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Salute to Teachers: County Teacher of the Year Mandi de Witte Makes Real-World Connections

Carpinteria High School science educator says she especially enjoys sharing her passion for genetics with students

Mandi de Witte Click to view larger
Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year Mandi de Witte, who teaches Advanced Placement biology, honors biology and environmental science at Carpinteria High School, says her students make her “think, laugh and appreciate how lucky I am that I have a job where I get to work and learn with young people.” (Santa Barbara County Education Office photo)

[Noozhawk’s note: Part of a series on the teachers who will be honored Nov. 3 at A Salute to Teachers, presented by Cox Communications and the Santa Barbara County Education Office. Click here for a complete series index.]

Mandi de Witte has been named 2019 Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year. She teaches Advanced Placement biology, honors biology and environmental science at Carpinteria High School.

De Witte began teaching in the Ventura Unified School District and was named the School District Educator of the Year in 2015.

At UC Santa Barbara, she earned a bachelor of science degree in microbiology in 2009 and a master’s degree in education and a single subject teaching credential in biology in 2010.

| Salute to Teachers | Complete Series Index |

De Witte has assumed many leadership roles at Carpinteria High School, including chair of the science department, mentor in the Teacher Induction Program, and co-director and teacher leader for the Science Leadership Team through the Channel Islands Research Science Initiative and the South Coast Science Project.

At Carpinteria High School, de Witte is involved with several clubs, classes and student groups, including AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), ASB (Associated Student Body) and the Step Up after-school program. She also serves as the adviser for the school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance.

“Mandi engages her students and makes clear for them the real-world applications of what they are learning,” Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools Susan Salcido said. “The eagerness with which her students participate in classroom activities demonstrates their excitement for learning and their respect for her as their teacher and role model.”

Eight educators will be recognized Nov. 3 at A Salute to Teachers, an event hosted by Cox Communications and the Santa Barbara County Education Office.

Aniela Hoffman, a music teacher at Arellanes Junior High School in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District, will be honored as the 2019 Santa Barbara County Performing Arts Teacher of the Year.

Distinguished new educators to be honored are Jacob West of Leonora Fillmore Elementary School in the Lompoc Unified School District, Katie Lynn Furden of Franklin Elementary School in the Santa Barbara Unified School District and Andy Osiadacz of Dos Pueblos High School in the Santa Barbara Unified School District.

Distinguished mentors include Toni Roberts of Santa Ynez School in the College School District, Robin Ilac of Kermit McKenzie Intermediate School in the Guadalupe Union School District and Stephanie Gogonis of the Santa Ynez Valley Special Education Consortium.

In addition to Cox, the event is sponsored by Noozhawk, Anthem Blue Cross, Fielding Graduate University, Montecito Bank & Trust, the Santa Barbara Bowl and the SBCC Foundation.

Noozhawk Q&A

Noozhawk: Why did you decide to become a teacher? 

Mandi de Witte: I’ve always wanted a career in which the main goal was to help other people. With my love of health and life science, I thought I wanted to become a doctor or work in public health. I had the opportunity to work jobs at both Cottage Hospital and the California Department of Public Health when I was in college, and although I learned so much from these experiences, I felt like something was missing. I realized that the connections I was making with others felt too temporary, and I wanted to find a career in which relationships were key.

After taking a two-unit science in education course my senior year at UCSB where I spent six hours a week volunteering in science classes at Dos Pueblos High School, I knew I had found what I was meant to do. After some inspiration from my college professor, Sue Johnson, I registered for UCSB's teacher education program, and the rest is history.

Noozhawk: How long have you been teaching?

MDW: This is my ninth year.

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

MDW: I am a high school biology teacher, and my favorite unit to teach by far is genetics. To quote the AP biology textbook I use: "A shared genetic vocabulary is a reminder of the kinship that bonds all life on earth." It is so amazing to me that all life on earth shares this common alphabet, and how much diversity just four letters can create. I am so fascinated by how both genes and the environment play a role in making us who we are, and I love to share that passion with my students.

There are so many interesting and fun labs and experiments I have for that unit. We extract DNA from strawberries, re-enact (Gregor) Mendel's famous pea experiment, and in AP Biology we genetically modify E. coli bacteria to express the "pGlo" gene that makes jellyfish glow. Not to mention that the field of genetics is always changing, so each year I get to incorporate new discoveries, research and articles into our curriculum.

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

MDW: My students. I enjoy working with them so much. They make me think, laugh and appreciate how lucky I am that I have a job where I get to work and learn with young people. They have so much potential to offer the world, and I feel lucky to have the honor to help guide them on their way to adulthood.

Noozhawk: What are the challenges of your job?

MDW: There are never enough hours in the day to accomplish all that I want/need to do. I have had to work very hard over the past nine years to find a work-life balance, because there is always grading to do, a lesson to improve, an email to answer, a parent to call. And the list goes on and on. I've learned that I am a much better teacher when I put my self-care first, because then I am able to be the fully alert, passionate and caring adult my students need me to be each day, instead of feeling exhausted and impatient due to sacrificing my sleep and well-being in order to check more items off of my to-do list.

That said, I still work plenty outside of school hours, but I very intentionally set aside time to do the things I love, such as cooking, exercising, hanging out with my friends and husband, and sleeping eight hours a night.

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

MDW: This is an exciting year. At Carpinteria High School, our science department has three new teachers, and we are getting brand-new labs and classrooms, thanks to Measure U. Our department has been working hard to make our courses hands-on, relevant, engaging and aligned to the new Next Generation Science Standards to encourage students to take three, four or even five years of science while at high school. I look forward to continuing to work as a team to make all of our science courses the best they can be.

Noozhawk: Who are your mentors?

MDW: Sue Johnson, who was my college professor at UCSB. I met her when she was my teacher for the two-unit science education course. She saw the teaching talent in me and encouraged me to pursue a teaching career. She was my professor throughout the entire Teacher Education Program, where she taught with her dynamic, phenomenon-first style of science teaching that I have modeled my own teaching style after.

I am also thankful that in my first few years of teaching when I was working at Buena High School in Ventura, I got to work alongside veteran science teacher Judy Anderson. She became a vital mentor for me, and we both benefited so much from collaborating together. Through combining her rich experience and time-tested labs and experiments with some of the new strategies I had from my credential program, we were able to design and implement our own custom biology curriculum that truly benefited students. I still use so many of the lessons we designed together.

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

MDW: When I switched districts three years ago, I was very worried about having to start all over. I had no reason to worry because the Carpinteria Unified School District and Carpinteria High School staff have welcomed me with open arms and made me feel at home right away. We have a group of very passionate and caring educators at CHS that I am proud to work alongside and call friends.

I am most thankful for Audrey Rogan, who was hired as a new teacher at CHS the same year as I was to also teach biology. Very much like my partnership with Judy at Buena, Audrey and I work very closely to combine our shared knowledge to create the best curriculum possible for our students. Her enthusiasm and energy keep me inspired to try new ideas and strategies, and our students are so lucky to have her on our team.

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

MDW: I have heard nothing but amazing reviews of this event, and I am just so thankful to work in a community that values education and is willing to celebrate teachers. Although I have been singled out as Teacher of the Year, there are so many amazing educators in Santa Barbara County working hard every day to give our students the best opportunities to learn and be successful. It really is a team effort. Teachers need each other, and students need many adults in their lives to help them learn and turn their dreams into reality.

Noozhawk: Is there anything else you want to share? 

MDW: I would just like to thank my friends, family and colleagues for their continued support. Go Warriors!

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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