Saturday, May 26 , 2018, 3:33 am | Fair 55º

 
 
 
 

Community Mourning Loss of Longtime Santa Barbara Teacher Isabel Hernandez-Sibayan

The 35-year Santa Barbara County educator, most recently at Adams Elementary School, dies after a battle with pancreatic cancer

Longtime Santa Barbara teacher Isabel Hernandez-Sibayan died Friday of pancreatic cancer. “When you think of teachers and how much they sacrifice and give for children, you think of Isabel,” longtime friend and Adams Elementary School Principal Amy Alzina said.
Longtime Santa Barbara teacher Isabel Hernandez-Sibayan died Friday of pancreatic cancer. “When you think of teachers and how much they sacrifice and give for children, you think of Isabel,” longtime friend and Adams Elementary School Principal Amy Alzina said. (Amy Alzina photo)

Longtime Santa Barbara teacher Isabel Hernandez-Sibayan passed away Friday, and the education community is mourning the loss of a passionate educator who worked tirelessly for the children in her classes.

Hernandez-Sibayan was a teacher in Santa Barbara County for almost 35 years and most recently worked at Adams Elementary School, where she taught kindergarten for four years.

The school community rallied behind Hernandez-Sibayan when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer by hosting fundraisers and printing up “I Heart Mrs. Hernandez” shirts.

“She was my best friend and mentor and godmother to my daughter,” Adams Principal Amy Alzina said. “It’s been hard on our team and our staff and family. It’s hard also to see her go through so much pain.”

Hernandez-Sibayan was a founding teacher at the Santa Barbara Community Academy, where she taught for about 16 years, and before that, she taught at Harding University Partnership School and San Roque School, Alzina said. She also served as president of the teachers’ union.

The Santa Barbara Community Academy is where Alzina met her, when they taught kindergarten together and Alzina eventually — with the mentoring of Hernandez-Sibayan — became principal.  

“She could just spark that love of learning and reading in any child,” Alzina said, adding that Hernandez-Sibayan would tutor students and teach full-day kindergarten classes for free at the school because she believed students needed as much learning as possible. “She just gave 1,000 percent to every kid.”

Santa Barbara Community Academy staff show some love for Isabel Hernandez-Sibayan, who was a founding teacher at the school. (Facebook photo)

Hernandez-Sibayan loved being in the classroom and didn’t put in for retirement even after the cancer diagnosis, though she was in her mid-50s, Alzina said. She did leave when she got ill, more recently, Alzina said.

“When you think of teachers and how much they sacrifice and give for children, you think of Isabel,” Alzina said. “She’s just the best teacher ever.”

Hernandez-Sibayan is survived by her husband, Max, and six siblings.

“She loved her children like they were her own. She was absolutely loving, so generous,” said her sister, Phyl Hernandez. “Since last year and when she got sick, we have had nonstop calls and messages, and so much love pouring in from this community.

“She enjoyed life and that was one thing she did say, ‘I had a good life.’ She felt truly blessed and thankful for everyone, all the love and prayers.”

She was trilingual (speaking English, Spanish and French) and taught English as a Second Language classes, Hernandez said. Over her teaching career, she taught students in private and public schools, from kindergarten to the high school level.

“She was everything to me,” Hernandez said. “I’m the youngest of the siblings and she was one of my best friends. She raised me along with my other siblings — she was primarily my guardian and she actually was my teacher.”

The first official teaching job Hernandez-Sibayan had was replacing a teacher at La Purísima Concepción Catholic School in Lompoc, and her youngest sister was a student in her class.

“I truly, truly miss her and am blessed that we got to spend some of her last days together,” Hernandez said.

The family is planning a celebration of life event in May that will be open to the community. They also established a memorial fund at Wells Fargo in Hernandez-Sibayan’s name, where donations can be made in lieu of flowers. Alzina said Adams Elementary is also accepting donations and cards which will be given to the family.

Santa Barbara Unified School District Superintendent Dave Cash called for a moment of silence to recognize her at Tuesday night's meeting. 

"Isabel Hernandez was a teacher’s teacher," he said in a statement. "She nurtured our youngest learners with patience, kindness, compassion, and a wonderful sense of humor. Isabel joined the district in 1996 and taught at Harding School. In 1999 she taught next door at Santa Barbara Community Academy. Then, in 2010, Isabel joined the staff of Adams Elementary School. She was a mentor teacher. At one point, she was the president of Santa Barbara Teacher’s Association. Generations of kindergarteners probably still remember the wonderful teacher who encouraged them, who taught them how to share, how to play nicely with one another, and how to recognize numbers and letters. She was the teacher who dried their tears on that very first day of school."

Noozhawk news editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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