At the start of this school year, College Hill High School senior Jessica Wohlwend wanted to take a chemistry class, but struggled initially finding one to enroll in, given the small alternative school’s limited course offerings.
A few weeks into the school year, she was able to enroll in chemistry at Corvallis High School, but found herself way behind her classmates.
But that's when Jeff Peak, College Hill’s renaissance teacher of math, social studies and physical education (he also has a certification in teaching science), stepped in to tutor her so she could catch up.
And how is Wohlwend doing now in the class?
“I get A’s,” she said.
That's part of the reason why the Corvallis Public Schools Foundation presented Peak with a Golden Apple award Friday in a special assembly. The award is presented each year to just three Corvallis School District teachers and one district staffer.
The award was a surprise to Peak, who also coaches three club sport teams at the school, and just about everyone else at the school, save a couple members of the office staff and principal Eric Wright.
Wohlwend said she didn’t expect the assembly would turn out to be an award presentation, but said Peak was a worthy winner.
“He cares so much, I’m not surprised (he was given an award). He does so much for his team.”
She added that she has still occasionally feels anxiety about chemistry, but Peak’s teaching has made her feel more confident.
“He’s kind of like a superhero teacher,” she said.
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Brandon Huerta, also a College Hill senior, said when he first came to College Hill he was shy and barely talked to anyone.
Huerta said with Peak’s encouragement, he joined the school’s soccer class and soccer team, which has boosted his confidence.
“He’s overall a really nice teacher and he’s really helpful, whether it’s in school or not,” said Huerta, who said Peak was a worthy winner. “He really cares a lot about every student.”
Peak himself said he was completely shocked by the recognition.
“I’m surprised. There are so many amazing teachers. I feel bashful about being singled out among them.”
He also said the other teachers at the school deserve lots of credit for all they do for students.
“I rely on my staff to be able to do what I do,” he said.
Peak said he is motivated to do all he does for students because he wants to find ways for them to get involved and feel like they belong, which will in turn motivate them to come to school.
“Kids do better when they feel like they are part of a tribe. ... If we can make them feel like they belong, the academic stuff will fall into place.”
Peak said many of the school’s students have experienced homelessness, abuse or trauma, which makes it hard for them to focus on education. However, he said, College Hill has a staff that really can connect with those students.
Last week the foundation awarded Golden Apples to Garfield Elementary School’s office manager, Claudia Bouvier, and Garfield teacher Ruben Sandoval. This year’s fourth Golden Apple has not yet been awarded.