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Santa Barbara Junior High’s Marilyn Garza Named County Teacher of Year

Her eighth-grade science students have benefited from her skills as a mentor, innovator and researcher

“To this day, I still enjoy making observations or finding science in the world around me. Teaching science allows me to share this delight with my students. Taking home science fosters the notion that science can be done outside of the science classroom, and promotes conversations of science with family members. Many of the demonstrations that I use in the classroom involve materials that can be found at home, and I encourage students to repeat the demonstrations at home to their families. It is a great way for students to reinforce the content and build confidence and pride in their knowledge.” — Marilyn Garza

Marilyn Garza
Marilyn Garza

Marilyn Garza, an eighth-grade science teacher at Santa Barbara Junior High School, has been named 2010-11 Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year.

The announcement was made by county Superintendent of Schools Bill Cirone at a news conference convened at the regular monthly meeting of the County Board of Education on Thursday. Garza will become the county’s official representative on July 1.

Garza, one of a number of outstanding countywide nominees for the honor, was selected by a committee including former teachers, administrators, PTAs and school board members. Distinguished Educators also were named and will be announced at the June board meeting.

Cirone praised Garza for her professionalism, enthusiasm, creativity and remarkable successes inside and outside the classroom and in the community. In addition to being named Teacher of the Year, Garza had been a recipient of the prestigious Milken Educator Award, received three Teachers Network disseminator grants and was named a county Distinguished Educator.

Garza earned a bachelor’s degree in materials science engineering from the University of California at Berkeley and a master’s of education degree and teaching credential from UCSB. Before teaching, Garza worked as an engineer. She now teaches eighth-grade physical science and math.

She has served as a BTSA mentor for beginning teachers, mentoring eight first- and second-year science teachers for 11 years. She has been very active in the RET program — Research Experience for Teachers — spending two summers conducting experiments on optical waveguides in the nanotech clean room facility at UCSB, and bringing that experience into her classroom curriculum. As a result, her students have observed and guided laser light through gelatin, did photo masking with solar print paper and ultraviolet light, and chemically etched chalk on eggshells.

She also has taken part in the South Coast Science Institute, GATE training and conferences, and the Science Partnership for School Innovation. She has been recipient of a $1.3 million National Science Foundation GK-12 grant that allowed graduate science students from UCSB to work in her classroom. She also secured a LEAPS National Science Foundation grant (Let’s Explore Applied Physical Science), for which she has been lead teacher at her school. She has served on the STAR Science Content Review Panel, the South Coast Science Project and has attended conferences regarding closing the achievement gap.

Building on access to UCSB students, she was able to create special events for students and their families, such as Science High, during which students demonstrate various scientific principles to their peers and families; FUSE (Family Ultimate Science Exploration), in which students and families rotate through three hands-on science activities; Mentor Night, when students talk to graduate students about science project ideas; and NanoLEAPS, in which a group of eighth graders are trained to demonstrate concepts they have learned in class and make presentations to elementary students.

Angela Berenstein, National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network academic coordinator at UCSB, wrote, “I have worked with many teachers over the six years [in this position], including classroom visits, and have never seen a superstar like Marilyn. Marilyn is one of two teachers I have allowed to return for a second year [in the nanotechnology program], and I am currently doing my best to see if I can work with her on an unprecedented third year. Why? Of all the teachers I have ever worked with, Marilyn has an uncanny knack of understanding complicated science, explaining it in simple layman’s terms, and coming up with clever demonstrations and activities that a student uses to give both qualitative and quantitative results. … I can honestly say I have never worked with anyone as creative and professional as Marilyn Garza.”

Principal John Becchio wrote, “Marilyn Garza is one of Santa Barbara Junior High School’s most valued teachers. … She is a leader among her colleagues, very well-organized and energetic. ... In a time when students typically distance themselves from their parents, Mrs. Garza was able to design and implement a program that made students excited about being in class with their parents. ... No one is more deserving of this honor.”

Garza’s nomination will next be reviewed for consideration as California Teacher of the Year in the fall. The California winner will proceed into consideration for 2011 National Teacher of the Year.

As Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year, Garza will be available to speak countywide and can be reached at Santa Barbara Junior High at 805.963.7751 x117 or at the County Education Office by calling Petti Pfau at 805.964.4710 x5281.

— Wendy Shelton is director of communications for the Santa Barbara County Education Office.

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