By Karen Billing
Since Carmel Del Mar opened in 1992, only one teacher has ruled the science lab. The lab has always been teacher Linda Dugger’s place, the one filled with everything from dangling solar systems to a live chinchilla, under giant black and white faces on the wall of scientists such as Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton and Marie Curie.
“When kids come into the classroom I always refer to the great minds of science because they taught us so much. I use those giants as a reference and say that they are watching over us. What we can learn from them can amount to change in our world. I hope they never get painted over,” Dugger said. “I want (students) to remember what Einstein said: ‘Never stop questioning.’”
After 19 years at Carmel Del Mar and 42 years in education, Dugger will retire next month. A celebration of her retirement will be held on June 15 at 3 p.m. at Carmel Del Mar.
“We were called the school with the heart,” Dugger said. “Students not only have a love for learning but they love and respect each other. You feel it when you walk in the front door…I will miss the children, the staff and parents. The community of Carmel Del Mar is just wonderful.”
Dugger said CDM is a “very, very special” school but it’s obvious many at the school find her to be quite special as well. Outside her classroom, a poster is filled with colorful scribblings of appreciation and well-wishes.
“Thanks for making my seven years here the best ever,” wrote student Michelle Zhao. “You made me love science and love school.”
“There will never be another Linda Dugger,” said fellow Carmel Del Mar teacher Bill Porter. “Her professionalism, dedication, and unconditional devotion to her students are characteristics all teachers should aspire to and want to emulate. She has been a positive role model for her students and colleagues, as well as also being a mentor and a friend to many.”
Dugger was born in Idaho but spend most of her youth in Eugene, Oregon. By high school, she had volunteered at various summer camps and elementary schools.
“I just always knew I really wanted to work with children,” Dugger said.
She graduated from Oregon State University and has her master’s degree in special education and a special certificate for teaching gifted students, “both ends of the spectrum,” Dugger said.
Dugger married a Navy dental officer, which took her all over—back to Oregon, to the Canal Zone in Panama where she taught special education for five years, to New Jersey where she piloted the first GATE program, to Oklahoma where she started their GATE program and won “Norman’s Teacher of the Year.”
In 1985, she landed at the Del Mar Union School District, teaching fourth and fifth grade for seven years at Del Mar Heights. In 1992, President Bill Clinton presented her with a Presidential Teaching Award after she was nominated by a former Heights student.
“That meant a lot to me,” Dugger said.
At CDM, she became the ESC science teacher, teaching her special brand of hands-on science to students in kindergarten through sixth grade.
“My job allows me to work with every student in the school, I love that about my job,” said Dugger.
For 16 years she worked alongside her classroom aide Debbie Ewing.
“The two of us in the science lab was the very best time of my life,” said Dugger. “When I am remembered at Carmel Del Mar, I want to be remembered with that lady by my side because she was absolutely phenomenal.”
Over her 19 years at CDM she has worn a great many hats.
She coordinated the REACH program for gifted and talented students while it was still funded. She organized and put together the school talent show, orchestrated the author’s tea to show off the written works of students and also was in charge of student leadership. This year she helped the student leadership group hold many service learning fundraisers—their most recent effort raised $1,000 for victims of the Japan tsunami.
“We have a very strong student government,” Dugger said. “I think students feel that they have a voice and that their opinions are valued.”
She leads her students to compete in the Continental and International Math Olympiad and Math and Science Field Days.
Dugger’s philosophy has always been to help children find a connection in learning, help them take what they learn in the school and explore it in performance-based learning outside the classroom, such as competing at an Academic Day in a team effort.
“Kids do that in sports, we need to do that more in academics and art,” Dugger said.
Dugger also heads up the social committee for the school staff and she is also the school’s resident tooth fairy, taking care of little danglers and making sure they get home safe and under-the-pillow ready in a special tooth case.
After she leaves Carmel Del Mar, Dugger said she is not ready to hang her hat up completely. She hopes to continue working with students in science and math, just not full time. She is also looking forward to gardening, playing more golf and tennis and taking an Alaskan cruise with her husband, who is retiring in August.
Dugger said she considers herself “retired but not expired” and has fond memories of her many years in the classroom. Through e-mail and Facebook, she has connected with former students, some now in their 30s.
“They thank me and they tell me they remember things that I always thought were important,” said Dugger. “It reassures me. It makes me thrilled I chose the profession that I did.”