” where it has become a showcase for student-written and student-performed productions. Rose also resurrected Willard’s legendary Spring Day, a day in May where students perform, take workshops, and compete in sporting events.

YouTube video

Noah Silverman St. John performs “Backbone & Education,” at annual BPEF lunch.

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...