Merced County Times Newspaper
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Times Photos by Jonathan Whitaker

Former Tenaya teacher remembered with new marquee

 

A brand new electronic marquee is shining particularly bright out in front of Tenaya Middle School in south Merced this week.

“Graduation is June 5!” one message flashes with excitement.

“Minimum Day today” another one will inform.

Sometimes a special “shout out” will trail across the board, conveying a recent student accomplishment.

While electronic marquees out in front of schools have been commonplace all around Merced in recent years, Tenaya unveiled its very own last Friday — just days before 8th Grade Awards Night, Graduation and the end of spring semester.

Immediately there was a new sense of community awareness and pride at the corner of 8th and N streets, according to teachers and staff.

And it wouldn’t have happened if it were not for the fundraising efforts of a loving family who are committed to keeping the memory of a former Tenaya teacher alive on campus.

“We wanted to leave some kind of memory so the kids would know about her,” Stela Teran told the Times. “I wanted them to see that she set the mark.”

Teran is the mother of Brandy Saxton who was raised in Merced and remained here to teach 7th grade Language Arts and Social Studies at Tenaya. Saxton was a member of the Tenaya Middle School Social Club and Merced City School District OTA.

“She was an amazing human being and teacher,” said Veronica Villa,  a learning director at Tenaya who knew Saxton. “She was super tiny, but she had the biggest personality.”

Tragically, Saxton passed away suddenly in August of 2009 at the young age of 31. According to the family, the beloved teacher returned from the hospital in pain multiple times after she was told she was passing a small kidney stone. However, her condition quickly deteriorated and she was transported to UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco. Doctors there told the family it was too late. She had developed sepsis and her organs began to fail.

Saxton left behind her husband, a fellow teacher named Ron, and two little ones at the time: Sailor and Sophia.

Since her passing, parents Stela and Randall Teran started a memorial scholarship program to support students graduating from Tenaya and moving on to local high schools. Each year, two standout students were awarded funds to help with the school supplies and fees associated with starting high school.

A lot of the money came out of the Teran’s own pockets, as well as those of other family members. However, they also created fundraisers, including an annual golf tournament at the Rancho Del Rey course in Atwater, and a dinner for players at Lake Yosemite.

This year — 2024 — marked the 15th year of their efforts. They are getting a little older, and have decided to end the charity golf tournament; however, they wanted to do something extra special because of the milestone.

Their first thought was an electronic scoreboard for the school’s softball field, but when the conversation started about a year ago, school counselor Robb Ferreria and others pointed out that what the campus really needed was an electronic marquee near the main entrance.

“I told them it would be front and center, and well taken care of,” Ferreria said. “Our neighbors really watch out for the front of our school.”

Ferreria said the Terans were inspired and backed the plan 100 percent. The installation was aided by school district resources and the school’s custodial staff. It took months for the permitting and groundwork. The Terans donated more than $26,000 for the effort, and their only request was to have the marquee up and running in time for this year’s graduation and their annual scholarship presentation — today known as the “Once A Warrior, Always A Warrior” Awards, referring to the school’s mascot and pride for achievement.

Said Villa, “The family works really hard in keeping Brandy’s spirit alive, and they have done a lot for Tenaya, and wow,  the marquee was like an extra bonus. It’s just a reminder of Brandy and how she gave back to students.”

Villa added that the marquee is already making a huge difference for their campus community.

“Just being able to communicate out into the community about events going on at campus — so quickly and efficiently — is so important.”

In a partnership, the school and the Terans will be selling foundation bricks to be placed at the base of the marquee in order to raise more money. Anyone in the community can donate. Former students, staff members and families who want to memorialize a former teacher have already expressed interest in purchasing the bricks. Each brick will be etched with messages. The cost is $100 per brick. They hope to have the bricks installed over summer break. Anyone interested in this fundraiser, can call the Tenaya School Office at (209) 385-6687.

Ferreria, the school counselor, told the Times he’s grateful for the Terans, the memory of Brandy, and the entire Tenaya School community.

“I’ve worked at almost every middle school,” he said. “I have seniority, and I chose to work here, with these dedicated faculty members, and these great kids, and everything. … This is a really unique school.”

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