Carla Garcia, Science and Special Education teacher, remembered at memorial service

The treasured teacher lived a life of adventure and compassion

Carla Garcia was respected as a teacher, and beloved as a member of the CHS community.

Courtesy of the Kerkvliet Family

Carla Garcia was respected as a teacher, and beloved as a member of the CHS community.

When the family and friends of Carla Garcia speak of her, they glow.

They glow with memories of a woman taken much too soon. She was only 48-years-old, yet Carla lived her life with the sort of electricity that could have powered several more.

Pastor Ken Dutton, who began the service held at The Rock World Outreach Center in San Bernardino, opened this celebration of Carla’s life by saying, “Her family see her as adventurous, loving, courteous, outgoing, passionate, a thrill-seeker, an animal lover, and a beautiful child of God.”

In honor of her aunt, Madison Francis, sings “Tell Your Heart to Beat Again” at Ms. Garcia’s memorial service. (J. Dollins)

Carla’s mother, Mary Ann Kerkvliet, in an emotional tribute, said, “Her ear was always out for someone in trouble.”

This sentiment echoed in the remembrance of Carla’s father, Bernie, who shared stories about the variety of wounded animals she nursed back to health. Cats, dogs, chipmunks, koi fish, ravens—Carla did not discriminate. “She had a special way with animals,” he said.

As a treasured member of the Colton High School teaching staff, Carla also had a special way with her colleagues and students. She did not have children of her own and saw her students as her kids. In the church foyer, as mourners entered, they were treated to a display of student notes sent to Ms. Garcia over the years, notes that reveal just how much her mentorship meant to them.

This is why when people speak of Carla Garcia, they glow.

A display of notes from former students makes for a touching tribute to Ms. Garcia. (J. Dollins)

Teachers who knew Carla well had remarkable praise to heap upon their friend. Ms. Stacey Baker got to know her through their association with the HEAL Pathway. “I was so blessed to build a friendship with Carla as we took students on field trips and attended trainings together,” she said. “Her tender heart for animals was so pervasive that she would bring baby animals—including a raccoon—with her to meetings that required her constant care. I will sincerely miss Carla Garcia.”

Alex Ramos, now a Special Education teacher at Colton High, was at one time Carla’s student. “As I became a teacher,” he said, “I always wanted to emulate that kind of classroom environment Ms. Garcia was able to create, a safe place that cares about the students. She had a special way of doing it that it could never be the same, but I try.”

And Ms. Holly Lacy, summed up her friend’s life best, saying, “Carla Garcia was a badass in everything that she did. She was a loyal lifelong friend. She inspired me by her love of her subject and love of her students.”

Carla radiated a tremendous joy and excitement for living. The evidence was there in the photo montage at the heart of the celebration. Family gatherings. Traveling. Skydiving. Daring rides on the dunes of Glamis.

She died as she had lived—on an adventure. Carla passed away on June 27, 2021, while on vacation in Belize. She spent the days before her unexpected death enjoying exotic dining, the flora and fauna of the Belizean countryside, and working towards her open water scuba certification.

This adventure would have made for great stories to tell around the campfire in Glamis with her friends and family after a day of side-by-side dune buggy racing over the dunes. It would have made for great stories to share with students, inspiring them to see a larger world outside the boundaries of the Inland Empire.

The stories we have now are the stories about Carla Garcia, about the life she lived and the people she touched. Hers was a life well-lived, well-traveled, and well-inspired. And as we share stories about her radiant life, we will glow a bit more having known her.