Alondra Diaz from Gates Elementary School in the Saddleback Valley Unified School District and Sovantevy “Sovey” Long-Latteri of La Sierra High in the Fullerton Joint Union High School District have been selected as two of five 2022 California Teachers of the Year. Diaz is now in the running for National Teacher of the Year.
Of California’s 319,000 public school teachers, five have been named 2022 California Teachers of the Year — and two are from classrooms here in Orange County.
Alondra Diaz, a third-grade teacher at Ralph A. Gates Elementary School in the Saddleback Valley Unified School District, and Sovantevy “Sovey” Long-Latteri, a special education teacher at La Sierra High School in the Fullerton Joint Union High School District, were announced Friday as recipients of the state’s top honor for educators. Both will hold the distinction and serve as educational ambassadors through the 2022 calendar year.
There could be more good news ahead for Diaz. She was also nominated as California’s representative for the National Teacher of the Year program, meaning she’ll go on to compete against nominees from other states. The 2022 National Teacher of the Year is expected to be announced in the spring.
“On the heels of learning that Orange County has a quarter of the state’s National Blue Ribbon schools, we now get to celebrate Alondra Diaz and Sovey Long-Latteri as two of five California Teachers of the Year,” Orange County Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares said. “This is an extraordinary honor and further evidence that our county is relentless in pursuit of academic excellence and support for students and families.”
Mijares added that Diaz will make a strong case for National Teacher of the Year.
“It’s hard to even grasp the magnitude of advancing to this level, competing against the top educators from 49 other states,” he said, “but Alondra has the dedication, enthusiasm and expertise to represent California and the nation as an ambassador of the teaching profession.”
Presented by California Casualty and supported by the California Teachers of the Year Foundation, the California Teachers of the Year Program began in 1972 to honor outstanding educators and to inspire new teachers to enter the profession.
“In what may be the toughest ever time for California families, students and educators, these five innovative and caring teachers have made profound differences in the lives of their students and communities. I’m proud that these educators are receiving this prestigious honor for their continued effort to connect with students even during unimaginable circumstances, to address their needs, and support them in any way they can.”— Tony Thurmond, state superintendent of public instruction
Less than six months ago, Diaz and Long-Latteri were also recognized among six Orange County Teachers of the Year in April, making them eligible for state honors.
The other 2022 California Teachers of the Year are Nichi Avina, a middle school science teacher at Cielo Vista Charter School in the Palm Springs Unified School District; Tiffany Jokerst, a math and engineering teacher at West Hills High School in the Grossmont Union High School District; and Virginia Vasquez, an AP Language and Composition teacher at San Gabriel High School in the Alhambra Unified School District.
Here’s a little background on Diaz and Long-Latteri from their Orange County Teacher of the Year nominations.
Alondra Diaz, Ralph A. Gates Elementary School, Saddleback Valley Unified School District
Alondra Diaz has been a third-grade dual immersion teacher at Gates Elementary School since 2017 and an educator for about 14 years. Colleagues say she strives to discover the potential in everyone she works with, from students to beginning teachers.
Diaz grew up in Santa Ana as a bilingual student and learned first-hand the power of education. Homelessness and other childhood traumas posed obstacles, but school was her North Star.
“Fortunately, I had amazing teachers who inspired me along the way and believed in me, even when I didn’t,” she says.
Diaz pays it forward by chatting individually with her own students, making eye contact, smiling and letting them know she is happy to learn with them. They also connect through Google Forms to share what’s on their minds, organize their thoughts and set personal goals.
From there, bodies and minds are sharpened with student-led yoga sessions. As a fitness instructor, Diaz says she has a passion for movement and helped convene a group of parents, colleagues and community members who combine exercise and mindfulness.
In her classroom, language is embedded in every content area using a variety of strategies. Students are encouraged to discuss a daily topic, ranging from a hypothetical question to a conversation about a historical figure.
Her students use self-regulating tools including breathing exercises and give one another feedback with positive affirmations. Diaz ends each day with a moment to reflect on their learning goals — and to celebrate.
“It is magical to see students grow confident as learners and community members,” she says. “They beam with pride every time they achieve a goal, and this is incredibly rewarding.”
Sovey Long-Latteri, La Sierra High School, Fullerton Joint Union High School District
Since 2013, Sovantevy “Sovey” Long-Latteri has taught in the Adult Transition Program at La Sierra High School. She currently serves as instructional leader and coordinator of an assigned team of paraprofessionals.
Most of her students are nonverbal with severe disabilities, and many must adhere to a medication, feeding and restroom schedule. But Long-Latteri maintains she is not just there to tend to basic needs; she is there to help them learn and grow.
“I strive to showcase that all students possess the capacity to learn and succeed, and that they can achieve anything with the right mindset,” she says.
Her team employs visual aids to help students ages 18 to 22 make connections. They also use hands-on projects to practice new skills, and they create authentic experiences to introduce them to the world outside. Other lessons help students identify and understand their feelings and emotions.
When her program was unable to find local businesses to help students practice job skills, Long-Latteri created her own “business,” fulfilling Starbucks orders for school staff. She has also established clubs and hosted inclusive Zoom sing-a-longs to keep students, families and community members connected during the pandemic.
Long-Latteri credits her work ethic to her parents, who escaped the killing fields of Cambodia before arriving in the United States with very little money in 1979. While she initially wanted to be a radio personality, her family’s sacrifices molded her into an educator who prioritizes accountability, passion and student-centered teaching.
“Everyone can learn, given the chance,” she says. “This mindset is my greatest contribution to education.”