Position: Third Grade Teacher
School: Handy Elementary School
School District: Orange Unified School District
City, State: Orange, CA
Mary Ann Ballestero was nominated by her principal, Michelle Owen.
Ms. Ballestero works in one of the district's most challenging schools, where 74 percent of her students are considered English learners and 94 percent participate in a free and reduced lunch program. Many of her students come to school unprepared for the demands of learning. Ms. Ballestero shows up for work every day to take on these challenges. It is not uncommon for Ms. Ballestero to be seen after-school with a classroom full of students from all different grade levels receiving tutoring support or just mentorship. Ms. Ballestero provides snacks for all of her students daily, as well as extra school supplies and books for her students. At Christmas, Ms. Ballestero sought donations from the community to ensure that the school's most struggling families would have something under the tree. She is the first person to volunteer for fundraising and extracurricular events that are unpaid such as Science Night and Angel’s Games. She spends most of her time seeking donations and materials that might benefit our students. "Ms. Ballestero doesn’t just do this for her own students. She sees the broader picture and works to help all of her school's students," Owen said. "Her dedication to helping students, parents, and her community goes well above and beyond anyone I have worked with in my 16 years as an educator."
Ms. Ballestero seeks out opportunities to help her colleagues. She finds resources and materials for all of her grade levels and sometimes even the school, whether its field trip funding, book labels, helping with flexible seating, and finding inexpensive incentives for kids. "She honestly spends half of her free time thinking, looking, and securing ways to help our whole school while supporting her colleagues," Owen said. She serves on her School Site Council, helps the school's English Language Advisory Council moms, and works as a union representative, all without pay.
In addition to being a dynamic colleague and philanthropist, Ms. Ballestero is also an excellent teacher. "As a leader, I can place some of the most struggling students in her room and know that they will grow by at least two years academically after sitting in a seat in her room for 180 days," Owen said. "Additionally, I know I can take a shy and timid student and watch them transform into a vibrant and confident child within the same 180 days." Ms. Ballestaro's academic data consistently shows transformational growth with every child by at least two years.
"During my 16 years as an educator, it is a very rare experience to discover someone as gifted as her," Owen said.
There are many reasons why Ms. Ballestero is able to obtain these results, but the biggest reason is the nurturing she provides her students. When students are going through a divorce, she’s there for both parties, talking to both sides and helping them find a way to co-parent and support their children so that they don’t fall behind academically and continue to grow emotionally. When a student’s mom is neglecting her due to addiction, not only does she work with protective services, but she seeks outside resources for the family and provides whatever the child needs, whether it’s food, uniforms, backpacks, or a place to hang out after-school in her room. When one of her students was homeless, walking to school by himself at the age of 8 and showing up late, Ms. Ballestero worked to make sure his breakfast was waiting for him so that when he did show up, he could eat before getting to work. She understands that when a child’s life is in shambles, educators can choose to pick up the pieces and make a masterpiece. This is what Ms. Ballestero does every day.
"I can’t think of a candidate more deserving of recognition than Ms. Ballestero. She has spent her career dedicating her time, money, resources, and support to our school," Owen said. "She goes beyond her classroom to support all students and changes the lives of our kids by loving them, teaching them, and supporting them. Our parents, teachers, and students absolutely love her, and I would love to give her the recognition that she so wholeheartedly deserves."