They don’t know it yet, but today is a big day for six Orange County educators.
Over the next few hours, the 2019 Orange County Teachers of the Year will be revealed during surprise visits to their respective campuses.
Once again, the good news will travel by way of the department’s “Prize Patrol,” which is a big yellow school bus hauling camera crews, reporters, sponsors and a handful of OCDE representatives, including Orange County Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares.
We’ll be tagging along too and posting updates here on the OCDE Newsroom, so keep hitting “refresh” on this page throughout the morning. Or, “like” the Orange County Department of Education’s Facebook page and keep an eye out for our live video announcements.
All six Orange County Teachers of the Year will get a special award from Dr. Mijares, and each will receive a tote bag with prizes from SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union, the program’s premier sponsor.
In the fall, the finalists will be formally honored at a dinner gala at the Disneyland Hotel, where they’ll receive cash awards from SchoolsFirst and the Dr. James Hines Foundation, established by Orange County residents Bill and Sue Gross.
Alright, the big, yellow bus is gassed up and ready to roll. Here we go.
8:25 a.m. | Irvine Valley College | South Orange County Community College District
Our first stop of the morning is Irvine Valley College, where Kari Tucker-McCorkhill has been announced as one of six Orange County Teachers of the Year.
Tucker-McCorkhill, who teaches psychology, is the only community college honoree. She was in the middle of teaching a statistics for behavioral sciences course when County Superintendent Al Mijares entered the room and presented her with the famous apple trophy. IVC President Glenn Roquemore also joined the celebration, as did South Orange County Community College District Interim Chancellor Ann-Marie Gabel.
“Are you kidding me?” Tucker-McCorkhill said as cameras flashed. “I cannot believe it. I’m shocked.”
“This is very deserved,” Mijares said.
Tucker-McCorkhill has earned a reputation among students and colleagues at Irvine Valley College as a dedicated, enthusiastic and passionate educator.
In fact, her students call her Mrs. Sparkle because “she sparkles wherever she goes.” One example of her devotion to education is how she used all the proceeds of a statistics book she published to fund student scholarships at the college.
Every day during her office hours, there’s a line of students outside her door waiting to meet with her, colleague June McLaughlin said. She serves as a mentor to many of them, even after they complete her courses, McLaughlin said.
Tucker-McCorkhill constantly strives to make her psychology lessons relatable with real-world examples. Her students have used psychology principles they learned in her class to create a mentoring system aimed at helping new students adjust to the college life.
“With many years of experience in the classroom, I have come to realize that truly effective teaching is a career-long endeavor that requires constant attention to the most important goal we have as educators – to inspire and encourage student’s learning and growth,” Tucker-McCorkhill said.
9:09 a.m. | Serra High School | Capistrano Unified School District
Serra High called a schoolwide assembly Tuesday morning, bringing nearly the entire student body and staff to the campus courtyard. But one teacher and his class were conspicuously missing.
When David Pino was finally called out, the crowd erupted into applause.
The beloved teacher quickly spotted his wife, Elizabeth, and their two sons and embraced them on stage before shaking hands with Superintendent Mijares and district-level officials.
“I want to thank you for the inspiration that you are in the lives of our students,” Mijares told Pino. “We all know that education is transformational.”
Pino quickly credited his family, saying that “nothing ever happens in life without the support of other people.”
“Thank you,” he said. “I’m Teacher of the year, but I’m standing on the backs of giants that have done so much ahead of me.”
Pino has spent nine years at Serra High School, teaching a variety of courses including world history, anatomy and college and career prep.
As an alternative high school, Serra serves students who have struggled at traditional campuses, and many are behind on credits. But Pino looks beyond past struggles to see the unique potential in each of his students, often sitting down with them outside of school hours to get to know them as individuals.
In all aspects of his work, Pino is an advocate for young people. He asks if they need breakfast, bus passes, glasses or access to a counselor. In his college and career prep class, he helps them fill out college applications and apply for financial aid.
Each semester, he also has his students participate in the Orange County Registrar of Voters Student Poll Worker Program, giving them hands-on experience with the electoral process and a greater respect for the American political system.
As a lecturer at Saddleback Community College, Pino occasionally gets to see his Serra students as they’re beginning their journey through higher education.
“I am like millions of other educators in America who wake up each day with a desire to improve the life of their students by treating them with dignity and challenging them to be their best,” he says.
9:58 a.m. | Irvine High School | Irvine Unified School District
Archana Jain should’ve known something was up when her husband and daughter weighed in on her outfit this morning.
“They never check out what I wear,” she said, “and all of a sudden…”
Surrounded by her students and a number of engineering projects created for the upcoming ocMaker Challenge, Irvine High’s Jain was presented with the third apple trophy, marking her selection as a 2019 Orange County Teacher of the Year. Dozens of well-wishers rushed to congratulate her, including her husband Kamal and daughter Shivani.
“This is such a huge honor,” she told the OCDE Newsroom. “I just hope other schools and districts are inspired to build programs like this.”
She was, of course, referring to the Irvine Technology and Engineering Center, which she helped establish in 2016, the same year she became Irvine High’s engineering teacher.
In her classes, students tackle high-level work, including a joint project with other local high schools to send a miniature satellite into orbit. While they’re seldom prepared for the complexities involved in each assignment, Jain helps her students embrace a growth mindset through intellectual risk-taking and productive struggle.
“My philosophy has evolved and matured, while my core belief remains intact,” she said. “We are all capable of achieving more than we think if we persist and believe in our abilities.”
Jain, a former aerospace engineer who joined the Irvine High staff as a math teacher in 2004, believes that more workers are needed in science, technology, engineering and math, otherwise known as the STEM fields, and she is very passionate about inspiring young girls to pursue careers in these sectors. Along with promoting technical skills, she teaches young women to speak their minds and stand up for their ideas and beliefs.
“My students are living proof that intelligence is malleable and that all students can learn at high levels,” she said.
11 a.m. | Huntington Beach High School | Huntington Beach Union High School District
There were orange and black balloons. There was a banner. The marching band even showed up and blasted out congratulatory songs.
And in the middle of it all was Jodi Young, the fourth Orange County Teacher of the Year.
“Thank you for all you do in Orange County, at Huntington Beach High School,” Superintendent Mijares said upon entering her classroom. “It is an honor to present this apple to you.“
Standing alongside her husband Tim and their three children, Young held a picture of herself as a young girl with her mother. She said it was taken in preschool, shortly before she decided she wanted to become a teacher.
“I want you all to know that what I’m doing is my dream,” she said. “It’s not a job. It’s the fulfillment of a dream.”
Young has served the students of Huntington Beach High School since 2006, teaching AP English, American literature and classes for those with limited English proficiency. She is also the National Honor Society adviser, and she helped her school adopt a Multi-Tiered System of Support framework to address students’ academic, behavioral and social-emotional needs.
Young believes educators shouldn’t merely deliver content to students. They should also teach them to be the best versions of themselves by creating an environment of community, discovery, safety and creativity.
“In my class, students are reminded that they have value and they are unique,” she says.
Young has served as the adviser for Huntington Beach High’s National Honor Society for 10 years. Under her leadership, the club isn’t just an honor roll; it encourages students to use their time, resources and talents to help others and serve causes that connect with their passions and interests.
Offering variety and flexibility in her lessons, Young strives to help students find their own voices. At the same time, she looks for ways to prevent them from feeling stressed or overwhelmed by their coursework.
One student who submitted a Teacher of the Year nomination letter on her behalf said Young approaches her role holistically and makes classroom time extremely productive “based not on a strict point system or harsh deadlines but by her emphasis on curiosity, self-discovery and love.”
11:50 a.m. | Ethel Dwyer Middle School | Huntington Beach City School District
In a classroom packed with student work, solar system models, at least one periodic table and a large marine mural, Laura Zellmer was teaching a lesson on hydraulics and Pascal’s law.
But just like that, it was interrupted by the prize patrol and its cluster of cameras, augmented by various school and district staff. Mijares delivered the good news that Zellmer was among this year’s Orange County Teachers of the Year and, like the others, will compete for state honors.
“Basically we just want to salute you,” he said. “Thank you. Thank you for what you do.”
Zellmer placed her palm against her forehead and smiled.
“I’m so honored,” she said moments later. “I love my job and I love my students.”
“This has been such an honor to go through this process,” she added.
Zellmer describes teaching as a job that requires someone to be an entertainer, a coach, a salesperson and a motivator.
She never imagined these skills, along with countless others, would be required of her when she started teaching nearly 15 years ago, after working more than a decade as a lifeguard.
As part of our current climate, she also teaches her students about accountability, respect, tolerance, conflict resolution and peer relationships.
Zellmer’s passion for outdoor learning prompted her to create her campus’ first environmental science elective course. She regularly takes her students on trips to Catalina Island and Yosemite National Park so they can experience first-hand the wonders of the natural world around us, she said.
“These trips expose students to lasting experiences,” she said. “Outdoor education has so much of that human component that children need while their minds are being molded.”
At Dwyer, she helped develop partnerships with the Newland Wetlands Conservancy and One Ocean Diving Shark Education to show students how human activities can have consequences on the natural life.
As an avid athlete, she also organized a school running club to help students start thinking about their own healthy lifestyles at an earlier age.
“Not only is Mrs. Zellmer a Rockstar teacher, but she is also a strong role-model for the youth in the community,” said Dwyer Principal Christa Glembocki. “Her inspiration of our students in health, science and our environment is so apparent, especially when you see students come back to the campus after they left for high school to share their successes and show their love for Mrs. Zeller.”
1:06 p.m. | Ladera Vista Junior High School of the Arts | Fullerton School District
Our sixth and final stop is Ladera Vista Junior High School of the Arts, where Andrea Calvo has been named among the county’s top teachers.
Calvo was in the teachers’ lounge when Principal Randa Schmalfeld said she needed help with a microphone in the quad. A few minutes later, she was on stage taking possession of the last apple trophy in front of a cheering student body.
“I was not prepared to make a speech but that has never stopped me before,” Calvo quipped. “I just feel very humbled and extremely fortunate to be working at this school right now, with the faculty and staff that are here, with our principal and our district leadership. I’m standing here because of them.”
Just off stage, her husband Francisco and their children, Isabel, 10, and Joseph, 8, were able to share in the moment.
“I’m so proud of her,” Francisco Calvo said. “She’s worked so hard.”
Calvo has loved to sing and dance ever since she can remember. For the past 17 years, she has used her passion to help students develop their own appreciation of music and arts.
At Ladera Vista Junior High School of the Arts, she teaches choir, dance and PE. She also brought music and arts to other courses as part of Passport to the Arts Day, an event she founded, where students learn history, English and other lessons incorporating music, dance and other arts.
“She inspires other teachers to work together beyond their own class or department,” said Hilda Sugarman, a trustee at Fullerton School District.
She regularly invites local musicians to her classes to mentor students and show them the different career paths available in industries in the arts.
She also encourages her students to use the arts in community service projects. Each winter she takes a group of students to local nursing homes to visit and sing to residents. Earlier this year, her students put on music productions to raise awareness and fundraise for breast cancer.
For Calvo, music and arts can inspire confidence, resilience and raise their self-esteem. “I encourage my students to ask questions, challenge norms, and invent nontraditional approaches to solve traditional problems,” she said. “It’s a joy to spend each day making fine music with these students.”
And that’s a wrap. Congratulations to the 2019 Orange County Teachers of the Year and their schools. Look for more coverage, including video features on each of this year’s honorees, in the fall following the official awards ceremony at the Disneyland Hotel.