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Teachers honored at 20th annual Confucius Birthday event

For 20 years, the Tulare County Office of Education has partnered with the Central California Chinese Cultural Center to honor teachers on the birthday of Chinese philosopher Confucius - an occasion Chinese people around the world use to celebrate great educators. This year, three educators were recognized at an elegant dinner event at the Cultural Center on September 26. First/second-grade combo teacher Christa Carrasco of Willow Glen Elementary School in Visalia was honored as the Elementary School Educator of the Year. Joseph Cook, an eighth-grade history/science teacher at Alta Vista School District in Porterville, was named the Middle School Educator of the Year, and Brad Robb, a mathematics teacher at El Diamante High School in Visalia, was selected as the High School Educator of the Year. "We are so proud of what we have been able to do over the past two decades through our partnership with the Chinese Cultural Center," says County Superintendent of Schools Jim Vidak. "We have honored over 60 extraordinary educators who have bettered the academic and social lives of thousands of Tulare County students."

Christa Carrasco - Elementary Teacher of the Year Willow Glen Elementary's Christa Carrasco believes that every child wants to be successful. The key to their success she says, "is building a classroom community where students care about each other's successes." To do this, she says, "Before I deliver any curriculum, my students need to understand how much I care for them." Willow Glen Principal Tammy Gonzalez says, "Christa Carrasco is a woman who was born to teach and reach students academically, socially and emotionally. She is a treasure who has forever impacted the lives of countless students, parents and staff members through the love, joy, and cheer she spreads."

The tireless 28-year teaching veteran has been a mentor teacher for Visalia Unified, one of the first teachers in the district to receive Reading Recovery training, and a past member of the district's literacy team. Describing her teaching methods, she says, "I work from positive point of view, reinforcing positive behavior. When the students return from recess, I ask them, 'who noticed someone playing fairly?'" Colleagues and former students call her a "mentor" and "an inspiration." She unselfishly works with other teachers on their lessons, sharing her creative ideas, and inspiring them to "be a better teacher on a daily basis." Ms. Carrasco says humbly, "I'm just a regular teacher, but I have found the perfect job for me."

Joe Cook - Middle School Teacher of the Year Joe Cook found himself working as a substitute teacher while in college. "Several of the teachers I had subbed for liked my rapport with the students and how I taught. They urged me to become a teacher." Colleagues at Alta Vista School District in Porterville appreciate the decision Mr. Cook made to enter the teaching profession. A 25-year veteran at Alta Vista, Joe Cook has taught all subject matters across various grade levels, most often in fourth, seventh and eighth grades. Currently he serves as the school's eighth-grade science and history teacher. "My greatest reward is to hear and see former students' successes in high school and college, and later to know they have been successful in their careers."

Colleagues describe Mr. Cook as dedicated to the well-being of the district and students, equitable to students and staff, and humorous. "I try to make lessons interesting by relating to students' lives, giving analogies that they can relate to, and of course using lots of humor," he says. In a small school setting such as Alta Vista, teachers often have multiple responsibilities. Mr. Cook has been the district's Math Super Bowl coach, director of the Even Start Program, a coach for the basketball and baseball programs, a member of the School Site Council and president of Alta Vista Teachers Association. In the community, Mr. Cook is involved as a coach for the PAAR Center in Porterville, which helps people struggling with addiction, as well as the Food on the Go, Relay for Life and Porterville Reads organizations. He has three times been listed in the "Who's Who of American Teachers."

Brad Robb - High School Teacher of the Year Brad Robb teaches AP Calculus and Algebra II at El Diamante High School. A champion for the use of technology in teaching, he is the creator of an online resource known as wowmath.org and the developer of over 600 instructional math videos on YouTube. Mr. Robb delights in seeing his students succeed through the use of technology. "It's rewarding to get a message from a student who has seen one of these video lessons, thanking me for making the concept clearer for them." Mr. Robb says that every week he receives messages from young people around the world who see his videos.

Brad Robb has begun incorporating "flipped" instructional strategies in his classes - using homework time to watch online videos that cover math concepts, while using class time to delve deeper into solving problems. His classroom is a blend of direct instruction, student led groups and whole class participation. As a result, Mr. Robb's students do very well on the state STAR test. El Diamante High School's principal Mike Waters attributes this to Mr. Robb's commitment, stating "Students from all backgrounds enjoy his lessons and they appreciate his genuine concern for their success."