Thursday, December 8, 2016

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Aztec Teachers Saluted

Local teachers with SDSU ties are recognized for leading efforts in their school districts.
By Glenn S. Robertson

Across the county, local school districts are verifying what San Diego State University has known all along: ‘Leadership Starts Here.’ 

Patti Read
Patti Read, San Diego Unified School District Elementary Teacher of the Year

At a number of school districts, educators who studied at SDSU are being nominated for and earning teacher of the year honors.

Patti Read, recently named the San Diego Unified School District’s Elementary School Teacher of the Year, teaches special education at Lindbergh Schweitzer Elementary School. Preschool teacher Estella Vasquez Peña of Willow Elementary was nominated by the San Ysidro School District and Garth Hebbler of Rolando Park Elementary earned runner-up honors for the award at San Diego Unified, just behind Read.

Aztec roots

Read is the second of three generations to attend SDSU — and for her family, Aztec pride goes deep. Her father was a physical therapist at the same elementary school after graduating from SDSU, and her son Brian is now a senior, studying biology.

Read graduated from SDSU in 1978 with a bachelor’s of science degree in zoology, and returned  to earn her special education credential in 1980 and then once more for a master’s degree in education specializing in special education — which she earned in 1982.

She has taught in the San Diego Unified School District since 1980, and has been teaching special needs children at Lindberg Schweitzer for 18 years.  Her current class has eight kids with physical needs and she integrates that classroom with general education students.

The selection

While she had been nominated before, she was humbled when her staff nominated her again for all the projects she had accomplished this year. 

“My kids are the greatest and they will always, always shine.”

In the last year, Read brought the “Book It” reading incentive program to Lindberg Schweitzer, as well as incorporating the Plant-Eat-Grow project.  That project, begun for her students and then expanded to general education students in neighboring classrooms, gives kids the opportunity to experience growing plants from seedling to full-size — then take them to the Del Mar Fair for a competition.

She also acquired two grants to build a gardening area for her students, so that the children with physical needs would also be able to participate in the gardening activities.  

After impressing judges during a Friday interview, Read was told the final step in the process would be an observation of her teaching the following Monday. When the judges arrived that morning, her students were particularly bubbly and ready to learn.

“I think a big reason for my being selected was my students,” Read said. “My kids are the greatest and they will always, always shine.”

Peña and Hebbler

Both Peña and Hebbler are current graduate students in SDSU’s special education/autism program, which received a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education last year to prepare masters level educators in the area of autism and transition.

The demand for teachers with an understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder has continued to increase, as the CDC now estimates 1 out of 88 American children falls somewhere on the autism spectrum.

Estella Vasquez Peña and Garth Hebbler
Estella Vasquez Peña and Garth Hebbler

“I feel the program prepares you to be a highly qualified special educator,”Peña said. “The classes provide students with insight from peers, who are all in the field of special education."

Both Hebbler and Pena feel it is their calling to teach students with special education needs, and say they hope to pass on the knowledge from the program to other teachers of moderate to severe disabilities.

More nominated teachers

In addition, two other students in the program, Meghan Davis and Nicole Hosmer, both teachers in the Poway Unified School District, have been nominated there for Teacher of the Year honors.

The San Diego County Teachers of the Year will be announced Oct. 6.