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Three Ceres teachers honored among countys best
Singled out for extraordinary jobs
Left to right: Robin Johnson of Blaker Kinser Junior High School; Ceres High School teacher Brandi Erickson; and Rosio Valenzuela teaches at La Rosa Elementary School. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

Three Ceres teachers were among the 12 Teacher of the Year finalists chosen from among 88 nominees throughout Stanislaus County.

Rosio Valenzuela, a teacher at La Rosa Elementary, Robin Johnson from Blaker Kinser Junior High School and Brandi Erickson of Ceres High School were all honored as finalists in the program, sponsored by the Stanislaus County Office of Education and the Modesto Rotary Club.

Valenzuela, who has been teaching for a total of eight years for Ceres Unified, won the Jane Johnston Civility Award. The Civility Award is in honor of former SCOE Assistant Superintendent Jane Johnston, who helped launch the county-wide Choose Civility Initiative in 2010 and died unexpectedly in 2012.

"My philosophy for teaching is to make sure I do everything that I possibly can to meet the needs of all my students," said Valenzuela. "This includes taking part in every professional development opportunity, differentiating instruction, incorporating multiple representations and realia throughout my lessons, and opening the lines of communication with parents. Parent communication is key. I use many modes of communication such as my classroom, weekly progress reports, newsletters, and texting with Remind 101."

Rosio said she uses technology and peer collaboration in her La Rosa classroom as an engagement and assessment tool. The data from these assessments help her analyze areas where students are struggling the most, allowing her to change her instruction tact "all while students are having fun." These engagement strategies include programs such as Peardeck, Quizziz, Xtra Math, and Google apps For Education.

"When you walk into my classroom, what you will find is a lot of discussion, and peer activities where my students are collaborating online. Peer collaboration is a highly engaging strategy that my students enjoy very much."

Johnson has been teaching 16 years for Ceres Unified School District, the first 13 years at Ceres High School and three years at Blaker Kinser Junior High School as the health education teacher. She said she feels a great privilege in her content area to "positively influence my students' thinking and decision-making skills in regards to their physical, mental/emotional and social health. This is not something I take lightly because it can impact the rest of their lives.

"My goal in class is to make sure that every student knows he or she matters, and then to make every minute matter in our lessons. Once they trust how much I care about and love them, they are willing to trust my teaching and be open to new learning."

Setting Johnson apart is she has her students agree to a class creed at the beginning of the school year. This creed sets the stage for a positive, engaged and caring learning environment, mutual consideration and respect and valuing students and having a voice.

Johnson said she maintains a high expectation for all of her students as far as their academic achievement as well as their behavior.

"In order to help them achiever excellence, I challenge myself to work at that same level each and every day," said Johnson. "I believe that when a teacher gives his or her very best to students, they will offer that in return. When I don't get the results that I am looking for, I don't point a finger at my students but at myself- constantly looking for better ways to give my best because they deserve it."

Having taught at Ceres High School for eight years, Brandi Erickson strives to have a classroom where "students enjoy science and will build on their natural curiosity.

"I want to have a positive place where students' can learn from each other and be able to ask and answer questions," she said.

Brandi said teaching chemistry is difficult because it is the study of atoms and molecules which cannot be seen in class. She gets around that obstacle by breaking down the topics into manageable pieces of information, find ways to have an activity to go along with the lesson and develop the lesson that allows the students' to teach each other.

During a May 3 Rotary Club luncheon, the 2016 Teachers of the Year named were:

• Kristine Jensen from Hughes Elementary School in the Empire Union School District - TK-3 division;

• Stephanie Pimentel from Cunningham Elementary School in the Turlock Unified School District - 4-6 division;

• June Forrest from Roosevelt Junior High School in the Modesto City Schools District - junior high division;

• Mary Asgill from Turlock High School in the Turlock Unified School District - high school division.