By Mikaela Truong, Staff Writer
// After the retirement of various Acalanes staff members at the end of the 2015-16 school year, the stage was set for a wave of new teachers to step up and educate another era of Dons. Each coming from a different background, they bring their unique and innovative ways of teaching to the school. Blueprint had a chance to sit down with three of Acalanes’ newest staff members.
William Benham-Baker joins the Acalanes staff as an English 2 and English 4 teacher. He previously taught in San Francisco but took the opportunity to teach at Acalanes after getting to know more about the surrounding Lamorinda area.
“After spending time out here, I thought it would be a great community to teach in,” Benham-Baker said. “Everything that I learned about Acalanes just made it seem like the place I wanted to be.”
From seventh grade to the end of high school, Benham-Baker was a part of the school newspaper staff as a writer and eventually became the feature section editor in his senior year. Benham-Baker found journalism to be a great experience because it allowed him to work with a team, explore new dimensions of writing, and communicate with his peers.
“Writing so many feature stories got me interested in finding stories that people had to tell,” Benham-Baker said.
Benham-Baker gleaned some important gems of advice for his students from his own experiences in high school.
“I would advise students to not be so stressed out and to take a deep breath to enjoy the moment in high school,” Benham-Baker said. “Don’t be afraid to speak in class and express your opinion. If I could go back, I wouldn’t be afraid to just be myself.”
After graduating from high school, Benham-Baker attended Pitzer College and majored in Media Studies. Critiquing and offering advice to his classmates and their films gave him the idea that he wanted to teach.
“I realized that I could help students find a voice through writing, and I wanted to strengthen their abilities,” Benham-Baker said.
After college, Benham-Baker began working at a law firm, but it soon became apparent that his passions lied in a different area.
“Law was interesting, but it reached a point where I wanted to do something where I actually felt like I was contributing to society,” Benham-Baker said. “It gave me a new perspective on what kind of career I really wanted.”
After this revelation, Benham-Baker decided to attend Mills College to earn his teaching credentials.
Outside of school, Benham-Baker is an avid fan of the San Francisco Giants and has an unparalleled passion for music.
“I’ve always liked staying up on new music,” Benham-Baker said. “I think it’s good to have my own interests but also have knowledge of what is popular today.”
At home, Benham-Baker takes delight in spending time with his family, including his seven-month old daughter.
Benham-Baker enjoys participating in school events and supporting Acalanes as a Don. He is always down to talk about sports or music.
“I like to keep things chill and mellow, but still have a rigorous academic side in class,” Benham-Baker said.
Brogan Begley is now a part of the Acalanes Science Department as a biology and chemistry teacher. He previously taught at a middle school in Daly City as a science teacher. Despite this being his first year at Acalanes, he has been a substitute teacher at Acalanes, Miramonte and Campolindo High Schools in the past.
Begley has a genuine passion for biology and hopes to impart the same curiosity onto his students.
“I like biology because it is the study of life, and I am alive,” Begley said. “Biology is applicable to everything because everything around you is alive and all of your experiences involve life.”
Begley is a very active individual outside of school and enjoys frisbee, indoor bouldering, and snowboarding. Additionally, he has had many unique experiences, including nearly dying in an accident that sounds fit for a movie script.
While climbing down a tree to get to a tunnel to play his didgeridoo, a long, tube-like Australian wind instrument, Begley slipped and fell towards a spear-like vertical branch. Luckily, rather than slicing Begley into two, the branch sliced up his chest and only slightly punctured his throat.
“Thankfully, my shirt was strong enough to hold me so I was hanging in mid-air,” Begley said.
One of Begley’s favorite lifetime experiences was caving in Lava Bed National Monument, which has over 200 explorable caves. At some points in the caves, the clearance was only ten inches high, forcing him to crawl on his stomach while being squished on both sides by walls of solidified lava.
Aside from his adventurous life, Begley is also known for having an exotic pet collection. He currently owns a cockroach colony, as well as an eight foot-long rainbow boa constrictor. He named her Aurora because she shines like an aurora borealis in the light.
Begley has attempted to breed a giant spider devil mantis from Tanzania, Africa, as well as tarantulas, jumping spiders, the black fat-tailed scorpion (one of the 20 deadliest in the world), black widows, and giant centipedes large enough to eat mice. His past collections have also included reptiles such as skinks and alligator lizards.
In his first few weeks at Acalanes, Begley has been impressed by the students’ great drive to succeed. He enjoys interacting with the students and telling them about his life experiences. Furthermore, Begley is excited to expand his social horizons at the school.
“I am always happy to make new connections and friendships with all sorts of people,” Begley said.
Maria Cadenas has brought her native culture to her Spanish 2 class at Acalanes. She has been teaching for 16 years and is also a teacher at Campolindo High School.
Cadenas grew up in Spain and graduated college in her native country, after which she came to the U.S. to study English.
Cadenas remains very close to her relatives in Spain, and is very proud of her hardworking parents. As farmers in a small town with a population of less than 100 people, Cadenas’s parents were forced to work incredibly hard to provide for their family.
Every year, Cadenas travels to her home country to visit her family for a reunion. They cook and eat a lot as part of their tradition to celebrate reuniting. Cadenas also retains other aspects of Spanish culture, including her passion for Spanish dance.
“I love to dance to salsa music, which is Latino music,” Cadenas said.
Last summer, Cadenas participated in a survival challenge alongside a partner. The pair went open-water sailing, which proved fun yet challenging because their own capabilities would determine if they could survive. At first they were very sick, but they soon became used to the new environment after three days on open water. For 11 days, they had to cook and clean themselves as a part of the survival challenge.
Cadenas also has a passion for traveling, especially to countries where she does not speak the native language.
“It’s fun to navigate through countries when you don’t really know anything about it.,” Cadenas said.
When comparing American and Spanish schools, Cadenas observed that schools in Spain are much more extreme in their academics and that their schedules are very different. For example, Spaniards eat dinner at 9 or 10 o’clock.
At Acalanes, Cadenas encourages her students to participate in Spanish cultural activities and become involved in their school environment.