Proving that it’s never too late to follow your passions, Annette Fewins started her college career in her 40s, and over the past 20 years she’s earned more degrees and credentials than we can count—all so she could pursue a career that she loves. Annette is an esteemed teacher and department chair for Career and Technical Education (CTE)—otherwise known as vocational skills—at Benicia High School.
When Annette was in high school in the 70s, she took shorthand and learned other business and vocational skills that prepared her for a job right after graduation. She took the road less travelled, postponing college and securing a job at Bank of America. After moving on to a management position at Pac Bell for more than a decade, she chose to stay home with her three young children.
In 1996, her family of five moved from El Sobrante to Benicia, and in 1998 she took an entry-level job at Benicia High School as a computer resource technician. It wasn’t long before she realized she wanted to be a teacher, and her collegiate journey began.
It turned out that her business background would give her some advantages in earning a CTE credential, and while working full time and raising her children, she began taking night classes at CSU Sacramento. One of her first and favorite jobs was teaching high school yearbook, but this eventually required an English credential, so she went back to night school at Touro University in Vallejo. To top her game, she continued to earn several CTE credentials through UC Berkeley’s extension programs, including information technology, graphic arts, media and entertainment, business and finance. “For me, I think it boils down to dedication, sincerity and a lot of hard work,” she says. “I’m not a genius like some of the teachers I hire.”
The CTE department she’s helped build over the past two years is like a team of Marvel superheroes with extraordinary skills. Andreas Kaiser teaches Engineering and Architecture, AP Computer Science and Robotics program. Steve Shields joined recently to teach Building Construction and Auto/Welding. A registered nurse, Sonya Seslar, is teaching Introduction to Medical Careers. Annette teaches Digital Media, Freshmen Technology and iQuest.There’s a lift in her voice as she talks about iQuest, a senior internship program that allows students to explore careers first hand. Students are placed at the Benicia Fire Department,
Police Department, City of Benicia, Public Library, engineering firms, real estate offices, veterinarian offices, orthodontists, major hospitals, and creative venues like Film Mare Island. What’s more, most CTE courses are accredited with local community colleges allowing high school students to earn college credit.
“I have a passion for helping kids get off in the right direction, into careers they can enjoy,” she says. “And, not every child is college bound, they need a place where they can be free of their desks, and working with their hands.” This could be why Annette was voted Benicia High School’s Teacher of the Year in 2018, and just in the nick of time too, because she is retiring this month.
“My decision to retire took me by surprise,” she says. For the first time in 20 years she took a summer off from professional development classes to travel with her daughter to Greece. “It gave me a taste of what retirement might be like, and I knew what I had to do.” She’s looking forward to taking up photography again with David, her husband of 38 years, who retired some years ago from East Bay Municipal Utility District. And, she’ll savor time with her children and two grandchildren. Her daughter Kristen teaches 9th grade, her son Trevor is a physician’s assistant, and her eldest son Michael is in construction like his father. “I am extremely proud that they all have selected careers that better people’s lives,” she says, like a true career counselor.
It’s still going to be hard for her to let go. “I’ll stay involved at the high school, and I would love to start a program at the middle school,” she says emphatically. “I’m not done. I’m not ready to be done!”