The Ventura County Office of Education is pleased to announce that Kirsten Barajas of Juan Soria Elementary School in the Oxnard School District is the 2018 Ventura County Teacher of the Year. Barajas and her students found out about the honor today when her family, local dignitaries and members of the media made a surprise visit to her classroom.
See Video and Photos of the Surprise Announcement
Barajas is in her 19th year as an educator in the Oxnard School District. She currently teaches sixth grade math and English language arts to Dual Language Immersion students. Barajas was nominated by her Principal, Aracely Fox, who says she is selflessly committed to the wellbeing of her students. “Mrs. Barajas has made positive and long-lasting connections with her students and their families. As one of the founding teachers of Juan Soria School, Mrs. Barajas has been instrumental in the current collaborative culture of the school community, as well as the friendly and positive environment that we experience today. Mrs. Barajas is a true advocate for her students. Her sense of social justice and equity is evident in every decision she makes,” Fox said.
Barajas chose to become a teacher because of her strong desire to help children in need. “It was a decision that transformed my life; it has given me purpose and has given my life passion and fulfillment. Though there are many lessons learned in these years, the most significant is the belief that establishing a personal connection with students is what makes the most difference in both my life and theirs,” she said.
Empathy and kindness are among the cornerstones of Barajas’s approach to teaching. In collaboration with her sixth graders, she developed a kindness initiative centered on the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio, which inspired students to commit random acts of kindness within their community. She was also instrumental in helping the school cope after the loss of a student to leukemia.
Barajas says she makes an effort to really get to know each of her students, starting from the first day of school. “Teaching requires an understanding that we live in complex times, and our students come with complex issues. They come with questions, with insecurities and uncertainties. It is my job to consider all of these factors and support them as they make sense of the world. My job is not simply to teach them subjects, but rather to guide them to make meaning of the newly acquired knowledge and connect it to the world in which they live,” she said.
In addition to her teaching duties, Barajas volunteers as a coach and tutor and serves as the lead advisor for the school's Associated Student Body. She also organized the school’s relief effort during the devastating Thomas Fire.
Barajas was selected by a committee that included Leah Oviedo, last year’s Ventura County Teach of the Year, and educators from the Ventura County Office of Education. Barajas is now eligible to be considered for the 2019 California Teacher of the Year award.
The dignitaries who were on hand to honor Barajas today included Ventura County Superintendent of Schools Stan Mantooth; Oxnard School District Superintendent Dr. Cesar Morales; Juan Soria Elementary School Principal Aracely Fox; Oxnard School District Board of Trustees President Debra Cordes; Oxnard School District Trustee Victoria Solis; Dr. Ana DeGenna, Director of Dual Language Programs for the Oxnard School District and Robin Lefkovits, President of the Oxnard Educators Association.
More About the Teacher of the Year Program
The Teacher of the Year program is administered by the Ventura County Office of Education. Candidates are nominated by their district, school or professional organization. A panel of educators selects the winner based on the candidate’s essay, experience and an introductory letter from their sponsor. The first Ventura County Teacher of the Year was named in 1973. Additional information about the Teacher of the Year program is available by clicking here.