(Left) Principal of Santa Paula High School Tony Gaitan congratulates SPHS teacher Annette Halpern after she was named the Ventura County Teacher of the Year Photo by Brian D. Wilson

SPHS English teacher named County Teacher of the Year

September 19, 2001
Santa Paula News
By Brian D. WilsonSanta Paula TimesSanta Paula High School teacher Annette Halpern was named this week as Ventura County Teacher of the Year by County Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Charles Weis.Halpern was surprised while at a gathering of teachers at the high school library during the noon hour Tuesday. She was selected to represent the some 6,000 teachers in the County, from 20 school districts.The choice was made by a committee of educators who evaluated applications from many teachers throughout the County. Halpern will now compete for the California State Teachers of the year recognition.Halpern has been a teacher since 1979, when she taught grades seven and eight in the L.A. Unified School District. She went on to teach at Belmont and John Marshall High Schools and, in 1995, came to Santa Paula High, where she teaches English as a second language, Reading and English 9.Upon receiving the plaque, Halpern had a special thank you for SPHS Principal Tony Gaitan. "His office is always open to me," she said. She also thanked the school and district staff, as well as her students. "I'm truly honored." She dedicated her award to her late mother who, she said "wanted to make sure I earned a steady living, so she wanted be to become a stenographer."One of Halpern's students wrote a letter to the selection committee on her behalf. Carlos Reyes, a senior at the school call Halpern a teacher that is full of energy and life. "Her enthusiasm and mastery at teaching has and continues to motivate me to this date," he told the committee. "This wonderful teacher and person allows us to see that each of us is unique and she inspires us to see that about each other. Her teachings are not only educational, but inspirational and personal as well."Reyes is alone in this country. His entire family is in Mexico. He talked about how Halpern would take time from her lunch break to sit and talk with he and his friends. "When time allowed, I was able to open up to her and share my struggles," he said. "I can honestly say that one of the reasons why I am so successful in school is because of Mrs. Halpern. Her constant praise and encouragement is what allowed me to shine."In her biography, Halpern notes that she finds being with students in a classroom is the most interesting and exciting place to be. "There is nothing like the satisfaction of observing growth, change and inspiration before one's very eyes, brought about by the daily positive interaction with hopeful young people who have goals and dreams," she wrote.
Halpern has been involved in a number of activities over the years that benefit her community and especially young people. In L.A. County she was an advisor to the Environmental Issues Club at Marshall High. Also in Los Angeles, she served as a Neighborhood Watch Coordinator and spearheaded an effort to close down a local billiard hall that she says attracted drunks, drug addicts, vandals and car thieves.At Santa Paula High School she was instrumental in starting the Accelerated Reader Program. This is a computer managed reading program that tests students' reading comprehension of books and rewards them with points. She has also served on the local Anti-Defamation League's Public School Liaison Committee for the past two years.Celia Ward is the SPHS Librarian. In her letter to the selection committee, Ward says that Annette cares deeply about her students and is an excellent teacher. "For instance, when she discovered to her dismay that most students in a recent class had never heard of the Holocaust, she quickly prepared a lesson, engaged a Holocaust survivor as a speaker and arranged a field trip to the Los Angeles Holocaust Museum for the entire class," she said.Principal Gaitan also sent a letter of recommendation to the selection committee on Halpern's behalf. "Mrs. Halpern is known as an outstanding educator and is highly respected amongst her colleagues," he noted. "Mrs. Halpern has provided her students with a challenging education using a variety of learning models that include reading books with contemporary tittles that are of interest to our students. She has also been the key person in our English Language Development program as well as assisting with the implementation of the Accelerated Reading Program on our campus."John Merrill, another English teacher at SPHS said he was not surprised at Halpern being honored. "She is definitely worthy," Merrill said. Another teacher, Basil Augustine was also pleased with the news. "I'm very happy someone as worthy was acknowledged," he said. "I couldn't have been happier."Halpern says that she's always believed that, in order for students to thrive, they need to be provided with a calm environment of mutual respect, honesty and dignity. "In my 'Sacred Temple of Learning' (aka Room 412) the profanity, crude language and vulgarity of the outside world cease to exist," she writes. "We treat each other with an unusually high level of civility. My students are initially not accustomed to this atmosphere but they always rise to the occasion, and they feel secure within it. In addition to my insistence of honesty, dignity and civility within the classroom, I have always striven to build and maintain high academic standards."Halpern notes that the psychic rewards of teaching have kept her enthusiastic and renewed, year after year. "When a student thanks you for giving him a sense of pride in his heritage and therefore changing his life for the better, it is a feeling of gratification that will never be forgotten," she said. "When a student is so excited by a book that you have recommended that he devours all of the works by the same author, the satisfaction is immeasurable. When a student realizes how powerful he can be by having the ability to write a succinct and articulate letter to a company or elected official, you have given him/her a gift for life."She recommends teaching to others, "because in spite of all its problems and pressures, it is a gratifying and interesting way to spend one's working day," she said. "No matter what, teaching is never boring. The fresh, new students with their budding personalities and varied talents make the start of each school year an exciting prospect, full of promise. In addition, teaching allows one to keep one's independence and, to a certain extent, be one's own boss."

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