Unsung Santa Cruz: Giving Back Through Teaching and Soccer

A man talking to someone in a classroom
(Alexa Aguilar)

Martín Zepeda, an RSP teacher at Alianza Charter School, is an unsung hero who selflessly helps kids with learning disabilities. Despite the challenges and low pay, Zepeda’s passion for teaching and dedication to his students shine through as he goes above and beyond to make a positive impact in their lives and on the soccer field.

Editor’s note: Lookout’s high school journalism challenge invited students to write a profile of a local unsung hero who is making a positive difference in our community, inspired by our popular “Unsung Santa Cruz” series. Our editing team read and reviewed the submissions, publishing the top ten stories. The top three authors are awarded a $500 scholarship.

“I like this job because I get to help kids. The pay is not good but I like to help kids because it is like paying back to the community.” These are the words of Martín Zepeda, a resource specialist program (RSP) teacher at Alianza Charter School in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District. The resource specialist program helps kids who have a type of learning disability. This program is designed to provide resources, strategies and support for children with learning disabilities to help them succeed academically.

Martín Zepeda was born in Michoacan, México, but moved to California when he was 7. He is the fourth child of six kids, which includes three older sisters and two younger sisters – making Zepeda the only boy in his family. Zepeda describes growing up in México as “difficult – fun, but difficult.” He was able to finish his education here by completing high school and being the only one of his family members to graduate from university. Besides his love for teaching and his urge to help kids with special needs, Zepeda also has a passion for soccer. He has coached a girls soccer team for eight years and also coached a soccer team comprised of local special education students and students with disabilities.

Zepeda expressed his love for teaching when he said, I like teaching kids especially with special needs.” He also states that one of the biggest highlights of his job is being able to “get to watch these kids grow and attend high school and university.” Zepeda likes to help kids with special needs even though there are struggles along the way. “One of the struggles is working with special needs kids, especially non-verbal students,” he said, adding, “I have to learn sign language.” One of Zepeda’s inspirations for becoming a teacher was his third grade teacher, Mr. Jones who later went on to be his boss for eight years. Zepeda describes Mr. Jones as being “more than a teacher. … He was like a second father to me.”

One of Zepeda’s current students, who is in the process of graduating from Alianza this year, said Zepeda “helps kids get their grades higher and also makes them work hard even if they don’t want to.” The student also said that during a test, “he lets us come to his classroom for some quiet.” This student likes that Zepeda “also encourages kids to do their multiplication tables by telling them if they learn their multiplication tables from 1 to 6 you will get fast-food restaurant for your lunch.”

During the summer Zepeda holds soccer coaching for special education students and students with disabilities. He holds tournaments once a week for four weeks during the summer in San Jose to let these kids play. Zepeda’s team was a co-ed team, and consisted of 11 local kids from Watsonville and about two from Moss Landing. The league in which Zepeda’s team played was specially designed to allow students with learning as well as physical disabilities to have a chance to play soccer. Even though the league is now canceled, this was just one of numerous ways Martin has helped in the community.

Zepeda’s way of giving back to the community is truly something that should be appreciated. Students with learning disabilities are able to get the help they need to be able to succeed in their academic career. He teaches them their times tables, but it’s more about the care he shows and his patience to lead these kids to success. He doesn’t just stop at the classroom, he goes out onto the soccer field and gives children the opportunity to play.

We have seen Zepeda’s true passion for giving back the community but especially helping kids with learning disabilities. He is truly an Unsung Hero!