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 Getting to Know SDCOE: Teacher Makes an Impact at San Pasqual Academy

Elmer Vigilia with Cara SchukoskyElmer Vigilia has turned his passion for helping others and an ability to connect with students into a career serving specialized populations.

For more than 30 years, Vigilia has worked with special education students across San Diego County at comprehensive traditional high schools, juvenile detention facilities, community schools, and now at San Pasqual Academy (SPA) in Escondido. 

"My personal strength is in building relationships and collaborating with partner agencies to provide services our students need to obtain their goals in life," Vigilia said. "I feel blessed to be working in an environment that allows me to match student strengths and interests to programs in the community and in our school to develop the skills and vision needed to move forward after they leave our classrooms."

Throughout his career, Vigilia has started programs that have helped students improve and advance. While at Camp Barrett (now Urban Camp), he started several outreach programs for students exhibiting positive behaviors. Opportunities included attending Padres games and deep-sea fishing, and in his final year at Camp Barrett, he held an intramural basketball tournament that helped build students' morale and defuse negative energy. He also helped students find jobs through YouthBuild training and internship programs.

"It was great seeing the difference these programs made in the lives of these young men and women, and also seeing them get their first real jobs and paychecks," Vigilia said. "It turned their lives around for the better and really helped their families, too."

While he was vice principal at Vista High School, an incident involving an Immigration and Customs Enforcement sweep of local businesses in which some parents were detained or deported was a transformative experience for him and moved him closer to his current role in supporting foster youth at SPA.

"It triggered something for me on the humanitarian side of what we were doing," Vigilia said. "How do we help these families?"

One of the ways he helps students at SPA is by connecting them with needed resources to help them reach their goals.

"I love working here, because I'm starting to see all these different programs that can help our students," he said.

Vigilia is proud of one student in particular who is graduating this spring. When they first met, the student was angry and upset, and Vigilia had a tough time building a rapport with him. Vigilia's colleagues told him it would take time and patience to build the relationship, so in Vigilia's words, he "wore him down with niceness."

"Elmer always has the time to help all of the students at SPA," said fellow teacher Donald Jackson. "His calm approach to teaching has been so important when working with students who have experienced trauma at such an early age. Students feel welcomed when they enter his classroom and they make a much better effort to learn because of Mr. V."