WATSONVILLE—Pete Galvan, who devoted the breadth of his career in education to Watsonville High School, will retire this month.
When Galvan steps off campus for the last time on Aug. 17, it will be the end of a tenure that began nearly four decades ago.
More poignantly, it will be the 44th birthday of his son, who recently died unexpectedly after a surgery.
Galvan’s time at WHS truly began when he attended the school, graduating in 1973. He then attended UC Santa Cruz, where he studied education and community studies.
Born in San Antonio, Texas, Galvan says he did not set out to be an educator. It was his desire to help his community—which stemmed from growing up in a family of migrant workers and living in public housing—that inspired the choice.
“I wanted to help people,” he said.
After working under teacher mentor Rhea DeHart, Galvan started teaching government studies in 1981.
Soon, he started working with at-risk kids, which developed into his present job as a guidance counselor.
“That’s what I did for 40 years, basically,” he said. “I did a lot of socio-emotional counseling before that concept entered the mainstream.”
Galvan plays saxophone in Los Culpables Band, and at local churches. He has been a musician for most of his life.
“I started playing music at 10 and it changed me,” he said.
Galvan says he found an affinity for working with students who were at risk of getting into trouble.
“I grew up in the streets, so a lot of the kids could relate to me,” he said.
Former WHS principal Elaine Legorreta says that Galvan forged his own path as a counselor, visiting the homes of students having trouble, making connections with them and encouraging them to come to school.
“He’s an institution, and you don’t become an institution by doing a bad job,” she said.
It was partially because of Galvan’s efforts that WHS had the highest attendance rates in the district, Legorreta said.
“He had so many different ways to connect,” she said. “By having somebody who was reaching out to those kids with problems and connecting people to services, you develop that support system so it’s OK for kids to come to school.”
Galvan says that part of his success as a counselor is realizing that continuing education is not the right path for some students. For those students, he says that choices such as the military and vocational programs are fine options.
“I give them choices, and it works,” he said.
His job grew harder in 2020, when students were staying home engaged in distance learning and parents were calling him asking how to handle the change.
“All of a sudden, they were home all the time,” he said. “It’s all about patience and faith. That’s my big word: ‘faith.’”
And Galvan’s work over the years has come to fruition many times, he says.
“Even now I get calls from former students saying, ‘thank you, I’m successful because of you,’” he said. “Some say, ‘if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be alive.’ Man, it feels great.”