Mission Viejo deputy surprises high school instructor during National Teacher Appreciation Week


The surprise visitor entered the classroom.

“Hello!” the deputy said to the teacher in Room No. H5 at Capistrano Valley High School

“Hello!” the teacher responded, instantly recognizing him.

“It’s very nice to see you again,” Bruce Carlisle, a social sciences teacher, told Deputy Santo, who patrols Mission Viejo for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

It had been some time since the two last saw each other – 2011, when Santo graduated from Capo Valley High.

An OCSD deputy since 2015, Santo surprised Carlisle on Wednesday, May 8, just after Carlisle’s 9 a.m. AP U.S. History class began.

His visit, timed to National Teacher Appreciation Week, was to thank Carlisle for being a huge influence on him during high school – not only in the classroom, but outside, where he gave Santo life advice.

“The impact you made on me went way beyond the classroom,” Santo told Carlisle as some 25 junior students looked on smiling. “The time you spent with me, it was very appreciated and I’m forever grateful for you helping me to become the man I am today.”

Junior AP U.S. History students of Capistrano Valley High School teacher Bruce Carlisle watch as one of his former students, OCSD Dep. Santo, makes a surprise visit on May 8.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

The day Santo turned 18, Carlisle urged him to register to vote. Carlisle, a teacher at Capo Valley High since 2005, handed him a form on the spot in his classroom.

Santo filled it out.

One week after that, he enlisted in the Army.

“I voted for the first time when I was deployed (in Afghanistan), and I wouldn’t have been able to do that if it wasn’t for you,” Santo told Carlisle.

Carlisle thanked Santo for not only serving, but also for continuing to protect the community by becoming a deputy.

OCSD Dep. Santo gives his former teacher, Bruce Carlisle, a hug after surprising him in his classroom at Capistrano Valley High School.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

“It was a very wonderful surprise,” Carlisle said of the visit. “It’s humbling that he still remembers me. It’s what you hope for as a teacher, to leave an impact. Often we are one-year waypoints on a student’s journey through life. This is an indescribable feeling.”

Carlisle primarily teaches history. He met has wife, Amanda, at Capo Valley High 14 years ago. She teaches English. The two are married with two children, one in kindergarten and the other a second-grader.

OCSD Dep. Santo with his former teacher, Bruce Carlisle, and Carlisle’s junior AP History students at Capistrano Valley High School.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Carlisle said Capo Valley High has a lot of great teachers and that it’s special Santo singled him out as a mentor.

“He always gave me good advice and was like a father figure,” Santo says. “He was super cool. He spent a lot of time with me. I had an extra free period from football, and we would talk a lot.”

Carlisle stayed in touch with Santo when he was in the Army, where he served as a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) specialist.

Santo always was interested in a career in law enforcement, which began at age 15 when he became an explorer.

“I like the brotherhood and the camaraderie,” he says. “I’ve played sports my entire life, and I think part of it comes from that.”

Santo graduated from the academy in January 2015. He has been a patrol deputy for three months after starting his OCSD career working the jails.

On May 8, Santo gave Carlisle a Starbucks gift card and iTunes gift card tucked into a mug that said, “Everyday Hero.”

Capistrano Valley High School Teacher Bruce Carlisle smiles after receiving a gift from his former student, OCSD Dep. Santo, during National Teacher Appreciation Week.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

He also wrote a note in a thank you card:

The impact you have made on me has gone beyond the classroom! Thank you for making me the man I am today. I am forever grateful!

Capistrano Valley High School Principal John Misustin was with Santo when he visited Carlisle, as was Kirsten Vital, superintendent of the Capistrano Unified School District.

“I think it’s amazing anytime an alumni can come back and honor a teacher and obviously to have somebody that has served in the military and served this country and now is going to continue to do what he can to protect everybody’s safety it’s obviously very impactful, and it’s good for kids to see graduates that come back and are successful,” Misustin said.

Santo reflected on his days at Capo Valley High.

“My experience here was amazing,” he said. “The teachers were great. I played football all four years. I had a lot of teachers that definitely made an impact and a lot of it went outside of the classroom. The same with the football coaches.

“A lot of the stuff that they taught inside the classroom and on the gridiron has continued on in my current life. I think a lot of students don’t appreciate all the time what teachers do for them…and doing this is the best way to show that.”