by Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
People tend to be surprised when they meet John Belleci, president of Student CTA. In many ways he is a typical student — he carries a backpack, attends school with the help of student loans, advocates for the young generation, and has views others may perceive as being radical. Now for the not so typical part. He is a grandfather and has a wealth of life experience to share with others.
“Yes, people are sometimes surprised when the meet me,” he laughs. “I tell them that age is just a state of mind and that being in school keeps you young. I see a lot of people my age lose their passion and fight. Being around kids keeps you young and fighting.”
Belleci, 50, is serving his second term as SCTA president and loves every minute of it. In addition to taking a full load of classes, he constantly visits SCTA chapters throughout California.
“My goal is trying to bridge the gap between their generation and mine. I try to make today’s students aware of the issues surrounding unionism.”
He believes that much of a student’s “education” lies outside of the classroom.
“This generation wants to be the best it can be — and I am trying to get them to understand they can’t be the best if they aren’t doing three things. First, they need to be aware politically. Second, they need to be in touch with diverse cultures. And third, they need to be involved in their communities. I constantly encourage students to communicate and collaborate with other organizations on campus, especially with diverse students. I urge to them go outside their comfort zone, because when they go into the classroom, there will be people they will feel uncomfortable with, and they have to know how to deal with that.”
Belleci, who grew up in Pittsburg, Contra Costa County, faced challenges in life that delayed his teaching career. His father, a high school teacher, died when he was 16. He went to Sacramento State University on a scholarship, but when it ended after freshman year, he became ineligible for financial aid and had to drop out. He had four children — now grown — and raised one of them by himself. He had a job at a packaging plant making wooden barrels to store fruits and vegetables, worked at liquor stores, coached basketball and softball teams, and then moved to Vegas to work as a pit boss in a casino.
He also struggled with alcohol and drugs. In 2008 he got a DUI. He calls that event the catalyst that turned his life around. He got clean and sober, enrolled in some online classes, and never looked back.
“I became addicted to school,” he muses. “It became my focus.”
While he was enrolled in Saddleback Community College, a four-year transfer counselor convinced him to start a club for future teachers. He was the sole member. When he transferred to CSU Fullerton in 2009, he continued taking a few courses at Saddleback, and converted the Saddleback club into a Student CTA chapter. By then it had grown to seven members.
“I’m a hustler,” he laughs. “I’m constantly working to bring increasing numbers of students into SCTA and to increase the diversity within SCTA.”
He recently finished his thesis for his master’s degree in history at CSU Fullerton, and he hopes to be teaching at a community college in the fall. He recently won the NEA Student Program Outstanding State Leader Award at the Student Leadership Conference in Atlanta, which he attributes to the collective work of the SCTA board and chapter leaders.
In John’s words:
I became interested in unionism…
when I was very young. My father was a radical. He and four other teachers started a union chapter of AFT [American Federation of Teachers] around our kitchen table. I saw it happen. I was dragged to school board meetings. I was raised by an activist.
Students should be appreciated for…
all the work they did on this past election. They worked hard on the campaign, and I saw light bulbs go off in their heads about the importance of being involved in the political process.
What I would like CTA members to know about Student CTA members is…
they are here and need to be incorporated into the organization. Students say that they come into the room at State Council and sometimes they don’t feel very welcome by traditional members. We need to make them feel welcome.
The best way to make them feel welcome…
is to give them something to do, so they’ll come back. And we want them to come back. CTA members are getting older, and the association needs new blood. So welcome them. They’re our future.
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