“Unmasking” Pinewood’s New Teachers BY SALLY KING

New Teachers on Campus

As Pinewood welcomes Elliot Chang and Jakob Hernandez to high school Math, Raquel Rubalcaba, Heidi Wang and Connie Steube to the language departments, Emily Cardenas to high school History, and Haley Nikodem to Ecofeminism, it is time to remove the “mask” and learn more about these new teachers, where they came from, and how they are adapting to Pinewood and hybrid learning.

Elliot Chang

Chang chose Pinewood because of the respectful students and friendly faces he met.


“Becoming part of the Pinewood family has been amazing thanks to the students and the faculty,” Chang said.

Chang is currently teaching Algebra 2 and Statistics, even though his favorite high school class was PE. He also enjoyed tutoring people in high school, which led to him pursuing a career as a teacher. He previously taught at Don Bosco Technical Institute in Los Angeles, a private, Catholic, all-boys school.

Jakob Hernandez

Hernandez is enjoying his teaching at Pinewood as well. He said his colleagues made him feel welcome, and his students have shown patience and great efforts despite the pandemic. He and Chang have even been playing video games together during their lunch breaks.


“I chose Pinewood because [Christine] Walters [is] a department head I'd be happy to work with, and they allowed me to teach the classes I wanted to teach,” Hernandez said.

Like Chang, math was not Hernandez’s favorite high school subject; instead, he enjoyed his physics, biology, and chemistry classes the most. However, later in his life, he learned to appreciate and value the use of mathematics.

“I wanted to help students see the beauty and variety in math”

“As an adult, I finally started seeing how math connects to everything around us and how many useful life skills I [have are] because of the math I learned. I started studying the parts of math I found interesting like Game Theory and Advanced Probability, and I wanted to help students see the beauty and variety in math,” Hernandez said.

Raquel Rubalcaba

Rubalcaba was introduced to Pinewood by high school Spanish teacher Carolyn Siegel, who is currently on maternity leave. They met at an annual Stanford course for language teachers in California, and Siegel introduced Rubalcaba to Pinewood early this summer.


Before moving to California with her husband, Rubalcaba was an engineer working for the European Space Agency. She volunteered for the Spanish Red Cross in Madrid, where she participated in one of their programs to teach Spanish to children from abroad. She had such a great experience that it inspired her to continue teaching. Since moving to California and getting her Californian teaching license, she has taught Spanish for seven years.

Emily Cardenas

Cardenas originally joined the Pinewood community back in 2017 and has just returned after having a baby. Before, she taught at Presentation High School. She was introduced to Pinewood by a former Pinewood student.


“From the moment I stepped on campus, it just felt right,” Cardenas said.

A jack of two trades, Cardenas has enjoyed learning and teaching both History and English. Mainly, her love for traveling inspired her passion for History, while her former and one of Pinewood’s very own high school Literature teacher, David Wells, inspired her love of writing and English.

Heidi Wang

Coming from Chung International School, Wang is glad to have joined Pinewood’s family. She had a great experience during her demo lesson at Pinewood before the pandemic.


“It is a really healthy teaching and learning environment… it is a little bit beyond my expectations,” Wang said.

Even though Physics was her favorite subject in high school, she is currently teaching Mandarin. She was inspired by how Chinese is becoming one of the most spoken languages and how difficult it is to learn because of the four tones. It has always been her dream to be a teacher, so much so that she used to dress up as one and pretend to correct homework.

Connie Steube

Steube has been working at Pinewood as a Festive of Learning teacher for first graders and at different administration substitute positions, so she was already familiar with Pinewood. Also, She has previously taught at the German American International School.


“My 3 daughters went/go to Pinewood and I love the Pinewood community...It takes a village to raise a child, and Pinewood is my village,” Steube said.

Even though Math and Physics were her favorite subjects in high school, Spanish is the language that she feels the most comfortable speaking and expressing her thoughts in. She wants to bring her passion and excitement for Spanish to her students and show them how Spanish is vital to understanding the different minorities in the United States. One of her inspirations to becoming a teacher was when she was a teenager; Steube and her best friend had made plans of founding a rural school in a remote area in Argentina.

Haley Nikodem

Nikodem’s interest in teaching began when she taught English in South Korea. She later taught American and World Literature and Diversity and Social Justice at Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts. She is glad to be teaching Ecofeminism at Pinewood because she loves exposing students to new subjects and topics that they might not have previously discussed, and exploring the philosophy with her students.


“I chose Pinewood because it seemed like a very kind and welcoming environment. The faculty spoke highly of their students, which communicated to me a sense of care,” Nikodem said.

Meeting hybrid head on

With Pinewood’s new hybrid layout, teachers need to adapt their teaching styles and overcome new difficulties that have arisen.

“It’s a lot different to be in front of the computer instead of students. I’m also very self-conscious as I record lectures, but I’m getting over it,” Cardenas said.

“Teaching virtually has definitely been a struggle and has forced me to change how my lessons would usually go, especially when it comes to group work,” Chang said.

“Teaching virtually has definitely been a struggle and has forced me to change how my lessons would usually go,” Chang said

Chang uses connections to popular music, entertainment, and games to keep students engaged during long Zoom classes.

Similarly, Hernandez appreciates some fun moments to keep his students alert during long Zoom sessions.

“I think the funniest moments are when a pet interrupts the zoom, and the student doesn't realize they aren't muted when talking to their pet in a funny voice,” Hernandez said.

Overall, Hernandez feels the transition to hybrid has been a success.

“The pandemic has really made my class more organized. With Notability, students can see me work out problems in real time just like a whiteboard, except it is way easier for me to color code and highlight important steps or information,” Hernandez said.

Wang works to create creative and unique lessons that balance synchronous and asynchronous work, which also encourages students to get out of their comfort zones and work efficiently. She has been using daily end of class reflections to improve her methods and get feedback on what is and is not working.

“The pandemic has really made my class more organized,” Hernandez said

For Rubalcaba, the most important element of teaching Spanish is the personal interaction with the students, where they practice speaking and correct pronunciations. In her case, teaching on Zoom is ideal because, in hybrid, masks interfere with watching the mouth movements for pronunciation.

“Of course, everything has changed, but not in the quality...we have figured how to overcome the difficulties,” Rubalcaba said.

Rubalcaba works to limit her students' Zoom time by assigning physical books for them to read, along with other assignments that do not require a screen. When she uses Zoom, she uses interactive games like Kahoot and Quizlet to keep her students engaged. They also enjoy laughing at commonly confused words, like pidió (I asked) and pedo (fart).

“Everything has changed, but not in the quality...we have figured how to overcome the difficulties,” Rubalcaba said

Steube works to make sure everyone participates, asks, and answers questions in the discussions stress-free.

“I...have my Spanish 1 classes come up with questions and ask each other. Everyone participates: ‘zoomers’ and in-person students,” Steube said.

Similarly, Nikodem’s classes are Socratic and are heavily reliant on student participation and engagement.

“There are good things, promising things, that I like to think [about]. This is just temporary,” Rubalcaba said

“There is an abundance of nonverbal communication that occurs during a discussion, and I feel like that is lost when conducting class remotely...but luckily my students are well practiced at calling one another into conversation,” Nikodem said.

After the holidays, the new teachers are all looking forward to 2021 and the return to a post-covid campus. Chang hopes to see everyone in person without masks after the pandemic, and Steube is looking forward to seeing everyones’ smiling faces. At the same time, Cardenas can not wait to break the routine of isolation. Hernandez is looking forward to eventually attending all the Pinewood events that he has heard about so much.

“We will have [a] vaccine. So, there are good things, promising things, that I like to think [about]. This is just temporary, and everything will get back to normal, maybe not immediately, but in summer or even after summer,” Rubalcaba said.