Cuyamaca College economics professor Anthony “Tony” Zambelli has won the Roy L. Erickson Civic Education Award from the California Council for the Social Studies, an annual honor given to educators, community leaders or legislators for promoting civic education in California schools.
Zambelli will receive the award March 7 in Oakland at the council’s annual conference.
“This is truly an honor to be recognized for something I find so rewarding – to get young people to be more knowledgeable and engaged in civics in a way that’s fun and exciting,” Zambelli said. He has put on “We the People” competitions at Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges for the past 27 years to encourage middle- and high school students to learn about the Constitution and their government.
Zambelli recruited teachers from every campus in the Grossmont Union High School District to join in the competition for the first 10 years, making the program in his district one of the most successful in the country.
In the late ‘90s, Zambelli introduced “We the People” to the middle schools, launching an annual event that draws as many as 15 teams. One team representing Cajon Valley Middle School was entirely composed of young refugees from war-torn nations. The students, who all began at the middle school speaking little English, so impressed local judges that they were invited as keynote speakers at a national conference.
Once he established “We the People” at the middle schools and high schools, Zambelli then turned his attention to the San Diego County Court and Community Schools. That pioneer effort resulted one year in incarcerated students from a juvenile ranch facility in Campo winning the competition. That model has since expanded to other districts.
In addition to securing funding from service clubs, Zambelli has also gotten judges, legislators and other civic officials to judge the competitions.
Another civic education program that Zambelli is involved in is Project Citizen, a curricular program for students, youth organizations and adult groups that promotes participation in local and state government by teaching the monitoring and influencing of public policy. Zambelli has also been influential in getting funding, recruiting judges, and arranging for venues for San Diego County History Day and Model United Nations competitions.
Cuyamaca College President Mark Zacovic said Zambelli’s devotion to teaching and his genuine interest in his students is compelling to observe.
“Tony has a way to connect with students of all ages, from grade-schoolers to veteran teachers he mentors,” he said. “We are very proud at Cuyamaca College to call him one of our own.”
The award to be given next month to Zambelli is named after the late Roy Erickson, who served as the social studies specialist for the San Juan Unified School and whose professional career was devoted to improving history, social science and civic education.
“In San Diego County, the name Tony Zambelli is synonymous with civic education and the importance of civic engagement,” said Janet Mulder, a civic activist and member of the Jamul-Dulzura Union School District board who nominated Zambelli for the award. “Roy himself mentored Tony and would be proud to give him this award.”
Zambelli began teaching at Cuyamaca College in 1979, just a year after the community college in Rancho San Diego opened. In 2012, he was awarded the Adam’s Apple Award by the California Association of School Economics Teachers for his dedication to the teaching of economics.
Zambelli officially retired from Cuyamaca College six years ago, but he still teaches part-time and is the director of the Center for Economic Education serving San Diego and Imperial counties. Cuyamaca College is the only community college designated by the state Council on Economic Education among the 11 centers located at colleges and universities around California.
He also serves as a board member of the Foundation for Grossmont & Cuyamaca Colleges, which raises money for programs and scholarships at the two East County colleges.