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Officials name 2 more Riverside County Teachers of the Year

Hey SoCal 5/25/2023 Hey SoCal

An award-winning playwright, and a teacher whose own school experience included overcoming struggles with dyslexia, were named 2024 Riverside County Teachers of the Year in surprise visits Wednesday from the superintendent of schools, officials announced. 

James Waedekin is an English teacher at New Horizon School in Banning Unified School District, and during his 17 years at the school district he has also taught drama and theatre production courses at Banning High School, according to the Riverside County Office of Education. Waedekin has also written a children’s book and several award-winning scripts for theater productions staged in festivals and events worldwide.

Lindsay Hill is a fourth grade teacher at Sundance Elementary School in the Beaumont Unified School District with 15 years of teaching experience. 

“Hill brings life to California history lessons, focuses on reading intervention, and has published and illustrated children’s books,” officials said in a statement. 

“Both Ms. Hill and Mr. Waedekin are published authors and accomplished educators whose vast expertise and experience take center stage in their classrooms every day to foster a love of literacy, the arts, and all subjects, so that students can see the endless possibilities for their own lives as they write their own success stories,” Gomez said in a statement.

Waedekin and Hill will join Lorena Morales from the Alvord Unified School District in representing the county in the 2024 California State Teacher of the Year competition this fall. One final 2024 Riverside County Teacher of the Year will be revealed in an upcoming surprise visit by Gomez.

“We are a family here in Banning, and for the last 17 years, I’ve grown as a teacher and feel more a part of the community each year,” Waedekin said in a statement, reportedly after receiving his award while surrounded by colleagues from his school and Banning USD officials. “I’m blown away by this, and I’m ready for another 17 years.”

In front of her classroom full of students, her own children, her parents, her grandparents and co-workers from Sundance Elementary School and Beaumont USD officials, Hill reportedly said, “Thank you for this award, this is beyond my dream come true.” 

Waedekin’s aspiration is to assist students to “become the voices of their generation,” officials said. Waedekin said he believes that “working in alternative education is transforming for teachers, and our classrooms are transforming for students.” 

Inside the classroom, he engages students with improvisation exercises and creative writing assignments. Outside the classroom, Waedekin serves as the school’s yearbook adviser, is on multiple school site teams and is the school’s Positive Behavior Intervention System coordinator.

“When he was younger, Mr. Waedekin toured in drama therapy plays performed at teen shelters, alternative high schools, drug rehabilitation centers, and has grown his career as an award-winning author and playwright,” officials said. “In his application, Mr. Waedekin shared that he believes he is here to ‘create stories, to share stories, and to inspire others to create and to share their stories.’” 

A project in Waedekin’s classroom, “Book About Me,” begins with a blank 24-page book that serves as a self-reflection tool for kids to document their lives as a student as well as their goals as a graduating young adult.

His work has appeared at UCLA, West Coast Theatre Ensemble, the Chicago Playwrights Center, Manhattan Theatre Club, the York Theatre and other venues, according to the Office of Education. 

Waedekin’s play “The Invisible J. Michael Hess” explores “the problems of teenage bullying and suicide, and has had over 30 productions staged nationwide,” officials said. Waedekin also recently published his first children’s book, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Finkle.”

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Oklahoma, he earned a fine arts master’s degree in theatrical writing from the University of California, Los Angeles, and his teaching credential is from Loyola Marymount University.

James Waedekin, left, and Edwin Gomez, superintendent of schools. | Photo courtesy of the Riverside County Office of Education © Provided by Hey SoCal James Waedekin, left, and Edwin Gomez, superintendent of schools. | Photo courtesy of the Riverside County Office of Education

Within the four walls of Lindsay Hill’s fourth-grade classroom, “students experience the colors, customs, cultures, history, and geography of California,” officials said. “Floor-to-ceiling painted classroom murals display the major regions of the Golden State — alongside family photos from trips that students and families take throughout the year that serve as realia,” which are things from everyday life that are used as teaching aids.

“By incorporating the class mascot, Bigfoot, constructing Native American totem poles, and dressing up and talking like a ship captain, Ms. Hill strives to create an immersive and authentic learning experience that not only brings the standards to life, but establishes creativity as a foundation to drive learning,” officials said.

In her application, Hill said, “Teaching and working with children is my passion and creating a family classroom culture where students are unconditionally cared for is the foundation.”

Office of Education officials noted that Hill’s passion for student achievement partially stems from surmounting the challenges of dyslexia when she was in school. Hill’s commitment to promoting literacy manifests with her service as a reading intervention specialist. In this role she supports the school’s Read-a-Thon, launching the school’s Reading Lab and writing a children’s book series called “Catching Twilight.”

“After graduating from California State University, Fullerton, Ms. Hill earned her teaching credential from California State University, San Bernardino,” officials said. “She completed a master’s degree in the art of teaching from San Diego Christian College in 2023.”

A total of four Teachers of the Year will represent Riverside County in the 2024 California Teacher of the Year competition, where at least one county teacher has been selected as a California Teacher of the Year in eight of the last 10 years:

At least one teacher from Riverside County has been selected as a California Teacher of the Year in eight of the last 10 years: 

2022 — Nichi Aviña, Cielo Vista Charter School, Palm Springs USD; 2021 — Keisa Brown, University Heights Middle School, Riverside USD, and Allison Cyr, Lyndon B. Johnson Elementary School, Desert Sands USD; 2020 — Brenda Chavez-Barreras, Good Hope Elementary School, Perris ESD; 2019 — Dr. Angel Mejico, El Cerrito Middle School, Corona-Norco USD; 2018 — Brian McDaniel, Painted Hills Middle School, Palm Springs USD; 2017 — Shaun Bunn, Ethan A. Chase Middle School, Romoland School District; 2016 — Michelle Cherland, Carrillo Ranch Elementary School, Desert Sands USD; 2014 — Jessica Pack, James Workman Middle School, Palm Springs USD

Riverside-area Teachers of the Year are chosen from approximately 20,000 educators in the county. 

“The application process requires candidates to spend time reflecting on, and carefully defining, their teaching philosophy,” according to the Office of Education. “The county teachers of the year are selected on the basis of nominations by teachers, principals, and school district administrators throughout the county. Applications are then submitted to the Riverside County Office of Education, where a selection committee reviews the applications on each district candidate and selects semi-finalists. The selection committee then conducts interviews and site visits to select the final four candidates before the county superintendent announces the honorees.”

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