Elizabeth Caruso of Monroe School in the Santa Barbara Unified School District will be honored as the 2021 Santa Barbara Bowl Performing Arts Teacher of the Year.
The 2021-2022 distinguished mentors to be recognized are Lorena Armstrong of Mary Buren School in the Guadalupe Union School District, Riccardo Magni of Pioneer Valley High School in the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District, and Melissa Woods of Dos Pueblos High School in the Santa Barbara Unified School District.
The 2021-2022 distinguished new educators to be honored are Samantha Ayala of La Honda STEAM Academy in the Lompoc Unified School District, T.J. Berry of Santa Ynez Valley Union High School in the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District, and Christina Peña Eckert of Carpinteria Middle School in the Carpinteria Unified School District.
The eighth annual presentation will be livestreamed at 5 p.m. Nov. 6 at s.sbceo.org/salutestream.
Noozhawk: Why did you decide to become a teacher?
Melissa Woods: I was a researcher at the Microelectronics Development Lab at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque when I realized that scientific research is more of a solitary endeavor than I needed.
I had always been interested in teaching since I tutored friends and family and was a teaching assistant for undergraduate Astronomy classes in college. I got a job teaching elementary science at a private school and had a great time teaching.
However, I realized that I really loved physics and astronomy, so I decided to become a high school teacher so I could talk about and teach students those topics that I enjoy at a higher level. I applied for the teacher education program at UC Santa Barbara in 1998 and became a teacher in 1999.
I have loved my teaching career.
Noozhawk: How long have you been teaching?
MW: I have been teaching high school since 1999. I taught elementary science for K-6 grades for one year before becoming a high school teacher. Prior to that I served as a teaching assistant for undergraduate astronomy classes.
I’ve tutored aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings. Teachers would always ask me to help classmates. I would say that I’ve been teaching my whole life!
Noozhawk: What is your favorite subject or lesson plan to teach your students?
MW: I taught AP physics for 16 years at Santa Barbara High and loved teaching about electricity and magnetism. I decided that I wanted to learn more so I joined the staff at the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy. Now, I enjoy teaching CAD (computer-aided design) where my students and I design mechanisms to showcase science and technological concepts.
I also enjoy teaching about machining processes used to produce the mechanisms designed by my student teams. It is thrilling to watch an idea come to life in a fully functional mechanism.
Noozhawk: What is your favorite part of being a teacher?
MW: Coming in to work everyday where I know I’ll do something different and fun. For example, yesterday, my students and I got to turn on our sand liquefaction exhibit for the first time. Watching the sand behave like a liquid because of a mechanism we designed is so rad.
I always say that each day I just get to play with toys!
Noozhawk: What are the challenges of your job?
MW: One of the main challenges of my job is trying to help each individual student be heard, accepted and help them to grow. Each student is different, and I work hard at connecting to the students in order to mentor them.
Noozhawk: What are you most looking forward to this school year?
MW: I am looking forward to creating successful exhibits for our new teaching and learning center that is being built this year. It is scheduled for opening next fall and I am excited to see our exhibits populate that space.
Noozhawk: Who are your mentors?
MW: I am mentored by the staff at the DPEA. Emily Shaeer, Amir Shaeer, Brian GIbson, Joe Shelton and Lyle Harlow teach me new things almost every day. I am lucky to have these incredible teachers to work with and learn from. They are passionate, kind, always willing to help me, and they are all so stinkin’ smart!
Noozhawk: Who are the people in your life and work environment who support you every day?
MW: In addition to my colleagues at the DPEA, I am supported by my loving husband, Jason, and my son, Maks. They are so fun to be around, and I love that I can spend summer and vacation time with them.
In addition, my siblings are always there to listen to me vent or help me figure out a new mechanism. I am very blessed to have my family.
Noozhawk: How does it feel to be honored as part of the Salute to Teachers?
MW: It is such an honor to be a part of the Salute to Teachers. I was nominated by a new teacher to the DPEA, Corey Boyce. She is such a fantastic teacher, and I am honored that she nominated me as her mentor.
What is particularly fun about our relationship is that she is a former student of mine. She took my physics and AP physics classes at Santa Barbara High when I taught there. She became my student teacher a few years ago and then she was hired by Dos Pueblos High to work in the DPEA.
I feel very fortunate to have this relationship with Corey from being my student to now being my colleague.