SANTA ROSA — A typical morning for Rolando Vela begins as early as 4 a.m. and is spent creating lecture notes, highlighting important topics and searching for engaging YouTube videos to tie into his lessons.
From being a city manager of Laguna Vista and working with an array of government officials to testifying before House and Senate committees, Vela has always had a passion for being involved with government matters.
After gaining more than 20 years of first-hand experience working with city, state and federal level government, Vela is now sharing his knowledge with students.
Vela became an educator this year and teaches government classes for seniors and career prep for freshman students at Santa Rosa High School.
“I felt my calling was to be in a classroom,” Vela said. “I felt like it would complete that circle in my life.”
Vela said he remembers speaking to college students years ago and one of his former English professors told him he mirrored Jaime Escalante from the movie “Stand and Deliver.”
“He told me that I have this ability of relating to students and that they can relate to me. That really stayed with me,” Vela said. “It was like a seed planted in me and for years I’ve been wanting to be in a classroom to share this vast experience and my passion for government.”
For Vela, he sees his role as a teacher as making government relevant for students.
“I tell my students that government is with you from the day that you’re born when your family gets a birth certificate to the moment you die when they get a death certificate,” he said. “It’s literally with you in every aspect of your life.”
Vela said he always tries to illustrate to his students the importance of working hard, following their passions and being the best that they can be.
“It’s all about trying to make a difference in their lives and being a part of a team,” he said. We’re a team here at the school.”
Vela said he always reminds his students that he believes in them.
“I’m not asking for perfection. I’m asking them to give me their best and we’ll build on that,” he said. “If they don’t understand something, they can ask me a question because we will build on what they know and we’re going to do it together.”
As someone who accomplished the Ironman triathlon twice, which involves a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a marathon 26.22-mile run, Vela tries to articulate what he’s learned from that experience to his students.
“I use that to illustrate the idea of hard work and not quitting,” he said. “I tell them that people didn’t think I could do it and I did.”
Vela said he wants to do another Ironman triathlon because he wants them to be a part of that effort.
He said he wants to wear a Santa Rosa Warriors shirt to feel like when he’s approaching the finish line, each one of them will be there with him.
Vela said he plans to start a government club at the high school.
“I want to get my students actively involved in the legislative process and have students that are interested in the club,” he said. “We’ll talk about government and become better students of government. So I’m very excited about this club.”
He said he is also looking into starting a marketing, public relations club to help students understand those fields.
“Sometimes when I’m leaving my classroom and I’m driving home, I can’t help but get emotional because it hits me that I’m living my dream and goal of being a teacher,” Vela said. “I don’t think they realize how much they’ve impacted my life as my students. I continuously strive to be the best teacher that I can be for them.”