The ten 2012 Bialis Family Foundation Mentor Teacher Award winners, along with the 2012 Gevirtz School Distinguished Alumni Award Winner Lynn Luft and donors Gary and Ellen Bialis: (left to right) Alexandra Angelopoulos, Julia Cirincione, Kimberly Holland, Jill Means, Brent Elder, Lauren Thal-Hill, Lynn Luft, Gary Bialis, Ellen Bialis, Tracey Womack, Socorro Chavez, Melissa Woods, Kareem Battle.
George Yatchisin

An often overlooked accomplishment of public school teachers is that — besides educating students — they educate future teachers. On Wednesday, 10 mentors from area districts were honored for their stellar work with student teachers from UCSB.

Ron Kok, an academic coordinator for the UCSB Teacher Education Program, said that when he presented La Colina math teacher Tracy Womack with her award, “She looked at me and said, ‘Is this for real?’ Then she started crying, and that made me cry.”

Many of the teachers were clearly (and unfortunately) surprised to receive recognition for their accomplishments. “I thought I was in trouble,” said Santa Barbara Junior High teacher Kareem Battle about seeing Kok in his classroom. When presented with the award — which includes $2,000 to go along with the validation — Battle said he “laughed, cried, and screamed at the same time.”

Teaching, he said, had been his dream since he was in the second grade, and now that he has achieved it, he tries to help other aspiring teachers achieve theirs.

Gary and Ellen Bialis, who funded the awards for the first time last year, said they were so impressed by the quality of this year’s nominees that they doubled the cash prize. “It’s so rewarding to provide appreciation to people contributing to the community,” said Gary.

The Bialises stipulated that one of the categories must recognize special education teachers. “That’s where our heart is,” said Gary.

One of the special education awardees, Brent Elder, teaches a full inclusion program at the Kellogg School in Goleta but travels abroad every summer to do outreach in countries like Scotland, Kenya, and Bahrain. (He also writes about his journeys for The Santa Barbara Independent.) Although Elder’s classroom has been a highly sought-after placement by student teachers, he is leaving to study for a PhD at Syracuse University. His long-term goal is to help craft U.N. conventions for special education practices internationally.

Socorro Chavez, a teacher at Isla Vista Elementary School, said she keeps signing up to mentor because her student teachers invigorate her classroom with fresh ideas. “I get much more from them than they get from me.” Even so, one of her former student teachers said, “Socorro challenged me and pushed me farther than I thought possible.”

Lynn Luft, who retired from Vieja Valley School in 2006, was honored at the event with the Gevirtz School Distinguished Alumna Award. And outgoing superintendent of the Goleta Union School District, Kathy Boomer, received recognition for her career. “There’s always something in each child to love,” she told the teachers and soon-to-be teachers at the ceremony.

The 2012 Bialis Family Foundation Mentor Teacher Award winners are as follows:

Elementary Education

— Alexandra Angelopoulos, Washington Elementary School

— Socorro Chavez, Isla Vista Elementary School

— Jill Means, El Camino Elementary School

— Lauren Thal-Hill, Franklin Elementary School

Secondary Education

— Kareem Battle, Santa Barbara Junior High

— Tracey Womack, La Colina Junior High

— Melissa Woods, Santa Barbara High School

Special Education

— Julia Cirincione, Mountain View School

— Brent Elder, Kellogg Elementary School

— Kimberly Holland, Washington Elementary School


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