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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics


Clarissa Lacayo

Clarissa Lacayo

Clarissa Lacayo '07

Special Education Teacher

When Clarissa (Quintanilla) Lacayo ’07 came to work at the Ethics Center as a Santa Clara freshman, she didn’t have a post-college career plan.  But the Center’s Character Education Director Steve Johnson had an idea for her.

“Steve would tell me, ‘Oh, you’d be such a good teacher,’” she remembers.  While she started as an administrative assistant, Johnson gradually moved her into working on the Center’s Character Education Program. She staffed Ethics Camp, a summer workshop for educators on how to use the Center’s Character Education curricula, where she had a chance to meet and talk with teachers.  As she progressed toward her degree, she began writing lesson plans for the program. 

It turned out that Johnson was right about her potential.  Now a special education math and learning skills teacher in the Cupertino School District, Lacayo says, “It fits my personality.  I know how to make connections with kids.  School came easily to me, and now I help kids who find it’s not that easy for them.  I try to show them that school can be fun and they can have some successes.”  

Lacayo brings the character education approach she learned at the Center into her classroom:  “I use all the character training that Steve gave us.  It’s not just about academics; you have to teach kids about what it means to be a good citizen and a good person.” 

She finds those character lessons particularly important in her work in special education.  As a teacher of youngsters with mild to moderate learning disabilities, she often has a wide range of abilities in her classroom—both academic and social.  “It can be really challenging,” she says, “especially when you have a kid who gets the math really easily but needs help with social cues, and then another kid who is three to four levels below in math.  You have to teach the higher functioning kids to be compassionate.” 

In her learning skills classes, she helps students get organized and stay on top of assignments.  Here, too, the character approach pays off.  “Steve would always emphasize that you have to teach kids what it is to have character,” she remembers, “what it means to be responsible.” 

Lacayo is delighted that her experience at the Ethics Center led her into teaching.  “It doesn’t really seem like work when I’m in the classroom,” she says.