Samantha Ayala
Samantha Ayala of La Honda STEAM Academy in Lompoc is being honored as a Salute to Teachers distinguished new educator. (Santa Barbara County Education Office photo)

[Noozhawk’s note: One in a series on the teachers who will be honored Nov. 6 at A Salute to Teachers, presented by Cox Communications and the Santa Barbara County Education Office.]

Ten educators will be recognized Nov. 6 at A Salute to Teachers, an event hosted by Cox Communications and the Santa Barbara County Education Office at the Music Academy of the West in Montecito.

Alisyn Blanton of Miguelito School in the Lompoc Unified School District has been named the 2022 Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year.

Frank Koroshec of San Marcos High School in the Santa Barbara Unified School District will be honored as the 2021 Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year.

Josie Coburn of Orcutt Academy High School in the Orcutt Union School District will be recognized as the 2022 Santa Barbara Bowl Performing Arts Teacher of the Year.

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.

In addition to Cox, Salute to Teachers is sponsored by Noozhawk, Fielding Graduate University, Montecito Bank & Trust, Santa Barbara Bowl, Santa Barbara City College and Southwest Airlines.

Noozhawk Q&A

Noozhawk: Why did you decide to become a teacher?

Samantha Ayala: I have known I have wanted to be a teacher since I was in third grade.

My dad is my inspiration to become a teacher. He spent about 20 years in the classroom and now works in administration in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The ability he had to make school topics fun and engaging and the way he inspired his students to reach for the stars always captured my eye.

The job is more about giving the students skills to navigate through life, and even though it can be hard it is a wonderful job to have.

Noozhawk: How long have you been teaching?

SA: My first year of certified teaching was the 2018-2019 school year. I started my career at Cienega Elementary School in Los Angeles while I was finishing my master’s program at UCLA. I have been at La Honda STEAM Academy in Lompoc since the fall of 2019.

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

SA: I think teaching English Language Arts through novel studies has to be my favorite thing to teach. As a student, I never really fell in love with reading and stories until high school. Being able to read a variety of novels in fifth grade allows the students to dive into the stories and learn along the way.

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

SA: Seeing the students grow throughout the year. The progress the students are able to make is remarkable, and when it clicks for them they feel inspired to continue learning and try more new things.

Noozhawk: What are the challenges of your job?

SA: I think one of the most challenging things is each student has a learning style that is unique to them. They also could be in very different places as far as their understanding of certain subjects. I have to do a job to reach every student so they can understand what we are talking about.

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

SA: This school year I am most excited to be back in the classroom and doing hands-on art and experiments with my students. Being online last year we missed out on a lot of those hands-on projects that require us to collaborate.

Noozhawk: Who are your mentors?

SA: I am so thankful to have met Karen Hamner at La Honda. She served as my mentor through the Teacher Induction Program.

My dad is always a phone call away if I need advice, and I have several members in the UCLA Teacher Education Program that I can still reach out to if I have questions.

It really takes a village to help get through your first years of teaching, and I’m extremely grateful to have multiple mentors to help me get through that.

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

SA: I am beyond lucky to have a fiancé who supports me through the ups and downs of my journey teaching. He is always willing to help with cutting out projects, or being a guest speaker to my students.

He also makes sure that I take my mind off of my job, and that space away allows me to decompress and get ready for the next challenges ahead. We are getting married in December.

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

SA: I think I am still in shock that I am being honored. I feel very grateful and excited to know that there is still so much room for growth in my career.

Also, I feel very thankful to have this recognition knowing there are so many other amazing teachers in this county.

I also would like to say thank you to everyone who has given their support to me and my classroom community over these years. I am so grateful for everyone’s generous support and love that they have given me. And I would like to thank my current and former students for all that they have taught me and continue to teach me; I love them all dearly.