2004 Inductee - Sylvia Ada Bello

2004 Inductee - Sylvia Ada Bello


Many teachers have taught for 33 years like Sylvia Bello, but few have made the impact that she has made, and continues to make. She was an exceptional science teacher, has taught Spanish to teachers for many years and was an educational pioneer. She is has translated for the County Office of Education and has corrected state tests of credential candidates who want to become teachers. “When I started in Stockton Unified School District in 1967, I found out that the number of minority students not applying to college was appalling. My previous teaching experiences in my native Puerto Rico, as well as in Mexico, taught me that a college degree is a prized possession. Even though in those countries the students were from low socioeconomic levels, they worked very hard in order to obtain economic assistance and attend college,” she states.

“In Stockton I found a lack of interest in higher education. In order to change this lack of interest I started to look for reasons why students who did not differ much from the students I had previously taught were not motivated to finish high school and go on to further their studies,” says Sylvia. She encountered Hispanic students that had low self-esteem. Hispanic students were frustrated and ashamed because of their inability to speak English; and had few positive role models as well as having cultural biases working against them. They also were ignorant of how schools worked.

“My expectations for all my students were very high. I always expected them to succeed, to believe in themselves, not to give up, and to keep on trying. I spent many hours before school, at lunchtime, and after school tutoring and talking to them in order to increase their self-esteem. I also spoke to parents about the advantages a higher education would bring to their offspring.”

“For years I tried to convince administrators that Hispanic students, if given the right instruction in Spanish, would succeed and go on to college. Administrator as well as many teachers believed that Hispanic parents did not care about their children’s education. Finally I was given the opportunity to prove them wrong. As a result of a grant given to Franklin High School where I taught, restructuring to improve attendance and education took place. I was able to establish La Academia de Espanol de Franklin. This was a demanding program in which the students were taught college preparatory courses in Spanish during their first two years while they learned English. In their last two years they were instructed in English. At the end of their four years the students were fully prepared to enter any of the state colleges and were totally convinced that they could succeed in their endeavors,” says Sylvia with pride.

La Academia continues to be successful. In 1997 five of its graduates earned degrees from the University of the Pacific, one went into the military and the rest attended Delta College. The students from La Academia had fewer absences, had no discipline problems and they finished high school. There is a waiting list to get into the program, some coming from outside Franklin’s school boundaries.

Sylvia has also organized a students’ exchange program with Stockton’s sister city in Mexico for five years. She took students to Guadalajara, Mexico during spring break for 10 years. She took teachers and community members to Guadalajara for five years. For seven years, during spring break she took Franklin’s science students to Baja California, Mexico to do desert and marine biology. After school, she taught biology to Taylor Sills School students for two years. She was a presenter at Victory Elementary during their annual Marine Day for three years. She organized and hosted the first Science Olympiads. Sylvia continues to assist students and has translated a biology textbook into Spanish.

Many honors have been bestowed on her. In 1964 she was named Outstanding Biology Teacher of Puerto Rico. She was selected Outstanding California Foreign Language Teacher and Outstanding American Educator in 1974. The Valley Association of Science Teachers named her Outstanding Valley Science Teacher in 1990. In 1997, she received a CABE award for “work done in the field of bilingual education.” UOP Sigma Thai chapter recognized her in 1990 for “excellence in science teaching.” Her greatest tribute might be from Jose Hernandez, Stockton’s first astronaut. He went on both the Guadalajara and Baja field trips. She states, “I am most honored to have been recognized as an influential teacher in this life.”