2024 Barry Vella, Venice High School

“It is my distinct honor to announce that we have a recipient of the Paul Shin Award in High School Chemistry teaching this year. Paul was a great friend to me dating back to our undergraduate days together at UC Santa Cruz. Paul was two years ahead of me and a wonderful role model.

It gives me even greater pleasure to announce that the recipient is Barry Vella of Venice High School. Barry was a mentee of mine many years back and I am exceptionally proud of what he has accomplished in his career. I have had the pleasure of teaching with him at UCLA and presenting with him at several Chemistry Teachers Meetings. Barry will be honored at our annual Educational Affairs Banquet/Chemistry Olympiad Banquet which will once again be held in person this year. I asked Barry to prepare a biography and what he submitted follows.”

~Michael Morgan, Chair, Education Committee
Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School


barry-vellaBarry Vella is a Chemistry teacher at Venice High School and an instructor in the UCLA AP Readiness Program in Los Angeles. Last year, he worked for ETS as an AP exam reader.

Barry grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, and earned his bachelor’s degree at Auburn University, studying pre-pharmacy sciences and Spanish, minoring in Chemistry and Physics.  His great interest in Chemistry was sparked by three professors at Auburn. Afterward he attended Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, receiving his teaching credential in Chemistry & Physics, then earned National Board certification in 2009, specializing in Chemistry.

Barry attributes all his interests, passions, and successes in teaching from the inspiration of great mentors.  In his first 10 years teaching for Los Angeles Unified School District at Venice High, Barry taught General Chemistry and was mentored by an extraordinary AP Chemistry teacher in the next-door classroom, science bowl coach and academic decathlon coach, Mr. Richard Erdman. Erdman’s 1996 and 1997 science bowl teams won the final National Science Bowl competitions in Washington D.C.  Barry appreciates how Rich Erdman provided him with the best support any new Chemistry teacher could dream of – answering all his questions and providing resources and advice – day after day. He began to understand and love teaching Chemistry even more, thanks to being put in the right place at the right time.

But there was even more going on at Venice High in those days.  Little did Barry know, he had been placed at a school with an extraordinarily visionary department chair, Ms. Priscilla Lee, who worked concurrently at UCLA and had just founded the UCLA AP Readiness program, along with Rich and another outstanding AP Chemistry instructor and program organizer, Michael Morgan, of Bravo Medical Magnet High School. The result of their efforts, the UCLA AP Readiness program, now in its 25th year, groups together veteran mentor AP science instructors with new teachers.  In monthly Saturday sessions, the mentors present content and strategies to the AP high school students as new teachers observe, assist, and develop their skills.

Barry joined the monthly program as a new teacher over 20 years ago. He also attended AP Readiness summer institutes by Michael Morgan at Bravo and by Rich Erdman at Venice and has spent years producing his curricular materials and AP lab program from their strategies.

In building his own Venice lab program, donors have generously funded over 30 grants he requested, most of which were fulfilled through donorschoose.org and many through the Venice Alumni Association. Barry served nine years as science department chair at Venice High and has worked on several LAUSD teams; selecting textbooks, writing instructional guides (LAUSD Publication No. SC 863.19c 2001), and revising periodic assessments for Chemistry.

In 2006, Barry became an adjunct instructor in the UCLA APR program. In 2008, he presented an AP Readiness summer institute at King Drew Medical Magnet. Later he worked 4 years in the newly created UC Riverside AP Readiness program. He also taught in several LAUSD AP Boost institutes for at-risk students, and through LAUSD’s National Board program he has been a mentor of 15 new AP Chemistry teachers. Each June, Barry walks his AP students over to a local elementary school to present kitchen Chemistry lab lessons for children at Beethoven Elementary Science Week. Recently, he has been building a Chemistry Olympiad and club program at Venice. In 2022 and 2023, one of his students advanced to the National Olympiad Exam tier.

Since he started teaching AP Chemistry, Barry has continued to enjoy seizing opportunities to grow as a learner, hearing extraordinary Chemistry instructors from over 15 College Board AP workshops; from AP seminars at UCLA and Loyola Marymount; and from three recent annual SCALAS Chemistry Teacher conferences at Occidental College, where he also presented.

Barry was pleased to work as a grader for the College Board’s 2023 AP Chemistry Exam.

Today, he continues teaching at Venice and co-teaches in the UCLA program with Larry Walker, a founding member and teacher emeritus from Calabasas High School. In their collaborations, Barry has been inspired to explore deeper into Chemistry through Larry’s countless demonstrations and enlightening anecdotes from the lives of the founders of Chemistry.  Exploring scientific history, Barry finds it strikingly significant that so many key figures were themselves mentors or mentees of other famous scientists. In the history of atomic theory, J.J. Thomson mentored Ernest Rutherford, Rutherford mentored Neils Bohr, then Bohr mentored Werner Heisenberg. Barry appreciates all the time and inspiration from his teachers, mentors, colleagues, and mentees, and credits them for making his teaching benefit from a great truth:

                  As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. 

When not working, Barry enjoys traveling with his family, biking, playing guitar and singing oldies rock songs. Barry is thankful for his wife Monica and for their two children.