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Teacher of Year's style is ‘from the heart'
The Yuma County Teacher of the Year for 2012 is Joena Ezroj, a No Child Left Behind specialist at Cesar Chavez Elementary School.
She explained that as soon as her name was announced, “I was shocked ... I still feel like I'm dreaming because it's such a huge honor to represent teachers from all of Yuma County.”
Josh Topp, a teacher from Crane Middle School, won the first-year award, and Amy Castel'Branco, a third-grade teacher at Alice Byrne Elementary, was the primary school winner.
Intermediate winner was Ann Jahnke, fifth- and sixth-grade teacher at Rolle Elementary, while the special area/special education winner was Samantha Horoff, an art teacher at Desert Sonora Elementary.
For junior high school, Shonti Land, an eighth-grade teacher at Castle Dome Middle School, earned top recognition. Ian McDougall, a social studies teacher at San Luis High School, earned the high school honor.
Ezroj has been in education in Yuma for 15 years, 10 as a teacher and five as an instructional assistant. She received her bachelor's degree from Northern Arizona University in 2001.
Asked why she decided to pursue teaching as a career, she said it was her love for children and knowing that she could make a difference in their lives.
“It's just so rewarding and it brings me joy,” she said.
“Many of my college professors were the most inspiring to me because as I was getting closer to my field of what I wanted to do and seeing that passion ooze out from them, it really just transferred to me ... and I still, to this day, admire them very much.”
Ezroj described her teaching style as being “from the heart.”
“Yes, academics is a No. 1 priority ... but always remember that they're a child and they need to be motivated and they need to be uplifted and you need to build their confidence as you go.”
She said she enjoys getting families involved on campus as well and added that she instituted the annual parent nights on campus to help meet that goal.
“We do four of them a year and that's one of the things that our parents have just been so happy about because we bring them into the classroom with their kids and teach them take home strategies ... Teaching in a rural community, our parents are mostly Spanish-speaking parents ... They don't know how to help their kids at home so we provide them strategies so they can support their children.”
“Joena's true passion is in the abilities and endless ideas to teach second language learners,” said Bethany Loucks, Cesar Chavez Elementary principal. “One of her strengths is family engagement. She is willing to teach anyone who walks in the school. She gladly gives her own time to help families create a strong family structure.”
Along with a commemorative trophy, Ezroj receives three credit hours from Northern Arizona University-Yuma and a Paul Harris Fellowship award from Yuma Rotary Club that represents $1,000 donated to the Rotary Foundation to be used for eradicating polio. Also, she will get a $1,000 gift card to Staples donated by Southwest Gas and a seven-day trip for two to Hawaii presented by Yuma Investment Group Wealth Management.
The college and university finalists who were recognized included Steven Lund, AWC professor of English as a second language; Francisco Ramon “Taco” Ulloa Aguilar, AWC professor of karate; and William Pederson, a senior lecturer and site coordinator of the social work program at NAU-Yuma. All were honored for their dedication and outstanding contributions to education.
This year, there were 150 nominees from schools through Yuma County. Organizers of the event also invited past Teachers of the Year and previous category winners to be recognized.
The 25th Yuma County Teacher of the Year awards banquet was sponsored by the Education Foundation of Yuma County and the Rotary Clubs of Yuma.
Educational Hall of Fame awards were also given to various recipients at the event.
Col. Jeff Jennings was the recipient of the Estelle Dingess Award given to those who are a product of the local area who went on to make a significant impact outside of Yuma County. Jennings, who was also the keynote speaker for the event, is commander of the 309th Intelligence Battalion in Sierra Vista, Ariz.
Jose Enrique Luna, Nellie Rodriguez and Debbie Carpenter were recipients of the Special Achievement Award presented to non-certified employees of Yuma County schools who stand out among colleagues and have a long-term commitment to education.
Luna has been a maintenance and custodial worker in the Gadsden School District for 19 years. He was recognized for his commitment to his job and his work as a great leader and supporter of students.
Rodriguez started working at Yuma School District 1 as a substitute teacher and a cafeteria assistant in 1980 and was hired in 1995 as the cafeteria manager at Palmcroft School. She is known for her dedication and for her flexibility for filling in when needed.
Carpenter, a 1972 graduate of Kofa High School, is now the activities administrative assistant at Kofa and has been working there for over 27 years. She was recognized for her efforts in getting students involved beyond the classroom through volunteer work.
The University of Arizona Alumni Club was presented with the Outstanding Organization Award for its work providing scholarships to local students for more than 20 years. Since 1991, the group has awarded over $800,000 to graduating seniors and transferring Arizona Western College students enrolling at UA. The Yuma UA Alumni Club raises the funds through a golf tournament held each fall.
The Frances Woodard Award, given to individuals who are products of the Yuma County school system who have made a considerable impact on the community, was bestowed upon Shirley Murdock.
She was recognized for the time she has spent giving back to Yuma County, especially the outlying communities of Wellton, Tacna, Roll, Hyder and Dateland. Murdock has served as a 4-H leader, a school board member and authored two books about Yuma County's history.
Sue Harlow and Judy Autrey Dyson were recipients of the Professional Educator Award for their significant impact on the educational community of Yuma County.
Harlow taught in the Crane Elementary District for 32 years beginning in 1963 and taught a range of elementary to middle school grades. She is currently the chairman of the Assistance League's Operation School Bell, which clothed over 1,100 students in Yuma this year.
Dyson, a longtime Yuma resident, was honored for her years as a teacher in the local area. She spent 28 years teaching elementary students in Yuma School District 1. She was also a member of the Assistance League of Yuma, D.A.R.E. of Yuma, served as a volunteer for the American Cancer Society of Yuma and was named 1999-2000 Intermediate Teacher of the Year.