With the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest challenging classroom environments nationwide in 2020, teachers across the West Contra Costa Unified School District stepped up their game to ensure educational and inclusive learning environments.
Particularly these four all stars. This week, the West Contra Costa Ed Fund announced the four West Contra Costa Unified School District finalists for the 2021 Teaching Excellence Awards on its Facebook page. The awards have recognized the county’s best teachers for nearly four decades.
This year’s finalists are Laura Garriguez, who teaches 9-12 grade Spanish at Richmond High; Molly Wahl, who teaches sixth-grade reading, writing, integrated social studies and home room at Madera Elementary; Christina Ferry, who teaches English language development in the seventh and eighth grades at Levonya DeJean Middle; and Carlo Juntilla, who teaches AP U.S. History/U.S. History/government/economics for grades 11-12 at Richmond High.
This year marks the Ed Fund’s 38th cohort of Teaching Excellence Award winners. On typical years, the winners receive surprise visits in their classrooms from Ed Fund and school district representatives and members of their families. With the pandemic forcing distance learning, this year the teachers were visited virtually in their classrooms.
“To select this year’s teachers, we focused our attention on how teachers addressed the COVID-19 pandemic, the social unrest many of our students are experiencing, and how they created inclusive classroom environments online,” the Ed Fund said.
Garriguez, who has spent the majority of her eight years of teaching at Richmond High, “brings a strong sense of collaboration with her teacher colleagues and students and “uses her content to teach topics of social justice, resiliency, and socio-emotional development,” according to the Ed Fund.
“In her classroom, she often incorporates Restorative Justice Circle Keeping and activities that promote engagement, community and collaboration,” the Ed Fund added. “Ms. Garriguez’s classes dive into topics that help newcomer, immigrant and refugee students share and explore their experiences in the U.S. Her content does not shy away from conversations around racism, anti-blackness, and gender roles, issues that affect her students’ communities.”
In Wahl’s classroom, students don’t only learn from the teacher, but from one another. Witnessing their relationships and conversations makes her optimistic about the future. Wahl has been teaching for 10 years.
“She believes that the key to being an effective teacher is to truly see her students and prioritize love,” the Ed Fund said. “Her classes stress the importance of social emotional learning, while motivating students to excel academically.”
Ferry, who has been teaching at DeJean Middle for six years, learned that working in the community can help her to best serve student interests on school campuses. She seeks to build a culture of trust in her classroom where students can be open.
“This involves working with onsite therapists in weekly community circles to ensure students have a strong support system and dedicating the time necessary to address how to best assist a struggling student,” the Ed Fund said.
Ferry is part of a team of fellow teachers and staff who brainstorm together on solutions to better support students.
Juntilla has been at Richmond High School for the three years and has already made a big impact.
“His teaching style is informed by a culturally responsive pedagogy that celebrates the differences of students and makes meaningful connections between what students learn in school and their cultures, languages, and life experiences,” the Ed Fund said.
He makes himself available to his students after class and incorporates current events into his economics lessons.
“Throughout this unprecedented year, his students continue to show their potential and he is honored to be a part of their journey,” the Ed Fund said.
The four winners will be celebrated at this year’s Soaring to Excellence virtual event on May 6. They were selected among a group of eight deserving finalists chosen among teacher nominations and classroom and teacher interviews. The eight finalists include Cora Blain, Mira Vista, Kinder; Sarah Coles,Washington, Kinder; Joseph Lim, Pinole Valley High, Choir, Piano, Jazz ensemble; and Key-aira Jones, Lincoln Elementary, Grade 2.