By Kathy Chouteau
Four “excellent” local teachers were recently surprised at their respective schools with balloons, flowers and visits from district officials and members of their family.
They were informed they are winners of the West Contra Costa County Public Education Fund’s (Ed Fund) “2020 Teaching Excellence Award.”
Honorees for this year include Cesar Dante-Barragan, a third grade bilingual education teacher at Cesar Chavez Elementary School in Richmond; Jesus Alfredo Galindo, a third grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary School in Richmond; Sydney Schantz, an English language arts teacher for seventh and eighth graders at Fred T. Korematsu Middle School in El Cerrito; and Crystal Turner, a transitional Kindergarten teacher at Lupine Hills Elementary School in Hercules.
This year marks the Ed Fund’s 37th cohort of Teaching Excellence Award winners—teachers “who have exemplified putting students at the center of the educational experience,” per its website.
Ed Fund Executive Director Jasmine Jones, West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) Superintendent Matt Duffy, WCCUSD board members, students and loved ones were on hand to deliver the good news to this year’s cohort.
Dante-Barragan of Chavez has taught for 10 years and regularly incorporates peace circles, yoga and meditation into his classes.
“For me, teaching is a lifestyle,” Dante-Barragan told Craig Lazzeretti, on special assignment to the WCCUSD. “And I learn as many lessons as I teach. I experience learning and growth every year.”
At Lincoln, Galindo’s aim is to teach his students “that hardship isn’t a barrier to success, and wealth and privilege are not prerequisites for academic excellence,” according to Lazzeretti’s WCCUSD report.
Galindo, who has been teaching for six years, said, “I owe my success as a teacher to the adversity I have faced in my life. My hardship helped me understand one of the primary purposes of education. Knowledge can help you solve some of the most challenging problems.”
Schantz of Korematsu remarked that “One of the most rewarding aspects of being a teacher is the growth of trust and personal relationships with students and families,” per the WCCUSD report. Schantz, who has been teaching for three years, added that “I aspire for my students to take ownership of their education and to feel the value of their voice in our class.”
Turner of Lupine Hills has been teaching for three years and said she aims to provide a learning environment where students feel comfortable, safe and respected. She sees her role as creating educational opportunities “that foster surprise, wonder, excitement, and genuine interest.”
According to the Ed Fund’s website, the Teaching Excellence Awards seek honorees who meet the following criteria: Teachers who “engage all students through culturally responsive, relevant, real world connections to students’ lived experience;” “empower all students through opportunities for voice and choice;” and “challenge all students through opportunities to ask questions, solve problems, think critically, read complex text and write critically.”