Becky Pestarino is an impressive force as Santa Clara Adult Education Supervisor of Skills Plus; the Health, Fitness and Safety Program; and Independence Network. If that seems like a long title, it is. Pestarino also manages the facilities’ contracts. She is a rare combination of compassion and efficiency.
“The Health, Fitness and Safety Program is the largest program in Adult Ed,” says Pestarino quietly. She is not one to toot her own horn. With over twenty years of commitment to the community and Santa Clara Adult Education, Pestarino leads more than fifty employees who are as dedicated as she. The fact that most of them have stayed on for years is testimony not only to the “intrinsic value” of the programs, as Pestarino puts it, but also to her.
The Health, Fitness and Safety Program is the only one in the state of California that has received the designation of Program of Excellence by the California Department of Education, according to Pestarino. She attributes the success to “superiors who allowed me to do what was right for the programs. They saw I had experience and training and encouraged me.” The Health, Fitness and Safety program “was elevated” and students became “advocates for their own health and were empowered with good scientific information about their bodies,” she shares. “We survey the students and ninety eight percent of them are happy with these classes.”
Skills Plus is a program for stroke survivors. “It gives them meaning and a reason to come to “stroke school,” smiles Pestarino. (“Stroke school” is a phrase coined by one of the students.) Adults with neurological impairments are taught independent living, mobility, and communication skills. Pestarino teaches a Skills Plus Caregiver class herself, besides being totally engrossed in supervisorial duties.
“I need to remember my job is to assist the students and the teachers to have the best learning experience,” she explains.
A Santa Clara native, Pestarino credits her career path to a life experience most of us would not think as positive. When she was in eighth grade, her father was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. He died when she was sixteen. “This absolutely helped me to choose my physical therapy vocation. My introduction to physical therapy began in my own home.”
Pestarino went on to get an Associate Degree as a Physical Therapist Assistant and worked in local clinics and hospitals. She enjoyed the teaching and started as a substitute teacher in Skills Plus. “I fell in love with the model because it marries the medical aspect as well as the educational one,” Pestarino reports with enthusiasm. Little by little, she became a permanent employee and rose through the ranks as Skills Plus teacher, facilities manager, and supervisor of Skills Plus to where she is today.
It is clear that Pestarino is an achiever. She holds a Masters in Educational Leadership, has only a thesis to finish for her Masters of Human Biomechanics, has a Bachelor degree in Health Science, and also got an Associate of Science in Biological and Physical Sciences.
“We always need to motivate ourselves to learn and keep ourselves fresh,” explains Pestarino.
She is married, has two sons and two grandchildren, and still finds time to train her “ballerina” on four legs, Tutu the horse.
But what is perhaps the most memorable attribute of Pestarino besides her tireless dedication is her kind personality. She knows every student by name, a real feat considering there are over 500 of them. The closeness of everyone under her savvy direction also testifies to the genial atmosphere she creates. She is the public face of the programs under her guidance, and maintains excellent business relationships with all of her contacts. “My mom also inspired me. Watching her give to my dad gave me empathy and understanding.”
Becky Pestarino is a role model for us all.
Santa Clara Adult Education Center is at 1840 Benton Street, Santa Clara. It is a division of the Santa Clara Unified School District. For more information, call 408-423-3508.