When Glenda Merwine was principal of Coupeville Elementary School, she distinctly remembered the emotions she felt when teacher John Luvera came to her office one morning and informed her that he would be leaving his position.
“I cried,” Merwine said.
Merwine shared that story at the Coupeville school board meeting Monday night as a way of emphasizing the sort of beloved educator she lost eight years ago.
It was no surprise to Merwine, now a school board member, that Luvera was back in front of her again being recognized for a significant honor on his new career path.
Luvera was invited to the school board meeting to be locally recognized for a national award he received last month for the work he’s done as a teacher at the Island County Juvenile Detention Center in Coupeville.
The Juvenile Detention Center is a school within the Coupeville system staffed by Luvera as teacher, Aimee Bishop as transition specialist and Superintendent Jim Shank as principal.
For two months, Shank, Bishop and others kept the well-guarded secret from Luvera about the “Distinguished Educator Award” presented by the National Partnership for Juvenile Services.
On Nov. 1, Luvera was recognized in front of about 900 people at the National Symposium of Juvenile Services in Denver, Colo., with the excellence in teaching award.
He had thought he was going to the symposium as a presenter and for his own professional development.
“I didn’t even know we were nominated,” Luvera said. “The board knew. Aimee Bishop knew. But they didn’t tell me.”
Not until presenters began describing a program that started sounding very familiar to him.
“It was kind of an awakening moment,” he said.
Luvera was humbled by the award, but also deflected credit to Bishop, the support he gets from the Coupeville School District, and staff at the Island County Juvenile Detention Center, now nationally recognized by the National Partnership for Juvenile Services, the foremost authority in the field of juvenile justice.
On any given day, Luvera spends his day working with up to 10 middle school and high school aged students from all over Island County who spend anywhere from one day to more than a month at the detention center.
Luvera and Bishop work to keep students current with school assignments, provide life skills and help them transition back to their communities.
In the afternoon, work includes building resumes and cover letters and doing mock interviews, among other innovative ways to teach life skills.
“I was there one time when they were refurbishing furniture,” school board president Kathleen Anderson said.
“All of these students get food handler’s permits. He helps them study so they can get food handlers so that if they choose not to go back to school and are old enough, maybe they have some skills where they can get a job.”
Anderson called Luvera’s work “heart-driven.
“It’s not a job,” she said. “I think it’s his mission. It’s his life drive to help young people to succeed and these students need this kind of help.
“John and Aimee care very deeply about these students that they’re working with. They are students. And they are our students.”
The award recognizes an educator “for exemplary service to the field of Juvenile Education and a career of dedication to students.”
Merwine said she was glad Luvera didn’t go far.
“He’s such a compassionate person,” Merwine said. “It was very sad to lose him. But I also had to think about the greater good as far as the district. We had such a need in this county working with juveniles.”