GUSTINE - Two Gustine High staff members will be among teachers and school employees recognized Oct. 1 in the 2020 Merced County Excellence in Education program.

English teacher Melody Noceti and school secretary Andrea Verdin are the Gustine Unified School District representatives in the teacher and school employee categories of the program, which recognizes leading educators and support staff members from districts across the county.

As nominees to the program, they are recognized as the district’s Teacher of the Year and Employee of the Year.

Noceti has been a teacher at Gustine High for 16 years, during which time she at some point has taught every English class offered at the school.

She currently teaches 11th grade English and AP English Language, and is co-chairing the school’s WASC committee.

Noceti previously taught at Linden High and Armijo High (Fairfield) before taking a year off from education.

“I actually worked as a dental assistant for a year, and then realized how much I loved education,” Noceti related.

She found her way back into teaching at Gustine High with plans to stay for a year....but instead found a niche on the West Side.

“It’s home. The students need an advocate,” Noceti commented. “I feel very connected to the students and the community.”

She was inspired by her own teachers, Noceti said, and went into education as a result.

English was a natural subject area, given her love of literature.

“In many ways reading was an escape for me when I was younger, and being able to imagine all sorts of different worlds and universes,” she explained.

As a teacher, Noceti reflected, she strives to provide opportunities for her students and instill in them an understanding of their vast potential.

“No matter where they are at right now they have endless poetntial,” she commented. “They have more power and capacity than they realize.”

And, Noceti added, “they will always have people at Gustine High as their advocates.”

Literature is a vehicle which helps broaden horizons, she said, allows students to become more empathetic.

“They can put themselves in other shoes,” she explained. “I think it is a good way of experiencing things outside of their experiences in Gustine.”

While her classroom offers a nurturing environment, Noceti said, she also holds students to high expectations.

Her passion, she reflected, is for education and empowering students to reach for their full potential.

“Once they are in my class I love them like they are my own kids,” she concluded. “Once they are my kid, they are always my kid.”

Verdin also plays a key role at Gustine High as the school secretary.

She works to help students, teachers, administrators and parents alike, and is typically the first person to greet any visitor to the school.

“I really enjoy the relationship I have with everyone,” she stated.

Verdin is in her 10th year with the district.

She was previously an active parent volunteer at Romero Elementary, spending all day on campus to help out where she could, when she was hired on as a yard duty.

“I wasn’t really even looking for a job but because I was there volunteering all day it worked out,” Verdin explained.

After a short time at Romero she moved up to Gustine High and worked as a bilingual liaison and then attendance clerk before becoming secretary four years ago.

Verdin said she strives to set a professional, positive office tone and enjoys helping however she can.

“I take pride in what I do,” she commented. “I try to make sure that whatever I do, I go above and beyond. I like everything to be perfect.”

Dr. Bryan Ballenger, district superintendent, said Noceti and Verdin are richly deserving of the recognition.

“Melody is a phenomenal teacher. She is a motivator who puts students first, and who cares immensely for kids,” he commented.

Verdin, he said, is Principal Adam Cano’s “right-hand person. She does a phenomenal job keeping everybody on track and making sure that students and staff have exactly what they need.”

Ballenger noted that teachers and classified employees at each school site are invited to nominate an individual for recognition in their category, and a district office committee then selects those who are recognized for county recognition.

The 2020 Merced County Excellence in Education program will be held virtually at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 1. Livestream is available on facebook.com/mercedcoe, youtube.com/metvmerced and mcoe.org/metv.

The event is sponsored by the Merced County Office of Education and the Educational Employees Credit Union.