Santa Ana Community Mourns the Loss of a Multi Talented Teacher
May 20, 2021
Known for his extreme love and gifted talent for music, Juan Carlos Contreras, passed away from COVID-19 in early January of this year.
Miriam Contreras, his wife who is a teacher and World Languages department chairperson at GFHS, describes him as a person with a larger-than-life personality.
“Anytime he walked into a room, he lit the place up with his beautiful smile and energetic laughter. He always tried to see the good in every situation and find hope in every person,” said Contreras.
Contreras grew up in Callao, a small port city in Lima, Peru, where he started playing the guitar and singing at gigs at 13 years old. He eventually got so good at it and wanted to share his talent with others.
Despite coming from very meager beginnings, that did not matter to Juan Carlos or JC as Miriam called him. He always pushed himself to be the best at everything he did.
“He wanted his students to know that it doesn’t matter where you come from or what has happened in your past. You can do anything that you set your mind to. You can achieve greatness, you can live a beautiful life, and get everything you ever wanted,” said Miriam.
Later on, he moved to the United States to live the “American Dream.” He earned his Bachelors of Arts in Cross Cultural Communication from Chapman University and a Masters of Science in Educational Technology from National University.
It was then that he decided to become a teacher. He started his remarkable journey at the Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD), first teaching computer education at Spurgeon Intermediate School and then a Spanish teacher at Saddleback High School.
Miriam said, “He was a natural-born teacher, who pushed students to be the best they could possibly be. For years, he would have students going back to his class to thank him for helping them create goals and pursue a better life for themselves.”
In total, Contreras worked at SAUSD for 30 years. However, he spent most of his time at Saddleback where he started an after-school guitar club as a way of giving his students an opportunity to enhance and/or develop their musical skills, attain confidence, and ultimately have a community on campus.
The guitar club performed at pep rallies, back to school nights, open houses, and hosted the talent show each year.
Miriam said that in his last few years, he taught summer school at Godinez.
“Juan Carlos loved working in Santa Ana and wouldn’t have given it up for the world,” added Miriam.
But above all, the two most important things in his life were having a strong family bond and an unwavering faith in God.
Junior, Perla Mendoza, at Saddleback had the chance to meet Contreras through her Advanced Placement Spanish Literature class last year.
Mendoza said that he was the sweetest person and was always in a good mood even on his bad days. And, he never failed to put a smile on his students’ faces because he would treat them as if they were his kids.
Mendoza was in complete disbelief when she found out about the loss.
“I will most definitely miss his positive attitude. He always put his students over everything. I remember he always told us ‘I believe in you no matter where you come from or how challenging things get, you’ll always find a way’,” said Mendoza.
Mendoza shared many moments with Contreras, for example, when December approached, he would take his students to each class to sing songs.
“He did so much for all his students and he absolutely left an impact,” Mendoza added.
Without a doubt, Contreras’ legacy will live on and is greatly missed by everyone who was lucky enough to know him.