Beloved Covina teacher retires after 50+ years

After more than 50 years on the job, a beloved local teacher is hanging up her hat. 

Cornella VerHalen, who just turned 90, is celebrating her retirement after teaching more than 50 years as an ESL and sewing teacher. 

VerHalen first started volunteering at Tri-Community in 1970 and began teaching ESL in 1975 at Tri-Community Adult Education/Pioneer Center. 

Her teaching career began when Richard Nixon was president.

With her credential in sewing, she also began teaching sewing which she discovered paired well with learning a new language.

"I’ve had a very interesting life and met so many interesting people. Really, I just love to teach and be active," VerHalen said. "I began teaching ESL in 1975 when it was a new thing. As a result, I have a much different approach to teaching it. I developed my own system that allowed me to really engage with my students."

Within the year, VerHalen was teaching ESL to scores of Vietnamese immigrants and was organizing field trips throughout Southern California to give her students exposure to English in a variety of settings.

VerHalen’s classes became very popular and eventually, she began hosting Tri-Community students at her home, where they would read, sew, eat, and bond. Many of VerHalen’s students, who come from all over the world, have become part of her extended family.

"Cornella’s story really is incredible," Pioneer Center Principal Ryan Maddox said. "She has an amazing heart for teaching and helping her students along their path to learning and improving their English. She openly gives her free time to tutor and help any student who is willing to take the time to learn. When I think of all the students she has impacted over 52 years of teaching, it is inspiring."

VerHalen may be retiring from Pioneer, but she said her door will continue to be open for students who wish to improve their English, sewing, and communication skills.                                 

"She may be retiring from the District, but she will be a teacher, friend, and role model forever. We wish Cornella all the best in her future endeavors," said Covina-Valley Unified Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Eminhizer, who surprised VerHalen in her classroom with a bouquet of flowers to celebrate her 90th birthday and retirement announcement.