2016 Orange County Teacher of the Year: Natalie Carias

Natalie Carias and Al MijaresThis morning, the Orange County Department of Education and a handful of program sponsors have been visiting schools to announce the 2016 Orange County Teachers of the Year. Disney sponsors have been presenting the honorees with park passes and merchandise, and the SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union has a $500 check on hand for each teacher. Finalists will also receive a $15,000 prize from the Dr. James Hines Foundation, established by OC residents Bill and Sue Gross, at a November dinner at the Disneyland Hotel.

And here at the Newsroom, we’re following the announcements and bringing you information on the winners. Here’s the story of Natalie Carias.

Natalie Carias and Al MijaresIn a Crescent Elementary School classroom adorned with student artwork and writing, county Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares presented the next Golden Apple to Mrs. Natalie Carias as her students cheered on. Also in attendance were Orange Unified Superintendent Michael Christensen and Principal Randi Leach.

“You’ve done an amazing job,” Dr. Mijares told the newest county Teacher of the Year. “There are thousands of teachers in Orange County, and you’ve risen to the tip of the top.”

“I’m shocked and I’m honored,” Carias said afterward. “To be part of Orange Unified and the staff at my school and to work with these students and our parents has been an incredible experience.”

Carias is a third-grade GATE teacher at Crescent, which is in the Orange Unified School District. She’s implemented a pilot program utilizing an innovative co-teaching model, allowing students to benefit from the expertise of two teachers. Mrs. Carias strives to create a student-centered environment in her classroom and considers that her greatest accomplishment.

In fact, she compares the work of a teacher to that of a tour guide, where teaching becomes less about the instruction and more about the “stimulation of a student’s own curiosity, natural desire to learn and ultimately the development of a sense of place in the world.”

She is known for continually seeking to improve and enhance the quality of the educational programs at her school and district. A parent of one of her students expressed that her children are lucky to have a “teacher of excellence” in their lives, saying, “If there is a lesson to learn from Mrs. Carias, it is to always strive for excellence in everything you do.”

Mrs. Carias finds the rewards of teaching from witnessing the joy of discovery and learning in her students and sums up the foundation of her teaching philosophy this way: “We are all both a teacher and a student.”

Upon receiving the Disney gift bag, Carias joked that perhaps a field trip to Disneyland was in order.

“Yay!”, the class of third-graders shouted in unison.