Three of the county’s seven 2022 Educators of the Year are from the Coachella Valley.

Riverside County Schools Superintendent Edwin Gomez congratulated each of them on Friday with surprise visits to their schools.

The winners are:

  • Dan Cappello (Desert Sands Unified), Rated Administrator of the Year
  • Ioana Robles (Palm Springs Unified), Site Support Employee of the Year
  • Damon Bonelli (Bella Vista Elementary, Palm Springs Unified), Counselor of the Year

The Educator of the Year awards are for school support professionals and are separate from the Teacher of the Year.

Cielo Vista Charter Teacher (Palm Springs) Nichi Avina was named Riverside County Teacher of the Year last May and one of five California Teachers of the Year last fall.

There are 23 school districts in the county, so it’s worth noting that Palm Springs Unified produced one state teacher of the year and two county educators of the year in less than 12 months.

Riverside County’s Teachers and Educators of the Year will be officially honored at the Educators’ Celebration Luncheon on May 6 in Riverside.

Dan Cappello (right), is the 2022 Riverside Classified Administrator of the Year.

Dan Cappello, Desert Sands Unified, Classified Employee of the Year

Dan Cappello is the Director of Nutrition Services for Desert Sands Unified. It is responsible for serving approximately 20,000 meals a day to students. As Pandemic-induced issues have pinched the nationwide school nutrition supply chainCappello led an innovative farm-to-school cafeteria program with farmers in the East Valley, going through a lot of red tape to find a smart local solution to fight food waste, school transportation costs and nutritional needs.

“It’s a creative way to distribute food throughout the Valley and, by the way, help our families keep jobs,” said Desert Sands Superintendent Scott Bailey.

Additionally, Cappello led an effort to expand free lunch for college students, and he helped reduce student lunch debt by more than $100,000.

Cappello used his relationships with area farmers to create pop-up farmers markets in schools which provide students with locally grown fruits and vegetables free of charge.

He also oversees a John Glenn Middle School student’s community service project, which helped the La Quinta school collect a ton of food waste this year.

Dan Cappello (middle, holding balloons) was named Riverside County's 2022 Ranked Administrator of the Year in La Quinta, Calif. on Friday, March 11, 2022.

About 50 employees surprised Cappello Friday at the Desert Sands district office.

“Dan has become an icon,” Bailey said.

Administrator Linda Porras added: “He is a kind and loving person and an incredible man.”

Cappello dedicated the award to its entire nutrition services team. “It’s a prize for all of us and not for me.”

Ioana Robles (middle) has been named the 2022 Riverside County Site Support Worker of the Year by Riverside County Office of Education Superintendent Edwin Gomez (right).  They pose with Palm Springs Unified Superintendent Mike Swize (left) in Palm Springs, Calif., Friday, March 11, 2022.

Ioana Pirvu Robles, Palm Springs Unified, Site Support Employee of the Year

Ioana Robles is a high school math teacher on special assignment for Palm Springs Unified, but one of her peers has compared her to a rock star.

Robles supports math teachers and she teaches middle and high school students who are at risk of failing math and who, she said, have often internalized that they are destined to be bad at the subject.

“Mathematics is such a controversial topic,” Robles said. “We look at the destination, and don’t look at the process. Students give up easily when we don’t look at the process.”

Robles teaches that while every problem has a solution, there are many ways to get there.

She does this by bringing non-mathematical concepts into the classroom.

“Ioana approaches math with a whole-child approach and social-emotional learning,” Superintendent Mike Swize said.

With a focus on diversity and emotional learning, Robles tries to impress upon students that there is no cookie-cutter process and that everyone should feel comfortable learning. approach math – and life – in a unique way.

Swize praised Robles’ approach to fusing academic and emotional learning as well as supporting the district’s anti-racism coalition.

Deanna Keuilian, Director of Curriculum and Secondary Education, said, “Ioana truly believes that all students deserve quality learning opportunities that prepare them for their future.

Damon Bonelli of Bella Vista Elementary in Desert Hot Springs is Riverside County's 2022 School Counselor of the Year.

Damon Bonelli, Bella Vista Elementary, Palm Springs Unified, School Counselor of the Year

Damon Bonelli is a Renaissance man. He is a member of the American School Counseling Association, contributing writer for American School Counseling magazine on teen substance abuse, graduate student intern supervisor, rock climber, and member of the Joshua Tree National Park search and rescue team.

On top of all that, Bonelli is now the 2022 Riverside County School Counselor of the Year.

“Damon is a dedicated advisor who continually goes above and beyond,” said Bella Vista Principal Lisa Arseo. “Damon is dedicated to building resilient, self-aware students who have an arsenal of tools to support individual growth and self-esteem. He is not shy about seeking additional resources to support our students and their families.

The pandemic has forced students to deal with the loss of parents, friends and family members. Bonelli has organized bereavement groups suitable for elementary schools that teach young people how to use tools like mindfulness, breathing and assertiveness in the most difficult situations.

When schools were physically closed, he partnered with the attendance office to conduct home visits to encourage students to take classes online.

“When a student chooses to drop out, they are not making an academic decision, they are making an emotional decision,” Bonelli wrote in her application. “Mental health and social-emotional learning are critical to the success of our students today.”

Jonathan Horwitz covers education for The Desert Sun. Contact him at [email protected] or @Writes_Jonathan.