Teacher of the Year
National City Middle School
Alyssa Graham’s colleagues and students at National City Middle School aren’t surprised to find out she was named Teacher of the Year representing the Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD).
As a former student at the campus she currently teaches seventh grade English, Graham feels “very fortunate to have the opportunity to teach there and essentially give back to the community she grew up in, by preparing students for the future.”
Currently in her tenth year of teaching in the Sweetwater District, Graham says she was inspired to pursue a career in education because she wanted to take on the challenge of working with different, developing personalities and make learning accessible and interesting. In addition, she says she was also inspired to specifically become a middle school teacher because of her former English teacher who she is fortunate to have now as a colleague and mentor.
Students in Grahams class have shared testimonials of why they enjoy having her as a teacher, primarily because “she teaches English in a way that students understand, and she is very candid with them and listens to them.”
When asked what inspires her to do her best Graham says she is motivated by her students and colleagues. “The best way to keep my students focused and active participants in my class is through engaging them in meaningful lessons,” said Graham. “I am fortunate to work with some really great teachers and they push me to do my best every day I go into work.”
Over the years Graham has implemented Social Emotional Learning (SEL) techniques in her teaching and she believes they have equipped her to be a better teacher. “SEL is about teaching from the heart to teach the mind” said Graham. “It’s a vital aspect of education that students need to see in the classroom.”
The Teacher of the Year Program is one of the oldest, most prestigious honors program that focuses public attention on excellence in teaching. Each year, five to six teachers are selected to represent the Sweetwater District in the annual Salute to Teachers Gala organized by the San Diego County Office of Education and Cox Communications. Later this year, the selected teachers will go on to compete amongst their counterparts in other districts across San Diego County, as a top five teacher of the year.
When asked what advice she would give to new teachers joining the “calling” Graham said, “It’s ok to try and fail, but never fail to try.” She advises teachers to try new things in their classrooms, continue learning from others, try connecting to that student who shows disinterest in your class and to remember that every mistake or fail is a learning and growing opportunity.
When Graham is not teaching, she enjoys reading, traveling, and scrapbooking. As she reflects on being selected as Teacher of the Year representing the Sweetwater District, Graham says she wants to be remembered as the teacher who was fair, relatable and encouraged students to be good citizens.
Congratulations Alyssa Graham, National City Teacher of the Year!
Teacher of the Year
EastLake Middle School
A determined person with a passion for art, people, and life, are just a few ways to describe Andrea Arroyo, EastLake Middle School’s Teacher of the Year. For the past 17 years, Arroyo has dedicated her professional life to education, with the last nine specifically to educating students in the Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD).
“There could not be a job more perfectly suited for me than being a teacher,” says Arroyo. “From the first high fives coming into my class, to the huge smile on my face, students can see how excited I am to teach them.”
Arroyo teaches 7th and 8th grade art at EastLake Middle where she says her students inquisitive minds, desire to learn and happiness, fuels her fire. “I’m aware that my class can help my students be more expressive, resourceful, and confident in their daily lives,” says Arroyo. “That’s what drives me everyday, that’s what inspires me, and that’s what I love doing most.”
Prior to pursuing a teaching credential, Arroyo worked as an Intervention Specialist for the Sweetwater District, where she was able to observe teachers daily routines. Arroyo says over the years as she built relationships with the students she served, more and more she realized teaching was her calling and passion.
Arroyo has taught English, Spanish and Theatre Production, but nothing is more satisfying then teaching art she says. “I love helping people, and I also have an intense passion for the arts. My job combines these two loves. The more I can ignite the passion for art in my students, the more I am helping them.”
Each year the Sweetwater District hosts the Summer Arts Academy, a free one-week learning opportunity offered during the summer to SUHSD students in Visual and Performing Arts classes. Arroyo has participated in this enriching program where she has been able to teach students outside of her classroom the love for art. “With art, I am grateful to spread joy, give students a voice, and create better thinkers,” says Arroyo. “My goal is to see art classes at every school because it’s important and gives students an outlet to be creative and use innovative thinking.”
When asked what advice she would give to someone entering the teaching profession, Arroyo says, “Start off with being yourself. Being your authentic self builds a genuine relationship with students and ultimately, that should be every teachers goal.”
In addition to teaching art, Arroyo is a practicing artist. She spends most of her free time, painting, sculpting and designing. “I know I will advocate for the arts all of my life, says Arroyo. “I’ll do it for both my love of art and for students everywhere who need a creative outlet.”
Teacher of the Year
Chula Vista Middle School
Tina Tom prides herself in empowering students with knowledge and opportunities to explore science and gain a better understanding of their educational capabilities. Tom, a 7th and 8th grade general and accelerated science teacher at Chula Vista Middle was recently selected by her colleagues as the 2020 Teacher of the Year.
With fourteen years of teaching experience in the Sweetwater District, Tom says she sets high expectations for her students the moment they enter her classroom. “Everyday, my students are reminded of how kind, capable, and loved they are through voicing aloud positive affirmations,” says Tom. “I believe when students gain a better understanding of their capabilities, their limitations have no power over their ability to learn and excel in my class.”
As the first member in her family to pursue a college degree, Tom says she experienced the transformative power of education. “I pursued a career in education to ensure that all my students have the power and resources to transform their lives.” Tom believes with hard work anyone can thrive.
As a child, Tom embraced this mantra and strives to instill this belief in all of her students. “I believe teachers serve as that bridge to ensure students are aware and have access to these resources while guiding their ideas and visions,” said Tom.
In addition, Tom believes that educators have the power to connect students with resources to make a difference in their community. For the last five years, Tom has helped organize the Macy’s annual “Letters to Santa” for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. After being informed one of her students was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and wanted his classmates to participate in this program, Tom jumped at the opportunity to get the entire school involved. “Many students believed they were powerless due to their lack of money or resources,” said Tom. “But by completing the letters they realized what a beneficial contribution they had made to children in need.”
When asked what inspires her to do her best, Tom expressed her drive to learn, reflect, and grow on a daily basis. “It’s my students that motivate me to do my best, because I want to ensure that every student receives a high-quality education no matter their background or social-economic status.”
When she’s not providing her students with distance learning, Tom can be found sewing, gardening, walking her dogs and learning how to play the guitar.
Dr. Nicole Kranzberg
Teacher of the Year
Sweetwater Union High School
The one thing that drives Dr. Nicole Kranzberg passion for teaching, is knowing she is preparing at-risk students to be college and career ready, and ahead of the curve. Staying “ahead of the curve” is exactly why Kranzberg was named this year’s Sweetwater High School Teacher of the Year.
“I was always the underdog,” says Kranzberg. “The one who has what it takes, however needed just a little boost of confidence to take whatever comes and run with it. I am here today because of the mentors, coaches, and educators throughout my life who gave me a boost and opportunity I needed to be a rockstar. I strive to create the same types of learning opportunities for each and every student in my classroom, in our school and in the community.”
Kranzberg has dedicated 15 years of her life to education and she believes at the end of the year students leave her class with more than just an expertise in anatomy and physiology. Her students learn the technical writing skills required for medical documentation. They also learn proper bedside manners, how to take a patients blood pressure and critical thinking methods. As one student summarized Kranzberg’s class, “it’s harder than any AP course, but wow is it interesting! Going to class is like working in a real hospital each day.”
Kranzberg has worked at Sweetwater High for the past 12 years, collectively with a team of professionals who desire to provide top notch education, internships, and experiences for the youth of today and prepare them for tomorrow’s future. According to Kranzberg, that is what gets her out of bed every day. “As public educators, we hold the key ingredient to meeting the demands of an ever-changing marketplace, preparing students for college and in demand careers.”
Kranzberg believes in creating work-based learning opportunities, interdisciplinary content to connect core content and career tech education to assure at-risk students gain a competitive edge in the marketplace. When she’s not working, Kranzberg spends time reading and listening to leadership and business books, as well as taking road trips and discovering new places.
Teacher of the Year
Granger Junior High School
A high note has been reached for Granger Junior High School music teacher Brett McCarty, named one of the six Sweetwater District Teachers of the Year.
As an educator for ten years, McCarty has spent the past seven at Granger Junior High as a Band, Concert, Jazz Guitar and Music Technology teacher. Under his direction, McCarty’s students can see that the music tools he provides improve their playing: discipline, attention to detail, patience, confidence, and teamwork. “They aren’t just tools that make us better musicians, says McCarty. “They make us better people.”
Each day McCarty believes he is teaching a foreign language. One that needs to be deciphered, translated, read and spoken. Each connection to another discipline is a piece of the puzzle that lets his students understand the context of what they are learning and why it is important for them to know.
At a very early age McCarty knew he wanted to do something music related as a career. He enjoys helping people find something that inspires them to think outside of what they are used to, and for him it was music.
“I can’t understate the importance of a complete education that includes music as part of a student’s daily learning,” says McCarty. “I’ve spent my whole life studying music, and every day of the last ten years doing what I can to instill that love and passion for music in every student that walks through my door.”
A bit different for a band room, a large map can be found in McCarty’s classroom. McCarty says it is just one small glimpse to one of his main focuses as an educator. A window into the rest of his students day, and a way that he can help them see other subjects through the lens of music.
With band, McCarty has the unique opportunity to be the bridge that connects a student to every aspect of what they are learning in their day. “I tell my students daily that music is everything,” says McCarty. “Music is math, it is a language, science, history, art, and even physical education. Through music and that map on my wall, I connect the students to the history and context behind a piece. I incorporate the physics of sound.”
According to McCarty, Music is such a giant part of most people’s day, but they very rarely slow down to really think about what an impact it has. “Getting people to find a way to express themselves through music has always been a really rewarding pursuit for me,” says McCarty. “Another thing I love about being an educator is that every day is wildly different. New challenges are constantly presenting themselves, and you have to be on your game to meet them all. I joke that I wouldn’t do well in a cubicle stuck in an office…the classroom can be a jungle, but it’s never boring.
McCarty believes teachers can’t ever be satisfied with where they are as educators. He believes every educator has ways to improve and encourages new teachers to know their growth is a process.
Teacher of the Year
Alta Vista Academy
Louie Marrone, one of the Sweetwater Districts Teachers of the Year, hopes to change the image of at-risk teenagers in San Diego County one student at a time.
Marrone is a teacher at Alta Vista Academy, a school that provides enriched education and related services to students from ages 12 to 18. The campus is located on the grounds of New Alternatives children’s residential treatment center in Chula Vista.
Marrone’s students are the most at-risk population in the district or foster care system.
After thirteen years as an educator and spending the last eleven in the Sweetwater District, Marrone’s students see him as family. “As a college student I remembered a professor saying twenty-five percent of new teachers quit due to burnout. When I heard this, I knew I had to make teaching enjoyable for not only my students, but myself as well.”
Many of his students have had numerous stops in juvenile hall and according to Marrone, basic survival skills are a top priority, causing education to be down their list of importance.
Marrone says teaching in this type of setting has had its challenges, but is also extremely rewarding. “My students come to class only after problematic behaviors elsewhere in the district have been unsuccessful,” says Marrone. “They are depending only upon themselves because many of the adults and family members in their lives have failed them.”
According to Marrone, it is not uncommon that by the time students reach his class, they have lived in 10-15 different homes and attended several different middle/high schools or facilities.
It’s clear that Marrone is a huge fan of his students. He says his passion for teaching stems from a conversation he had many years ago with his uncle who left education to run his own business and ended up regretting his decision. “He told me to choose a career that I would enjoy, but not only to do the job, but be the best I can be. That’s why I pursued teaching.”
Given the demographics at his site, Marrone finds the need to connect with his students and front load social emotional skills followed up by actual education portion, or there will be little growth accomplished.
“I try to find the students threshold and work just under that point while monitoring their ques,” said Marrone. “Many of my students have had little success in the classroom, so building student confidence is my main goal and the student accomplishments and growth follow suit.”