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Laguna Beach

Celebrate the retirement of veteran teacher Tamara Wong

What do pandas, shoes, the Phoenix Suns, Waco Texas and teaching have in common? One incredible teacher named Tamara Wong. For the past 31 years, Wong has impacted the lives of many students at El Morro Elementary School. From the pancake breakfast on the first day of school to dumplings on Chinese New Year, she always ensured her students’ minds were filled with knowledge and their stomachs with food.

The influence of Wong stretches beyond the classroom. She has taught her students about giving back by running a panda cupcake fundraiser for the past nine years. With the help of many volunteers and parents, Wong and her students created Panda cupcakes and held a bake sale at school, with all proceeds going to The Panda International Foundation.

Celebrate the retirement Wong

Photo by Garrett Wong

Tamara Wong

After 31 years of dedication to teaching, Wong will be saying goodbye to her El Morro Family.

“Mrs. Wong always went above and beyond to motivate her students to learn the 3rd grade curriculum, as well as to participate in the world around them through field trips to downtown Laguna and fundraisers which helped others globally. The positive impact Mrs. Wong had on her students’ lives was invaluable! We feel blessed to have had Mrs. Wong teach both of our boys. May her retirement be filled with happy memories of knowing she contributed to the success of 31 years of students!” – The Detweiler Family.

Come join a surprise retirement celebration for Wong on Sunday, June 5 at the El Morro Elementary multipurpose room from 1-4 p.m. It is located at 8681 N. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach. RSVPs would be appreciated before Friday, May 27 to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

If you or someone you know is a past or present student or parent from Tamara Wong’s class, they kindly ask if you would write a brief note to her about your favorite memories or the impact she has had on your life. Also, please share where your life has led you today.

All Class LBHS Reunion at Heisler Park, May 7

All Class cheerleaders

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All Class alum at Heisler

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Photos courtesy of Beth Leeds

“This 2022 All Class LBHS Reunion, which took place Saturday, May 7 was the best one. It was just like being back in the ‘daze,’” according to alumna Beth Leeds.” Amanda Horton (Class of 1993) was in charge and “everywhere.” Three current LBHS Breakers Cheerleaders made the entire event fun. They rallied attendees with cheers, bringing back memories of the CIF years. The earliest alumnus in attendance was Jim Flynn, Class of 1944. Flynn was one of the first lifeguards. Pictured are LBHS Cheerleaders, Classes of 2022 and 2023 with Lifeguard Phil Jones, Class of 1951.

School District to present speaker to discuss “understanding and mastering emotions”

On Tuesday, May 10, the Laguna Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) will present Dr. Marc Brackett who will present strategies and skills for understanding and mastering emotions. 

In this parent and secondary-student focused talk, Dr. Brackett will share the research and science of the power of emotions in supporting well-being, engagement and success. Additionally, he will share tools and strategies to recognize, master and regulate emotions.

Dr. Brackett is the founder and director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, professor in the Child Study Center for Yale University, author of Permission to Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive (2019), and lead developer of RULER, an evidence-based approach to social and emotional learning adopted by nearly 2,000 pre-K through high schools across the nation. As a researcher for more than 20 years, he has focused on the role of emotions and emotional intelligence.

“Dr. Brackett’s expertise on emotional intelligence and tools to master emotions will provide an incredible opportunity for parents, staff and students to re-center and take more control of emotions to thrive in life,” said Dr. Michael Keller, LBUSD director of Social Emotional Support. “We are so appreciative of the support from SchoolPower and our Laguna Beach Unified PTA for supporting this important speaking event and many others in previous years.”

“LBUSD Presents Dr. Marc Brackett” will take place at 6 p.m. in the Artists Theatre at LBHS, located at 625 Park Ave. Light refreshments will be served outside the theater starting at 5:30 p.m.

Parents needing childcare for students in grades transitional kindergarten through 5th grade can sign up through the RSVP in ParentSquare. 

Additionally, they will have their partners from the Laguna Beach Community Coalition ( there to share local community resources to reduce youth substance abuse in our community. Parents interested in attending must RSVP through the link sent out via ParentSquare.

School District recognized for successes during challenging COVID times

Laguna Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) was among 727 schools and 121 school districts being honored for their demonstrated efforts to support students in four target areas — student engagement, technology distribution, nutrition services and social-emotional well-being.

This award program has taken the place of the California Distinguished Schools (DS) Program this year. It honors and recognizes schools and districts that went above and beyond to implement innovative practices during the 2020-21 school year when California required schools to offer distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the greatest challenges LBUSD faced in 2020-21 was preparing for an unknown array of physical and mental health conditions during the pandemic. In an effort to find innovative solutions that supported both the academic and social-emotional health of our students, administrators, teachers, and support staff spent countless hours during the summer unpacking state and local public health guidance and considering the diverse needs of our student population.

Under the guidance and directives from state and local health officials, including the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), California Department of Education (CDE), Orange County Health Care Agency (OCHCA), and Orange County Department of Education (OCDE), the LBUSD team worked to place students into stable cohorts that would minimize the number of students who might need to quarantine in the event of a COVID-19 exposure.

Out of this collaborative research and design process, administrators and middle and high school teachers developed a hybrid trimester learning model that provided physically safe, social-emotional centered (SEC) student schedules with a high-quality, robust education.

Staff considered several hybrid learning models after examining studies and school programs from all over the world. They ultimately recommended the SEC student schedules within the trimester hybrid model because it was able to:

–Accomplish social distancing requirements through stable student and staff cohorts.

–Minimize cross-interaction between cohorts.

–Allow students to focus on two courses at a given time, rather than a traditional six-course, semester model.

–Allow teachers to reduce class loads to increase focus on teacher-student relationships and support.

–Allow families the flexibility to decide to remain in a distance learning format even when schools reopened.

“Our teachers worked together to make sure the Learning Management System was used effectively,” shared Michael Morrison, Chief Technology Officer. “Teachers focused on using formative assessment applications that helped them gauge the effectiveness of their teaching.”

Dr. Michael Keller, LBUSD Director of Social Emotional Support, noted that LBUSD did not see a major increase in D’s and F’s in the 2020-21 school year at the secondary level that other school districts experienced during the pandemic.

Dr. Keller said, “Staff reported that this is in part due to teachers developing stronger and closer relationships with students due to lower student-to-teacher ratios. This enabled teachers and staff to respond to student performance concerns or disengagement immediately. 

“In addition, student perceptions of care, support and belonging actually improved in 2020-21 from two years prior as measured on the Challenge Success anonymous student survey. Student perceptions of care and support increased from 3.7 in 2018 to 4.0 on a scale from one (low) to five (high). 

“Student feelings of belonging at school increased to 3.7 from 3.5 two years prior. Additionally, 91% of students had positive or neutral feelings about opportunities for regular participation in engaging learning activities and 86% of students had positive or neutral feelings about having at least one caring relationship with a staff member at school. 

“In the survey, our secondary students’ most common words to describe their middle or high school experiences in 2020-21 were high-quality, fun, caring and welcoming.”

The data analysis confirmed the importance of prioritizing positive relationships and connections between students and teachers. It also indicated the positive impact on student achievement that can occur when students focus on fewer classes at one time.

According to LBHS Senior Mia Lepage, “COVID has had a big impact on students and teachers. When teachers open up and give a nice comfortable environment for students, they want to open up.” 

The District has since returned to a six-period, yearlong block schedule. Staff is continuing to research and explore ways to integrate the lessons learned from the Social-Emotional Centered (SEC) Student Schedules practice into future programs and schedules.

“I honestly couldn’t be more proud of our District,” shared Jason Viloria Ed.D., Superintendent of Schools. “Our community and staff played integral roles in the success of our students, keeping them engaged and connected and allowing them to thrive during such a challenging time.”

Laguna Beach Unified School District prides itself on ensuring each student gains the knowledge, experience, world perspectives, and skills needed to become a lifelong learner and producer in a competitive and interconnected world.

Girls lacrosse brings exciting sport to LBHS field

Girls lacrosse photo 1

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Photos by Scott Brashier

The Laguna Beach High School Girls JV Lacrosse team battled JSerra, winning convincingly, 11-5, at home as Zoe Cox (31) breaks for the goal

Girls lacrosse photo 2

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Breakers Emmy Regal (7) takes the edge driving around the JSerra defender at she looks to pass

Girls lacrosse photo 3

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Zoe Cox (3) uses her speed to break through JSerra opponents looking to possibly pass to teammate ahead advancing on goal

Girls Lacrosse photo 4

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Helena Debreteville fights through defenders to score past the JSerra goalie

LBHS student creates new banner to promote Genocide Awareness Week

Last year during the pandemic, Ashton Azadian, now a Laguna Beach High School junior and vice president of the Associated Student Body (ASB), created a banner remembering the Armenian Genocide of 1915. It was hung in the LBHS quad catalyzing the school to proudly come together for the first time in history to recognize the Armenian Genocide.

Last year, President Biden declared April 24 as Armenian Remembrance Day. This proclamation occurred after Azadian made his banner, so he decided to update it. 

Earlier this week, Azadian created and hung a new banner recognizing Genocide Awareness Week. He once again applied for a grant from their PTA and, with the support of LBHS Principal Dr. Jason Allemann, Azadian designed the visual for the new banner, which shows the U.S. Flag, the Armenian Flag and their school’s logo along one line.

LBHS student banner

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Courtesy of Ashton Azadian

Ashton Azadian with the new banner he created and displayed in the LBHS quad this week

“I like the new visual I created because it shows partnership and solidarity as our student body and teachers again come together to recognize the Armenian Genocide this year,” said Azadian. “The year 1915 appears in the background, because the Armenian Genocide began on April 24, 1915. The banner shows that our school stands strong with our nation and Armenia. My peers from all grade levels at the school have stopped to thank me for the new banner and for how the banner helps to bring greater awareness to the evil of genocide.”

Teachers have also told Azadian how much they appreciate the banner and what it represents.

“As an Armenian-American, I am proud to be a part of a school that fosters that kind of meaningful education and awareness with a real focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. I’m also thankful for our school’s PTA for awarding me with this important student grant,” said Azadian.

Here is what Azadian shared with the entire school during the morning announcements earlier this week:

“Hey Breakers, this week we join schools and colleges across the country and around the world to recognize the Armenian Genocide of 1915. In the quad, you will see a banner remembering the Armenian Genocide and I encourage you to take a second to scan the QR code in the bottom right corner of the banner to learn more about the Armenian Genocide and our nation’s recognition of it. When you scan the QR code, you’ll be taken to President Biden’s proclamation, which condemns the killing of over 1.5 million Christian Armenians from 1915 to 1923, a campaign of ethnic and religious extermination. Indeed, when Hitler was asked how he thought he’d get away with the Jewish Holocaust during World War II, his response was this: ‘Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians!’ My great grandfather was a survivor of the Armenian Genocide at the age of 4 years old, and even when he was an old man, he remembered the horrors inflicted on his family while he watched his mother and father and older siblings being tortured and then murdered. As a Breaker who has Armenian heritage, it means a lot to me that our school recognizes the Armenian Genocide because, as the saying goes, ‘if we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.’”

LBHS girls water polo club teams go undefeated in winning both 18U and 16U titles

Members of the Laguna Beach High School Water Girls Polo team, playing on the SET 18U and 16U Club teams, went undefeated this past weekend at the 2022 California Cup State Finals in Corona.

On the SET 18U Black team, Ava Houlahan, Lela McCarroll, Lauren Schneider, Charlotte Riches, Myha Pinto and Ava Knepper, went 5-0. Their wins included victories on Friday over the Fresno Bulldog, 18-0, then on Saturday against Carlsbad Seaside, 19-0, and SF East Bay Diablo. 14-4. 

LBHS girls water polo team photo 1

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Photos courtesy of LBHS girls water polo

LBHS SET 18U Black championship team

They then moved into the semifinals on Sunday morning, beating Santa Barbara 805, 15-6, and then Newport Beach in the afternoon, winning 14-2 for 1st place.

On the SET 16U Black team, Emmy Hensley, Claire Turner, Presley Jones & Kara Carver, also went 5-0. Their win Friday was against the Fresno Bulldog, 20-4. On Saturday they had wins against Simi Valley South Coast, 17-1 and Newport Beach, 13-1.

LBHS girls water polo team photo 2

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LBHS SET 16U Black championship team

On Sunday in the semis, they beat San Diego Shores, 16-4 and Santa Barbara 805, 10-4, to win 1st place.

Thurston’s Mock Crime Scene teams tackle historic 157-year-old cold case 


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

The death of John Wilkes Booth in 1865 – at the hands of soldier Boston Corbett – wasn’t so much a “who dunnit?” as a “who was it?” Found with compatriot David Herold at Garrett’s tobacco farm, a fire broke out in the barn, Herold supposedly died in the fire and Booth was shot on the porch. 

Over the years, there has been much controversary about whether the shooting victim was Booth. He reportedly broke his leg jumping off the stage after he assassinated Abraham Lincoln, however, the body – alleged to be Booth – didn’t have a broken leg. Ah, the plot thickens.

The task of the Mock Crime Scene investigators was to determine if it was Booth who was shot – or if he perished in the barn fire. The outcome hinged on which body had the broken bone. 

thurstons mock body

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One of two crime scenes the body of John Wilkes Booth, or is it?

A dilemma to be sure – but the razor-sharp skills of Michelle Martinez’ Forensic Class and Club at Thurston Middle School were “on it” during the mock crime scene investigation at Alta Laguna Park on Thursday, April 21.

“The program started as an after-school club and became so successful that it was placed into Thurston’s 7th grade elective rotation for the last five years,” Martinez said. “Every year more than 50 students sign up for the afterschool club and the elective class has approximately 60 students per year. My daughter Noelle and I have co-taught this class together, but she created the curriculum and creates historical forensic mock crime scene simulations each year for students in grades 6-8 to solve.” 

A passion for forensics

As a Laguna Beach School District student, Noelle came up with the idea of a forensic program nine years ago at Thurston. She wanted to give back to the community of Laguna and has taught and led this very successful program. Based on her credentials, she’s the right person for the job. Noelle is a graduate of Baylor University with a B.S. in anthropology and a minor in forensics. She earned her Postgraduate Certificate in Forensic Anthropology at the University of Dundee in Scotland and has an M.S. in Criminal Investigation from the University of New Haven. Currently she’s working on her M.A. in Education with a Secondary Science Credential and is doing her student teaching in science at Thurston. 

thurstons mock arson scene

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Arson scene at Garrett’s farm with authentic fire-damaged items retrieved from a fire in Newport Beach courtesy of the Newport Beach Fire Department

Passionate about forensics, Noelle admitted, “It changed my life. I’ve been doing this since I was a freshman in college. I got more and more into teaching and fell in love with it. During COVID, I did virtual classes investigating cold cases.”

According to Martinez, “The objective of the forensic class and after-school club is to reinforce and introduce students to the skills and knowledge required to understand forensic criminal investigation by analyzing crime scenes, identifying fingerprints, analyzing bloodstain patterns and processing artifacts. The program engages students in teamwork and collaboration to solve an end-of-the-year mock crime scene. The class and after-school club allow students to interact with the content on multiple levels and formats, provide in-depth inquiry and has students make connections for college, career and civic life.”

“I worked on real cases and ran a research lab when I was in school,” said Noelle. “We worked on cold cases and were able to identify seven bodies that were sent home. We have to have respect for the dead, and I pass that on to my students. We’re the victims’ last voice.”

thurstons crime butterfield

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Detective Joy Butterfield and Zoey Bond

This reenactment was part 2 of the mock scene investigation that was started in 2019 with the assassination of Lincoln. Unfortunately, it was postponed for two years due to the pandemic.

Divided into two groups, the students analyzed two crime scenes (based on the two bodies found at Garrett’s farm) to determine which body was identified with a broken tibia. The first crime scene was a man shot and killed with evidence of the assassination of Lincoln. The second crime scene was centered around Garrett’s burnt barn and evidence of a burnt body.

To enrich the experience, during the past five years, Martinez partnered with the Laguna Beach Police Department to help the students during the mock crime scene investigations. 

“This year we also collaborated with the Laguna Beach Fire Department and their Arson Investigator Ian DaCosta to simulate the John Wilkes Booth crime scene at Garrett’s Farm,” Martinez said. 

DaCosta answered questions at the arson scene, which was staged with authentic fire-damaged items retrieved from a fire. He showed students how to collect evidence, secure and label it, and pointed out the importance of marking the things that had probable value.

thurstons mock dacosta

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Fire Investigator Ian DaCosta

Many Laguna Beach Police Officers and Fire Fighters were onsite to offer assistance. Both Detective Joy Butterfield and School Resource Officer Ashley Krotine have participated in the mock crime scenes for four years. First time participant Officer Jeremiah Kennedy fielded questions from the students. 

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Breakers swim team honors seniors with special day

Photos by Scott Brashier

There’s an annual tradition at Laguna Beach High School with the swim team. Each year, the coaches honor their seniors, always at a home meet. This year it was against Marina on Wednesday, April 20.

Breakers swim team team swimmers with bouquets

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LBHS senior swimmers (L-R) Front row: Isabel Foley, Emily Shabunov, Lauren Smith, Ava Houlahan, Hannah Carver, Lexi Parness; Back row: London Boyd, Lela McCarroll, Carly Rohrer, Sean Theron, Will Kelly, Holden Seybold

When the team is gathered, the coaches say a few words about each swimmer and their notable performances over the years. Each swimmer is acknowledged and presented with a bouquet of flowers along with pointing out what college or career path each is committing to.

Breakers swim team Girls heat start

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Breakers swim team Boys heat start

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Breakers swim team 2 girls swimming

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Breakers swim team solo male swimmer

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It’s a nice tradition and this group of seniors will be missed.

Breakers’ young diver reaching new heights for LBHS

Chase Shipp is a freshman at Laguna Beach High School. He’s also a competitive diver, nationally ranked, who has turned into a star for the LBHS Swimming and Diving team.

In Shipp’s second meet ever for the Breakers, he broke the all-time school record of 489 points set by a senior Sahil Das back in 2019, scoring 494.40 points.

Breakers's young diver red haired kid

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Photos courtesy of the Shipp family

Chase Shipp proudly displays Sunset League diving championship medal

And remember, he’s just a freshman.

A week ago, Shipp also added to his accomplishments by becoming the Sunset League Boys Varsity Diving Champion while taking first place at Los Alamitos.

According to his family, Shipp practices more than 20 hours a week, while maintaining a straight A average.

Quite an accomplishment!

Breakers young diver diving into pool

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Shipp completing dive on his way to the league title

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