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Volume 15, Issue 22  | March 17, 2023Subscribe

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Students, staff honored at special board meeting, teacher of the year awarded


More than 100 Laguna Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) students and staff were honored during a meeting last week, including the district’s teacher of the year. 

The LBUSD Board of Education held its bi-annual recognition event on Thursday (Feb. 2). The awards night brings the school community together to acknowledge student participants in arts and athletic programs, employees of the year, and staff members nominated by their peers for contributions to school culture and academic programs, according to a district press release. 

“I am grateful for the board of education’s unwavering support and investment in academic, visual and performing arts and athletic programs that provide students with the opportunity to explore and pursue their passions,” LBUSD Superintendent Jason Viloria said in a prepared statement. “Our teachers, school staff and parent community play an integral role in providing students with safe and supportive environments to explore these interests. The number of students we recognized makes evident that our students are connected and engaged in their learning far beyond the classroom and throughout the community.”

Mindy Hawkins, a special education teacher at Laguna Beach High School, was selected as the Teacher of the Year. LBHS Principal Jason Allemann presented her with the award and shared a few comments during the meeting. 

“I’m lucky enough to work with somebody who embodies the approach of going above and beyond on the daily,” with her students, colleagues, and in the work she does, Allemann said. “A great teacher sees their duties as one that goes well beyond opportunities to learn a specific curriculum.”

It’s important to value the connections with the young adults they work with at the high school level. The team at LBHS values creating a positive culture and environment for learning, he added. 

Hawkins “epitomizes this work with kindness, care, and concern among her colleagues and students.” She positively impacts the entire campus culture, he said. 

Students staff honored teacher of the year

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Photos courtesy of LBUSD

LBUSD Teacher of the Year Mindy Hawkins (center in blue) with district staff and board representatives (L-R): Laguna Beach High School Principal Jason Allemann, Ed.D.; LBUSD Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Michael Conlon; LBUSD Board President Jan Vickers; LBUSD Superintendent Jason Viloria, Ed.D.; LBUSD Student Board Member Zoey Cutter and LBUSD Board Member James Kelly, Ph.D.

“As a special education teacher, working with students of varying needs and challenges, Mindy Hawkins truly starts where the student is. She helps her students with the promise of pushing them to be their best,” which includes daily social and life skills, Allemann said, listing off examples like getting on the right bus or grocery shopping. “All of these activities and expectations take place before Mindy’s students even get into a classroom.”

Every situation and scenario is a learning opportunity for the students, he added, and Hawkins is always there coaching and encouraging the kids.

“For many of Mindy’s students, their high school experience is the first time they may have felt seen, felt listened to, felt empowered as a person with special needs to be equal,” Allemann said, choking up a bit. “To the peers that surround them, they feel like one another.” 

If that wasn’t remarkable enough, he added, Hawkins goes to extra lengths to engage and show students that there is value in everyone. 

In another noteworthy award, LBHS Transition Services Coordinator Amy Tingirides was named the Classified Employee of the Year. Director of Special Education Irene White presented the award and also shared some comments.

“She has brought a wealth of knowledge and experience working with students which has resulted in significant growth and improvement to our district’s transition program,” White said. 

She sees what needs to be done and takes action. She’s passionate and a strong advocate for students, White added. She works with teachers and community partners to develop meaningful plans so each student is actively engaged in working toward their targeted post-high school goals. 

Before joining LBUSD in 2018, Tingirides previously worked at Irvine Unified School District and served in law enforcement prior to her career change into education. 

She’s truly unique and an exceptional individual, White concluded. 

There were also three staffers who earned classified employee of the year for their divisions: LBHS receptionist and counseling assistant Missy Palino in the division of clerical and administrative services; John Gonzalez (El Morro Elementary) and Alex Garcia (LBHS) for custodial, maintenance, nutrition and security services, along with LBHS instructional aide Dori Bunting for paraprofessional and instructional assistance.

The special meeting also included a number of students being recognized for a variety of awards.

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“I am so grateful to have been part of one of my most memorable experiences during my time here in Laguna Beach,” Student Board Representative Nicolas Plaia said in the LBUSD press release. “It was beautiful to hear my classmates receive the sincerest compliments, and it was a truly unifying experience that brought the LBUSD family closer.”

Students staff honored Zoe Bartels Upstander

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Thurston Upstander Award winner Zoe Bartels (far right) with (L-R): LBUSD Board President Jan Vickers, student board member Zoey Cutter and board member Jim Kelly

In one of many notable student awards, Zoe Bartels was recognized for outstanding citizenship with Thurston Middle School’s Upstander Award.

The young girl writes “kindness notes” and posts them all over campus for others to find, explained Thurston Middle School Principal Joe Vidal.

She was recommended for the “prestigious” award by several teachers, Vidal said. Teachers noted that Bartels is kind, thoughtful, giving, caring, conscientious and hard-working.

“Zoe Bartels goes above and beyond to give back to her school community,” Vidal said. 

She is also an active member in the Pals Club, serving as a peer mentor, and the Eco Club.

The PTA awards recognized winners in film production, music composition, photography, literature, visual arts, and dance choreography as part of the California State PTA Reflections Art Program. The 2022-23 theme was “Show Your Voice!”

At El Morro Elementary, the winners were: Juno Callisto, Stella Callisto, Luka Downey, Macie Shearer, Hayden Patel and Abby Carey.

Students staff honored TOW winners

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(L-R) LBUSD Board Clerk Kelly Osborne, 3rd grader Alexander Dvorak, LBUSD Student Board Member Nic Plaia, 1st grader Emma Kopernik, 2nd grader Vivian Gu and LBUSD Board Member Joan Malczewski, Ph.D. These Top of the World students were among the Reflections winners.

At Top of the World Elementary, the Reflections winners were: Vivian Gu, Carolina Adamou, Grayson Grubin, Alexander Entress, Sonya Sweet, Sophia Fedynsky, Alexander Dvorak, Carter Houdek, Gabriel Dvorak, Emma Kopernik, Esme-James Newton, Ethan Kopernik and Aiden Jantzi.

 For Thurston Middle School: Lara Tuncay, Alex Houdek, Isabelle Tran, Mia Yanes, Natalie Dechary and Jillian Houdek.

Reflection winners at Laguna Beach High School: Eliana Merritt, Hannah Tyus, Chanel Goddard, TJ Simmons, Lauren Trautenberg, Sophia Duensing, Jack Pugh, Jonah Goldstein, Kayvon Garcia Amini, Sabrina Park, Estella Newton, Zoe Tran, Ayla McManus, Aniela Cavka and Jordan Katz.

Students staff honored Drawing the Planet winner

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Madison Gates, a Drawing for the Planet student winner, shakes hands with LBUSD student board member Nicolas Plaia after receiving her award

In another artistic competition, Drawing for the Planet, a global art and environmental education nonprofit, students submitted their artwork in three categories: Paintings/drawings, photography/digital art and mixed media/3D work.

The winners from El Morro Elementary School were: Kali Andrus, Shaylee Chawla, Ivey Ehdaie, Catalina Fernandez Cuesta, Madison Gates, Harper Hand, Hudson Hillard, Penny Jameson, Taylor Jones, Daisy Loo, Greta MacGillivray, Addison Moran, Willow Payne-Schroll and Hale Richland.

 The Top of the World Elementary School Drawing for the Planet winners were: Clark Alden, Christian Ballesteros, Gia Cunningham, Aidan Dwight, Ace Entress, Sophia Fedynsky, Penelope Leamy, Asher Mikulin, Abby Olin, Mia Rankin, Shamsher Sadhal, James Seminoff, Annika Kedhar, Noelle Keefe and Emily Pearce.

The local Holiday Art Palette winners were also recognized. From El Morro Elementary School: Dylan Tian and Caroline Walden. From Top of the World Elementary: Max Moratorio, Abigail Olin and Elle Walker.

 Laguna Plein Air Painters Association also recognized both elementary and secondary school students for their Plein Air Invitational.

From El Morro: Olivia Barrow, Bella Crowe, Tina Crowe, Carolina Hoare, Colette Loo, Kennedy MacMillan, Jude McSorley and Ruby Wong.

 Students from TOW recognized by LPAPA: Sofia Brusch, Lily Brown, Wes Cohen, Annabella Dodge, Sienna Kavur, Chloe Lafferty, Riya Samtani and Hudson Wejpanich.

Plein air painters from Thurston: Catherine Bennet, Zoey Bond, London Buxton, Jordan Casolari, Luke Donaldson, Emma Peterson and Eason Trozak.

Other student awards included: Sonia Salado winning the TMS Brush and Palette Poem; Marta (Freya) Essen Conti winning the TMS - Daughters of the American Revolution essay contest, and Ariana Ghane and Zoe Bartels winning the TMS - Tech Trek STEM Girls awards

Another noteworthy award went to LBHS students Chris Hemsley and Natalie Sutton for Student Service to School and Community Acknowledgment and Appreciation. The same award for LBHS basketball coach service went to Bret Fleming.

Vidal also recognized several members of Thurston staff with awards, including the physical education staff members Steve Lalim, Tommy Newton-Neal, Mike Bair and Kelsey Hendricks with Advisement Enrichment Awards.

“Coming out of COVID, Thurston created an advisement period with an idea that we needed to create a sense of community where all small groups of students would build stronger relationships among each other and their teachers,” Vidal explained. “At the end of last year, a few members of our PE team approached me with what they called a ‘homerun idea.’”

The idea centered around the PE department creating an experience with competitive challenges for the advisement groups. It seemed to be a small tweak, but it truly became a “grand slam,” Vidal said. Students unanimously reporting that one of their favorite things about the advisement classes are the challenges they participate in.

“I cannot thank our PE team enough for creating such amazing experiences on a day-to-day level, but also for their ongoing contributions to schoolwide programming, like the advisement club,” he said. 

There were a number of other athletes recognized during the night, including: LBHS - Orange County Athletic Directors’ Athlete of Character recipient Emily Regal; LBHS - OC Athletic Directors’ Athlete of Character All-CIF, football division 9, recipient Sam Garwal; LBHS - CIF, football division 9, Offensive Player of the Year Jackson Kollock; LBHS - CIF football division 9, Defensive Player of the Year Micah Chavez; LBHS - All-CIF, football division 9, representing the LBHS CIF football team Jeremy Kanter, Ryner Swanson, Brock Donaldson and Nick Rogers; LBHS - Varsity Cheer Three Year Captain Kaydence Daeley; LBHS - All-CIF, Water Polo, Division 1, Sai Basset; LBHS - First Team All-Sunset League, Cross Country Chris Drews, Yolo Javier and Brighton Welch and LBHS - First Team All-County, Volleyball Eva Travis.

Frank Aronoff was also recognized with the LBHS Athletics Statistician and Historian Service to School & Community Acknowledgment and Appreciation award. Enich Harris, Ben Warner, and Kristen Warner were also recognized for LBHS - Coast Film Festival: FLOW Acknowledgment and Appreciation.

Other staff members recognized for their work include: Andy Crisp for the TMS - Culture and Climate Award; Chris Nunziata for the TMS - Instructional Leader Award and Aubrey McMorris as Orange County Counselor of the Year.

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Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Dennis McTighe, Marrie Stone, Sara Hall, Suzie Harrison and Theresa Keegan are our writers and/or columnists.

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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