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Local teachers finalists as best in county
Teacher composite
Local "Teacher of the Year" finalists. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

Two Ceres Unified School District teachers join a teacher from Hughson and one from Keyes as finalists for the 2018 Stanislaus County Teacher of the Year honor. A total of 12 finalists have been picked from 79 nominees representing 16 school districts in

Stanislaus County. Four will be picked for the honor.

Teachers were nominated by their principals.

Finalists include:

• La Rosa Elementary School teacher Angelina Rafatti in the Elementary category;

• Hughson's Fox Road Elementary School teacher Brenda Castillo, also in the Elementary category;

• Keyes' Spratling Middle School teacher Leticia A. Rosales in the middle school category;

• Central Valley High School teacher Ryan Richards in the high school category.

The Stanislaus County Office of Education (SCOE) and Modesto Rotary Club

will honor the finalists and announce the selection of four as 2018 Stanislaus County Teachers of the Year at a noon Rotary luncheon on May 1 at the DoubleTree Hotel. The four to be honored will each receive a $1,000 cash award from the Modesto Rotary Club Foundation and a $700 gift card. Mocse Credit Union also sponsors the event and provides funding for the awards, decorations and lunch for the student entertainers.

Rafatti said it is an honor to be a finalist.

"For the past 23 years of my career, my goal in the classroom has been to cultivate a risk-taking environment and, without actually having a formal name for this practice, I've tried to instill in every child the idea that he/she has value and that I see the preciousness of their heart," said the La Rosa teacher.

Raffati noted that since Howard Glasser's Nurtured Heart ApproachTM was introduced in Ceres Unified, she has been able to "deepen my practices and be even more intentional about building the inner wealth of every child. This, in turn, has led my students to develop a growth mindset and a willingness to try their hardest even when the rigor intensifies."

She said what might set her apart from her peers is that her favorite day of the week is not Friday or Monday, "it's the next day of school."

"Most nights I reflect on what I did or didn't do during the school day and challenge myself to change it the next day to be better. My high expectations of myself then transfer to my students and my expectations of them."

According to Ryan Richards, humor is one of the ways he connects to his students. He said his philosophy of teaching is that any field of study is interesting to students is when they see how the content connects to everything else.

"I try to push my students long enough for them to find success, then they usual push themselves to higher levels," said Richards. "It is always exciting to see students who were indifferent about history or government at the beginning of the year and excited to share their thoughts and knowledge at the end of the year. I know I am doing my job when the students make jokes or references to obscure political or historical facts in relation to the rest of their lives."

He said a favorite quote is from Steven Jay Gould that suggests that the sign genius is the ability to create analogies and connections between different content.

"That is how I approach my classroom - I try to push students to become capable, enabling to see the course content as relevant to their daily lives."

In his Advanced Placement (AP) Government and Politics course, 68 percent of his students - 90 are enrolled - earned college credit while the national average for the course ranges between 49 to 52 percent.

Leticia Rosales didn't even have teaching on her mind when mapping out her career goals years ago, but now she's proven to be one of the best in the field.

"This came as a surprise and I was shocked because I don't feel like I'm anything special," said Rosales. "All of my students are excited about it."

Those who visit Rosales' classroom, where she teaches seventh grade language arts, math and English language development, will find she has a love for "Lilo & Stitch" and has the little, blue alien posted all over her room.

"Any new student I have, I tell them, ‘We're all family,'" said Rosales, pointing out the popular phrase from the Disney cartoon that states, "Ohana is family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.

"I try to bring that mindset into the classroom," she said.

Rosales originally didn't want to be a teacher, she said, and had her sights set on becoming a Certified Public Accountant. After taking a job as a substitute teacher, however, she discovered her true calling.

"I started working with kids and I really enjoyed it after months of subbing," she said. "So, I switched my major to liberal studies."

This is Rosales' 12th year teaching, and third year teaching in Keyes Union School District, she said, which is the same district she attended grades K-8. Her own personal experience at the same school she teaches at has helped her to become closer with students.

"It helps build a stronger bond because they realize I'm from here and I understand how our community works," she said.

Rosales' history in Keyes allows her to know things about the community, she added, like that it has a high population of Spanish speakers. During her time at Spratling, she has worked to develop meetings for Spanish speaking parents, allowing them to communicate with their children's teachers and administration in a comfortable environment.

"It's a demographic we don't reach out to enough, so we just want to keep them up to par with topics their kids are covering in school," said Rosales. "Parents need to be involved, and sometimes they don't have that outlet.

"I want the parents and students to realize we're all on the same page. We're all a family."

The Teacher of the Year will be announced May 1, and whether or not Rosales is selected, she wants her students to know one thing.

"They come from the same background I came from, and if they don't want to continue in that same system I want to help them know that there are options," she said. "You can easily have whatever you would like, but you have to work for it."

The students in her Keyes classroom benefit from her desire to instill the growth mindset of her students not only the first week of school, but for the entire school year.

"When my students realize that mistakes and errors are a part of learning, they soon identify that this mindset bridges into their present and future paths," said Rosales. "Nothing is set in stone, so their possibilities are endless. I am simply here to facilitate their growth."

Rosales said she tries to get to know each student and their families and noted the Spratling campus has created Familia Unidas to support parents with concerns, trainings, or information needed to help their children become successful.

Castillo said in Hughson she strives to create a "safe and supportive learning environment for each of my students" by ensuring they are comfortable asking questions and approaching her when they need assistance.

"I make it a point to encourage my students and to provide both positive reinforcement and feedback," said Castillo. "My philosophy of teaching includes a student driven classroom. I encourage my students to work in collaborative groups. The students lead classroom discussions, which are based on their learning experiences. Students in my class learn how to plan, monitor, and evaluate their own thinking. I know that all students are unique individuals therefore they each need to be provided with tools they need to help them be successful in the classroom. I make myself familiar with all of my students' learning levels, and I provide the students with choices that offer them equal opportunities to be successful."

She said she also tries to support her colleagues.

"I am an optimistic person and instead of seeing the challenges of our ever-transitioning educational system as a frustrating obstacle, I embrace them, learn from them and modify my curriculum as well as my instructional methods. I continue to have a love for learning and I work hard to transfer that passion onto my students."

A selection committee, composed of local Rotarians and educators, narrowed the nominations through a paper screening process and then visited the classrooms of 24 semi-finalists before narrowing it down to the 12 finalists.

Again this year, a Civility Award will be presented in honor of former SCOE Assistant Superintendent Jane Johnston, who helped launch the county-wide Choose Civility Initiative in 2010 and passed away unexpectedly in April 2012. The Education Foundation will once again honor her memory by presenting a $1,000 check and a Jane Johnston Civility Award to one of the 12 finalists who best exemplifies the principles of civility.

This is the 20th year that Modesto Rotary and SCOE have joined efforts to honor teachers in Stanislaus County. The program not only honors local teachers and celebrates excellence in education, but also provides an opportunity for teachers to receive state and national recognition. Two of the four Teachers of the Year will be selected, through an interview process, to represent Stanislaus County in the State Teacher of the Year Program. One state winner then proceeds to the national level.

Angelina Martin contributed to this article.