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Salute to Teachers: Mentor Kevin O’Hara Loves Reading ‘The Odyssey’ with his Carpinteria Students

He teaches sixth-grade language arts and ancient civilizations classes at Carpinteria Middle School

[Noozhawk’s note: Part of a series on the teachers who will be honored Oct. 28 at A Salute to Teachers, presented by Cox and the Santa Barbara County Education Office. Click here for a complete series index.]

Kevin O'Hara, a sixth-grade teacher at Carpinteria Middle School, has been selected as a Distinguished Mentor.

In her nomination letter, Jeannette Ruley, assistant principal at Carpinteria Middle School, described O’Hara as an exemplary teacher mentor.

“He has led our beginning teachers to excel in their own classrooms and has provided enough support for them to ensure that they do so. He has shown our beginning teachers how to establish a positive school culture.”​

| Salute to Teachers | Complete Series Index |

O’Hara took a circuitous route to his career teaching in Carpinteria. For the past 10 years, the Carpinteria native has taught sixth-grade language arts and ancient civilizations at Carpinteria Middle School. 

O’Hara graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 1981 with a degree in ergonomics. After graduation he worked with Sea & Summit, a ministry based in Santa Barbara. He later was vocational evaluator at the Devereux Foundation before pursuing his Marriage Family, Child Counseling license.

Carpinteria Middle School teacher Kevin O’Hara is being recognized as a 2018 Distinguished Mentor. Click to view larger
Carpinteria Middle School teacher Kevin O’Hara is being recognized as a 2018 Distinguished Mentor. (Contributed photo)

He realized while working as a teacher and a therapist intern at Vista del Mar Psychiatric Hospital in Ventura that he loved teaching. He turned his attention to teaching and began working at the Phoenix School in Ventura.

During his 10 years at Aliso School, O’Hara was co-creator of Battle of the Books Reading Program with Mary Lewandowski. He also was involved with starting Family Science Night at the School.

O’Hara has been married for 32 years to his wife Marcy, and they have three children, Kelsey, Corey and Ben.

Eight educators are being recognized at A Salute to Teachers event Oct. 28, hosted by Cox Communications and the Santa Barbara County Education Office.

Fifth-grade teacher Jennifer Cline, at Oak Valley Elementary School in Buellton, is Santa Barbara County’s 2018 Teacher of the Year, and​ Garson Olivieri, a teacher at Cabrillo High School in Lompoc, is being recognized as the Santa Barbara Bowl Performing Arts Teacher of the Year.

Distinguished new educators being honored this year include Desiree Hitch from Ernest Righetti High School in the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District; Jani Lindberg from Santa Ynez Valley Union High School and Santa Ynez Valley Special Education Consortium; and Kelly Keene from San Marcos High School in the Santa Barbara Unified School District.

Distinguished mentors include Christine Petrone from Manzanita Public Charter School in the Lompoc Unified School District; Denise Stevens from Rice Elementary in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District; and Kevin O’Hara from Carpinteria Middle School in the Carpinteria Unified School District.

Noozhawk Q&A

Noozhawk: Why did you decide to become a teacher? 

Kevin O'Hara: After finishing UC Santa Barbara in 1981, I worked in a wilderness program called Sea & Summit and a live-in staff counselor in the halfway house in Santa Barbara. After seven years, I began a master’s degree in Marriage Family, and Child Counseling through UC San Francisco while developing a supported employment program through the Devereux
Foundation. Eventually, I did internship hours toward licensing at Vista del Mar Psychiatric Hospital. I worked mornings as a teacher on the psych unit and as a therapist in the afternoons. To my surprise what unfolded was my gift and love of teaching. I was offered a job as a therapist in a Ventura medical practice and as a teacher in pilot school called Phoenix. It was a turning point. I chose to teach.

Noozhawk: How long have you been teaching?

KO: I have been teaching for 28 years.

Noozhawk: What is your favorite subject/lesson plan to teach your students? 

KO: I teach sixth grade language arts and ancient civilizations at Carpinteria Middle School. I am fortunate to be able to integrate learning across disciplines. The Odyssey is my favorite novel to teach. I enjoy the story and I love to read with students. There is no story worth reading that does not have a conflict. As we explore how the protagonist deals with conflict, we can learn how to deal with the inevitable struggles in our own lives. For instance, when Odysseus’ men eat the Lotus fruit, they immediately forget who they are, who their families are and their mission to return home after the Trojan War. The story provides a natural way to discuss how drugs and alcohol affects families by talking about what happens to Odysseus’ men when they eat the beautiful fruit. The book is rich in themes of leadership, mentoring, coping with loss and death and patient love.

Noozhawk: What is your favorite part of being a teacher?

KO: I live and work in this community. It is a gift to have the opportunity to have a role in a student’s story. I am fortunate to see how his or her story unfolds over time. I am also grateful to be part of an educational community that is open to growth and helping students achieve their greatest potential.

Noozhawk: What are the challenges of your job?

KO: My sixth grade classroom has numerous special education, GATE, English Language Learners and other kids. The challenge is to diversify the curriculum so that all students may reach their full potential. I instill that we are a community of learners at different places and that each of us can grow our brains and learn how to work together to celebrate learning from whatever point we start from.

Noozhawk: What are you most looking forward to this school year?

KO: This year we have a new superintendent in Carpinteria Unified School District and at Carpinteria Middle School we have a new principal. The two are bringing renewed enthusiasm to our community, and we are looking forward to great year. I always look forward to our celebrations of learning with our annual events: Flintstone Feast; Mesopotamia Night; Egypt Night; Goofy Greek Games and camp. I also look forward to our Music, Kayaking,and Surf clubs. Finally, there is nothing like watching a student struggle write, and then give a voice to his or her poetry.

Noozhawk: Who are your mentors?

KO: At each transition point, I was blessed with mentors who spoke into my life: Will (Sea & Summit), Sandy (Teacher/MFCC at Vista del Mar Hospital), John (Phoenix School), Father Don (Episcopal priest): Louise (Aliso School), Tom and Chip (South Coast Science Project at UCSB) and Joni (South Coast Art & Writing Project). I collaborate closely with my teams at work to provide a positive learning environment for kids. They are my comrades and peer mentors.

Noozhawk: Who are the people in your life who support you every day?

KO: At home my beautiful partner of 32 years, Marcy, and a faithful monthly supper group at church that has tracked with me over the past 20 years. My three adult kids, Kelsey, Corey and Ben always cheer me on.

Noozhawk: How does it feel to be honored as part of the Salute to Teachers? 

KO: It is a beautiful recognition to be honored as a Santa Barbara County Education Office Distinguished Mentor, especially in the autumn of life.

Noozhawk: Is there anything else you want to share? 

KO: After working for years with young adults and adults in a rehabilitation capacity, it is essential for our community to invest in the well being and education of children. Most of those struggling adults had childhood learning problems that were never addressed, as well as socialization issues. It is important to identify and support kids. Early intervention is key. 

Support your local teachers. Find out what their needs are. Support your own child with reading, homework, balanced play and sleep. Most importantly have the eyes to see all children and be open to simple ways to support their development.

Noozhawk special projects editor Melinda Johnson can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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