LATHROP, CA - Students have changed since Mark Shima began teaching 25 years ago. He says in order to focus students on academics he serves as both teacher and friend.
"The job situation, foreclosures and the economy -- there are so many things (causing problems) in students' homes," explained Mark Shima. "I do my best to insure that they feel like they can succeed. You want to quash their feelings of no hope."
Shima teaches 7th and 8th grade language arts and physical education at Lathrop Elementary School.
"Sometimes this is only place students find stability," he said. "They can get a meal here and somebody with an understanding ear who looks out for them."
It works for Shima and his students. They're writing persuasive arguments to convince parents they should have a computer, TV and phone in their bedroom despite an energy crunch. They come up with compelling arguments, such as a study in a teen magazine which says teens who use cellphones are smarter.
Shima said his parents led him into education. His father was a long-time principal in Stockton. His mother was a teacher.
But Shima said he knew he picked the right profession when was a student teacher in college.
"I loved teaching and working with students," he declared.
Shima said he tutors students before and after school and during recess.
"I spend hours and hours before and after school helping students write their essays and making sure they can make it to high school," he said. "I don't get paid for it, but I do it to help the students."
He trains students and organizes tryouts for the student spelling bee.
"It's really the students who do all the hard work," Shima said. "It's what they bring to the table that makes them so successful."
He showed off an article about one former student.
"Justin Swafford, he was a success all the way around," Shima said. "He was able to make it to the state (spelling bee) finals and finished second."
Shima said he loves watching his students compete.
"That's because I'm competitive, too. I like rooting for the students from Lathrop Elementary," he said.
He also takes students on a variety of field trips to places like Yosemite National Park, Alcatraz Island, Calaveras County's Big Trees area, and more.
"You've got to put in a little extra time," Shima said. "They're like anyone else, They want to learn as well."
By Karen Massie, firstname.lastname@example.org