Fifth-grade teacher Alisyn Blanton is known as Ms. Bee to her students — and they are her hive.
Though this group of students might have come up with the classroom beehive analogy, Blanton’s community-based approach to the classroom every year has earned her the 2022 Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year. The Santa Barbara County Board of Education gave her the award Thursday.
“My educational philosophy is really community based,” Blanton said. “I really kind of describe it more as progressive, but it is really heart first, meaning I reach them and then teach them. I believe that I can teach and reach every single one of them, even on their worst days. We are like a hive. They determine how the community flows in here.”
And when she says her students determine how the community flows, she isn’t kidding. Blanton lets her students pursue their interests, whatever those may be. This year, the majority of her students voted to learn sign language — and that’s exactly what they’re learning. Kids who wanted to learn about the deep sea, the less popular topic this year, will still get the opportunity after sign language.
Blanton teaches at Miguelito Elementary School in the Lompoc Unified School District, the district she’s been a teacher at since 2004. Though she obtained her bachelor’s degree in psychology and worked in social work early on, Blanton still always found herself in jobs working with kids. Both her grandmother and great grandmother were kindergarten teachers — it ran in her blood. Blanton went back to school alongside her sister and obtained her Master of Arts in Education at University of California Santa Cruz.
Earlier in the pandemic, when her class was unable to meet in-person for instruction, Blanton had to make some major adaptations to keep her beehive feeling like a community. For example, students usually get a job in the classroom to give them more responsibility. In the virtual world, Blanton came up with jobs like the chat monitor or the assistant who could help her admit students into the waiting room on Zoom.
She said she followed models in Hong Kong and other areas where in-person instruction was happening in the pandemic. She created Bitmoji virtual classrooms, which allows students to create customizable avatars in a virtual classroom.
“Because I have students with severe sensory issues, I created sensory virtual rooms so that if they just needed a break, they could have that,” she said. “I created full social-emotional learning rooms. Students are trained in zones of regulation, so in those rooms they could do check-ins on their zones of regulation. We also have a birthday wall and a place where we could still celebrate our reading goals.”
Blanton has now had her students back in person since the end of March. Though she is originally from Orcutt and has a child both in the Orcutt Union School District as well as the Lompoc Unified School District, Blanton said she prefers teaching in Lompoc by far.
“Everybody thinks of us as a small community here, but the ideas are so big,” Blanton said. “I would never leave; I love Lompoc.”
In addition to teaching at Miguelito Elementary, Blanton has taught at Los Berros Elementary and Fillmore Elementary since she began with the district in 2004.
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