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Salute to Teachers: Carpinteria Family School’s Amy Porter Finds Calling in Primary School Teaching

Kindergarten and first-grade teacher has been recognized as one of Santa Barbara County's distinguished new educators

Carpinteria Family School teacher Amy Porter. Click to view larger
Carpinteria Family School teacher Amy Porter.

[Noozhawk’s note: This is one in a series of stories on the educators recognized for the 2016 A Salute to Teachers event.]

Amy Porter of Carpinteria Family School said of her first year in the teaching profession, “my last year was truly one of the best years of my life.”

Porter, along with Santa Barbara’s Manjot Singh of La Colina Junior High School and Megan Heffernan of Peabody Charter School, is being honored Nov. 5 with a Distinguished New Educator award from the Santa Barbara County Education Office’s Salute to Teacher’s gala, which is hosted by Cox Communications.

Her passion for teaching her joint kindergarten and first grade class makes her excited to go to work every day, she said.

The Carpinteria Unified School District teacher was nominated by her principal, Leslie Ann Gravitz, who called Porter the best beginning teacher she’s seen in her 40 years of experience.

“She is a born teacher,” Gravitz wrote in her nominating application to the county. Porter’s “most noteworthy strength as a teacher, though, is her creativity and compassion,” Gravitz said.

“It was really great having my first year of teaching be with Carpinteria Family School because it actually felt like a family,” Porter told Noozhawk.

That family includes her colleagues, from whom she said she’s received plenty of guidance, as well as her pupils’ parents, who she said have been a lot of fun to work with.

For those parents, Porter has put together a website that features weekly videos that guide them on how to help their kids with their homework.

“I really learned that I teach from a place of love and acceptance,” she said.

One of the distinct benefits of teaching kindergartners and first graders in the same class, she said, is the opportunity to provide the younger students with motivation when they see the achievements of their first-grade peers, while offering the older students leadership roles.

“I got to spend a large portion of the first two weeks of school teaching my first graders how to be leaders in the classroom,” she said. “Leadership in the classroom gives kids ownership over it, and (the first graders) really help me with incoming kindergartners.”

The challenge in that arrangement, Porter said, is the gap that exists between lower-performing kindergartners and higher-performing first graders, so lessons still have to be separated just right in order to avoid overwhelming the former and boring the latter.

Those lessons, however, extend beyond the usual elementary school subjects into matters of behavior.

“Not only are we teaching them social studies, science, how to read, language arts and math, but we’re also teaching them how to be human,” Porter said. “And we’re teaching them: ‘If there’s an issue here, how do we address it? If there’s a problem, here’s how we need to talk.’”

Her own lessons during her inaugural teaching year included understanding what works and what doesn’t work for her lesson plans, how to schedule instruction for two different grades, and how to communicate with parents, who she said form “a strong backbone for our school.”

“When I sit down and I tell these kids that I care about them, they want to do well,” she said. “It really builds that internal motivation of wanting to do well, and giving them a purpose of why they’re here and why they’re learning these things.”

For school year No. 2, which started in August, Porter said she’s excited to continue the relationships she has with her now-first graders and build fresh relationships with her new kindergartners.

Though tinged with some sadness, she said, “it’s definitely going to be exciting watching them leave my classroom and continue moving forward with their education.”​

A Salute to Teachers is presented by Cox Communications and the Santa Barbara County Education Office and will be held from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 5 at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara. ​Click here for more information or to register for tickets to the free, black-tie optional event.

The event will also recognize nine Santa Barbara County elementary schools designated as California Gold Ribbon Schools this year: Ballard Elementary School, Cold Spring School District, College/Santa Ynez Elementary School, Hope School, Monte Vista School, Leonora Fillmore Elementary School, Manzanita Public Charter School, Franklin Elementary School and Alvin Elementary School.

The schools are recommended by county education offices and the schools then submit applications, said Steve Keithley, the SBCEO director of teacher programs and support. The California Department of Education chooses finalists and the County Education Office puts together a visitation team to validate each school’s “model program” they wrote about in the applications.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman 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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