In a Tuesday, April 25 ceremony, Doug Abdalla and Maureen Olen, representing the St. Helena Public Schools Foundation, named SHES teacher Ashley Wright the foundation’s 2017 Teacher of the Year.
Wright, who has spent 21 years in the classroom, said she was thrilled, surprised and grateful when the award was announced in the cask room at St. Helena’s Merryvale Vineyards. She added she is appreciative for all the Foundation does through its grants programs for teachers throughout the district.
In announcing the award, Abdalla said Wright “is a dedicated and innovative educator who uses Foundation grants to elevate and enhance her curriculum, energize the learning environment and most importantly, expose students to new and exciting ways to learn.”
Wright said she has written dozens of grants throughout the years and last year, her students learned to do different tasks and challenges with Dash and Dots, which are programmable robots.
“The Foundation also granted something called MakeyMakey, which is a circuit board that the kids learn how to program,” Wright said. Students can create their own video games and play others on it and one of Wright’s fifth-grade students made an electric guitar with cardboard, string and a MakeyMakey. He programmed the circuit board through an MIT program and since he’s a violin player, Wright said, “He knew what he was doing. He’s pretty amazing.”
School superintendent Marylou Wilson said Wright’s honor was just one of the “great things happening in the district right now.” Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School recently was named a Gold Ribbon School, Wilson said, RLS teacher Jennifer Marinace was named one of four Napa County Teachers of the Year, and Lisa Montelli, who works in the primary school library, was named Classified Employee of the Year, one of five for the state of California.
One of the four nominees for Napa County Teacher of the Year will be selected in May to be considered as California Teacher of the Year, which is the same process Chris O’Connor went through a couple of years ago.
The superintendent spoke about the constant activity and flexible seating in Wright’s fifth-grade classroom: “She has places for students to stand and work, sit on the floor and work, sit at low tables and work. Some of her tables are whiteboards, so students can write on their desks and then erase it. There’s movement in her classroom all of the time and it’s truly an innovative, creative environment.”
Besides the tech robots and programmable circuit board, other of Wright’s grant requests include a Docktor Kaboom field trip, Osmo Bot Genius kits, Sphero robotic balls, Gizmos and Gadgets invention toolboxes and the Tower Gardens, which is an aeroponic system designed to grow food in an air and mist environment.
During his nomination speech, Abdalla spoke about Wright, who “exemplifies the best qualities a teacher can possess. She has a solid foundation in traditional methods coupled with an inquisitive, innovative and forward-thinking approach to teaching. Most importantly, she exudes an infectious enthusiasm for teaching, which is only outpaced by her obvious affection for her students.”
In her many years in the classroom, Wright was in the multi-age program for 13 years, then she was the International Baccalaureate coordinator for the primary and elementary schools for a couple of years and then she went back into the classroom. Currently, she is a “looping” fourth- and fifth-grade teacher. One year she teaches the fourth grade and then teaches the same students as they become fifth-graders.
Wright moved to St. Helena with her parents in 1984 and is a graduate of RLS Middle School, St. Helena High School and Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. She earned her teaching credential at Pacific Union College.
Wright did her student teaching in St. Helena and her mentor/teacher was Helen Christianson.
“The kids I had then are now in their mid-30s,” Wright said, and she still keeps in touch with many of her former students. “The best thing about living and teaching in St. Helena is staying connected to the kids and their families. I get announcements all the time about when they are graduating,” she said. She has attended both high school and college graduation parties and has even gone to a wedding.
“It is very cool to be in a community that values education and the closeness you can build with multiple years with the same student,” she said.
Attending the ceremony was Ashley’s mother, Jane. “My daughter is a truly dedicated teacher, she loves teaching, she loves her classroom and she’s committed to technology,” she said.
Funds for the grants are raised during the school district’s “Give Big” and “Run Big” efforts and administered by the St. Helena Public Schools Foundation.