Fresno High School chemistry teacher Jacqueline Ruiz and Edison High School campus safety assistant Danny Alberty have wildly different jobs, but both share a common approach as educators: they seek to truly know their students and figure out how to help them succeed.
For their dedication and skill at what they do, both were selected as top educators from throughout Fresno County.
Ruiz was named teacher of the year and Alberty employee of the year, taking two of the three awards given at the Fresno County Educator of the Year gala Oct. 27 at the William Saroyan Theatre.
They moved to the top of the nominees following a rigorous process that included on-site visits by the selection committee. Ruiz and Alberty moved forward to the county awards after winning Fresno Unified Excellence in Education awards last February.
Alberty said he was shocked to be selected.
"It was a wonderful feeling to receive this award in front of my family, friends, co-workers and my mentors -- what a blessing!" he said.
Ruiz said she was honored by the award and proud to represent Fresno High and the district.
"Our youth are the future of Fresno, and through my experiences teaching, I am confident that our future is bright!" Ruiz said.
Ruiz has been a chemistry teacher at Fresno High School since 2011. She is also the pep and cheer team adviser, helping the team qualify for its first national competition last year. She is the lead teacher in her department and teaches the Environmental Systems & Societies International Baccalaureate course.
She strives for students to "construct their own knowledge rather than have me lecture them."
She also does not give up on students. In her nomination form, Ruiz wrote about a particularly troubled student. With the support of his other teachers, the student is now on track to graduate because of "patience, creative student-oriented strategies, a flexible educational approach and a willingness to see him as a whole person."
"Teaching is the most important job in the world," Ruiz wrote. "My job is to help my students become contributing members of our community, to develop their values, acquire common knowledge and be critical thinkers."
At Edison High, Alberty is working his own kind of magic with students. He has worked for the district for 30 years, and been a campus safety assistant at Edison since 1993. He has coached varsity sports for more than 20 years, and is currently the head track and field coach.
He said he considers many of the students he has come to know heroes because of what they have gone through in their young lives.
"If you want to hear stories about overcoming hardships and scratching and clawing out of dark places, the kids are the ones you should hear from," Alberty wrote in his nomination form. "I talk and listen to the kids; that's a big part of my job and from my perspective, makes a huge impact on their lives."
Alberty wrote that he and the entire Edison community were deeply affected by the shooting deaths of Edison student Marquis Sutton in 2012 and Edison graduate Deondre Howard in 2015.
"Their deaths helped me see that what I do means something and I have to keep my eyes, ears and heart open to all the students in order to prevent further losses like these."