Gregory Wolf — a Santa Ynez Valley Union High School social science teacher in the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District — is the 2024 Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year. On Oct. 16, he was named the 2024 California Teacher of the Year, the highest state recognition a teacher can earn.
Elesa Carlson, the drama director and an art teacher at Righetti High School in the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District, will be recognized as the 2024 Santa Barbara Bowl Performing Arts Teacher of the Year.
The 2024 distinguished mentors to be recognized are Victoria Aguirre of Hollister School in the Goleta Union School District, Natalie Durbin of Liberty School in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District, and Tiffany Gonzales of Peabody Charter School in the Santa Barbara Unified School District.
The 2024 distinguished new educators to be honored are Ryan Helsel of Goleta Valley Junior High School in the Santa Barbara Unified School District, Sammi Lambert of San Marcos High School in the Santa Barbara Unified School District, and Julio Molina of Delta High School in the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District.
The 10th annual presentation will be livestreamed at 5 p.m. Nov. 4 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orwewJn9SQE.
Noozhawk: Why did you decide to become a teacher?
Victoria Aguirre: I decided to become a teacher because of the wonderful teachers I had growing up.
Ms. Tarpening in third grade, and Ms. Tran and Ms. Noonan at San José High School were all impactful in my education. They helped me realize my purpose for showing up to school every day, and that drove my decision to join education.
I wanted to help provide that same sense of purpose to students. We don’t show up just to show up; we come to school and do each activity for greater purposes and to contribute to our community.
Noozhawk: How long have you been teaching?
VA: I have been teaching for seven years, with five of those incredible years at Hollister School in the Goleta Union School District!
Noozhawk: What is your favorite subject or lesson plan to teach your students?
VA: My favorite subjects to teach are social emotional learning and reading. Teaching students about identifying their emotions, expressing them, and showing kindness to others is so vital for our community and for student success.
This also supports sending readers out into the world!
Noozhawk: What is your favorite part of being a teacher?
VA: Building relationships with my students is my favorite part of being a teacher. We become forever family, and seeing their growth is so beautiful and rewarding.
Noozhawk: What are the challenges of your job?
VA: The challenges of teaching really encourage me to be creative. Finding solutions within a system not originally designed for all students to succeed is a challenge that I am passionate about rising to.
Another challenge that I face is that many people see a teacher’s job from the surface and are not aware of the very complex inner workings and responsibilities of this profession.
Interacting with others who don’t share this understanding is difficult. When we choose to hear each other out, it is so impactful for teachers and students alike.
Noozhawk: What are you most looking forward to this school year?
VA: Seeing my 21 students grow into strong readers, mathematicians, scientists, self-regulators, problem-solvers, deep thinkers and kind friends.
I also look forward to growing as an educator who ensures that all students learn at high levels.
Noozhawk: Who are your mentors?
VA: My parents, Angie and Victor Veles, were my first mentors, who have always modeled a life of service and resilience. As a first-generation Master’s graduate and educator, I remember daily their sacrifices and accomplishments while educating the next generation.
I am also so lucky to be able to teach next door to my mentor teacher, Imelda Delgado (Hollister second-grade teacher). She is an example of persevering through challenges with joy and professionalism that I strive to emulate in my career.
Jason Lomelino with Mission Isla Vista has also been an impactful mentor who pours into me outside of teaching with encouragement and wisdom for navigating life and serving my community.
Noozhawk: Who are the people in your life and work environment who support you every day?
VA: My greatest supporter is my husband, Caleb Aguirre. He is my best friend, a great listener and the best partner in life.
I am able to excel as an educator because of him. Additionally, my students love when he comes to visit and play guitar.
I am so fortunate to also receive support from my colleagues at Hollister School every day! There are so many experienced educators here and in our district.
Our collaboration has been so impactful for my teaching practices and the culture of our school. Our principal, Kristina Muñoz, is also highly supportive with encouragement and feedback that helps me grow in the art and science of teaching.
Lastly, the students and families of Hollister are so supportive. My students uplift me with their kindness, joyful energy and love for learning.
Hollister families volunteer in my classroom, and all that they do to prepare students for the learning day at home is incredibly vital.
Noozhawk: How does it feel to be honored as part of the Salute to Teachers?
VA: I feel so humbled and grateful for this recognition. There are so many educators who go above and beyond in this field, so to be recognized for my efforts is a privilege and an honor.