About the Coordinator: John-Michael Gomez, NCSP, LEP
Hello! This is my first year in Benicia Unified School District and I’m excited to oversee the Special Friends and Second Step Programs in the district. I am the Mental Health Coordinator for the entire district and oversee all mental health programs across all grade levels. I value the Special Friend and Second Step Programs and recognize the importance the programs play in social-emotional learning. Please reach out to me with any questions you may have.
About the Second Step Facilitator: Linda Wright
My name is Linda Wright and I am the Second Step Group Facilitator for Benicia Unified School District. I have been a guidance assistant since December 2002. I enjoy it immensely. It is a privilege to guide students in this manner. The curriculum is awesome and my objective in my role is to create an accepting atmosphere where each child knows they are and feels valued.
A little about myself. I graduated from the University of California, at Berkeley with a BA in Psychology with an emphasis in Child Development. Since 1980, my career has been as a small group facilitator for different agencies. My husband and I have lived in Benicia since 1994. Our three children attended Benicia schools. My First two children have graduated from college and my third graduates May, 2018 from college. I am an active story teller in the Bay Area and write children’s books, which will be published soon. I sincerely hope that this introduction will help you in your decision-making process.
About the Special Friend Guidance Assistant (Mary Farmar Elementary): Mel Paterno
My name is Mel Paterno and I am both honored and proud to have worked as a Special Friends Guidance Assistant at Mary Farmar School for the past fourteen years. After graduating with a BS in Business Administration/Management, I was given the opportunity to work in the corporate finance world as a manager of an office for an Italian reinsurance company. I was then presented with multiple managerial positions for renowned retail stores over the proceeding ten years until motherhood came calling!
After being a stay-at-home mom for a few years, I realized that my kids were becoming more independent and that it was time to return to the workforce. Special Friends/Second Step program holds a special place in my heart. I have learned so much from the children with whom I have had the privilege of developing their friendship and trust. Seeing the world through their eyes – priceless!
About the Special Friend Guidance Assistant (Joe Henderson Elementary): Debbie Habegger
I started the Special Friends Program at Joe Henderson in the winter of 1989. Since then, I have worked primarily at Joe Henderson, with some years at Mary Farmar. During the 33 year period I took a few years off when I had my twins.
Children have always been the nucleus of my life. Since I was 17 yrs. old, I worked with children’s church and youth groups, and choreographed over 20 children’s musicals. I was also the Room Mom every year for all of my 4 children (which went through the Benicia schools), coached girls’ soccer, Asst. Cheerleading Coach for BYF and Benicia High School. I also co-chaired Grad Night for 2 years.
My education includes studying business at Bowling Green State University and I am presently pursuing coursework in Psychology to further my education.
My husband, Dean, and I have 4 children with 4 in-loves and seven grandchildren 13, 12, 11, 10, 7, 5 and 3yrs. old. My free time consists of spending time with my family, cycling, mountain races, exercising and running my part-time Pilates Reformer business.
I feel blessed to have a position that is a passion of mine and still look forward to going to work every morning! My goal is to strive for each one of my students to feel unconditionally accepted and valued, (and having fun)! I find it fascinating to continually see the world through their eyes.
“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” — Fred Rogers
About the Special Friend Guidance Assistant (Robert Semple Elementary): Joan Burnett
I have had the pleasure of working as a Special Friend Elementary Guidance Assistant since the 2000-2001 school year. In addition to the Special Friends Program, I also serve as an administrator at a local church.
It is a privilege to spend time with students one on one, getting to know them and building relationships. My goal is to create a positive environment where students feel comfortable to be themselves. I have learned so much from the students I have spent time with and feel very honored to be a part of this program.
My husband and I moved to Benicia in 2000 from the California central valley. Our two children graduated from Benicia High School and from Sacramento and Sonoma State Universities. Some of my hobbies include quilting, traveling, crocheting, and spending time with my family and friends. I also enjoy camping and white-water rafting.
“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” — Fred Rogers, television personality
About the Special Friend Guidance Assistant (Matthew Turner Elementary): Anne Mang
My family moved to Benicia 22 years ago for my husband’s job. I have enjoyed working with Special Friends for the last 16 years. My children graduated from Benicia High School, both excelling in sports. My daughter graduated from Chico State in 2014 and my son is attending University of Reno. I enjoy gardening, aerobics, and talking walks at the Benicia State park with my dog Bing.