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Aurora High grad Vaca claims Orange Middle School top teacher honor

by BOB GAETJENS | REPORTER Published: August 31, 2016 1:00 AM
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Orange -- Dr. Jim Vaca Jr., a Geauga Lake area resident and Aurora High graduate, was chosen as middle school teacher of the year for the Orange school district.

The awards, given Aug. 21 at the district's Convocation Day, were sponsored by the Lander Circle Kiwanis Club.

Brady Middle School Principal Brian Frank said Vaca has an exceptional relationship with students.

"He's just so focused on students and their needs," he said. "He's always looking out for their best interests."

Staci Vincent of the district's communications team, said the nominations are kept anonymous. But comments from some of the nominations he received mark Vaca as an exceptional teacher.

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"He puts so much time into preparing imaginative lessons that help kids grasp the concepts he's teaching," said one nominator. "His willingness to do that to help his students progress is exemplary.

"He reaches out to parents to see what he can do to help his students and really takes on the role of mentor to his Pride students. I have never seen someone so committed to his students."

Vaca said he learned after the fact that a group of fellow teachers nominated him. He called the award a "nice honor."

Aurora Ward 1 City Councilman Jim Vaca Sr. said he was happy to hear of his son's award. "We couldn't be more proud of him," said Vaca Sr. "He's been working hard for 15 years. He's well-liked at Orange. Kids and parents request him."

Frank said Vaca remains accessible to students even during his lunch period. "It's very common to see kids come into his room to eat lunch," he said. "They find that space comfortable and a place where they hang out or work on homework."

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It's very unusual, he continued, for teachers to spend all their free time in their classrooms.

"A lot of teachers want that downtime from students," said Frank. "He sees it as another opportunity to connect with them. He's got a great sense of humor and jokes with the kids.

Vincent said her son, now in high school, enjoyed having Vaca at the middle school. She said Vaca is involved in "every" school activity and is uniquely supportive of students in their other activities.

"Ryan [her son] still eagerly quotes lessons he learned in Dr. Vaca's classroom and frequently returns to the middle school just to say, 'Hello,' said Vincent.

Email: bgaetjens@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189

Twitter: @bobgaetjens_RPC

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