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Top Teachers Celebrated By San Diego Unified Amid Coronavirus Disruption

School buses are parked outside Woodrow Wilson Middle School in City Heights,...

Photo by Guillermo Sevilla

Above: School buses are parked outside Woodrow Wilson Middle School in City Heights, Aug. 29, 2017.

National Teacher Appreciation Week is May 4-8. To mark the occasion, the San Diego Unified School District announced its teachers of the year for 2019-2020. Each teacher at the elementary, middle and high school level will have the opportunity to be recognized at the county, state and national levels in the weeks and months ahead.

This year's elementary school teacher of the year is Kelly Young, who teaches a combined class of 4th- and 5th-grade students at Lindbergh Schweitzer Elementary in Clairemont.

Young, as with all teachers at San Diego Unified, has transformed her lesson plan to allow for distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The district praised her tech-savvy approach to teaching in a special announcement video posted on the district's social media channels. When it was time to transition to online instruction, Young was ready.

“I started messaging all my parents and I was like hey I don’t know if we’re actually gonna close but I think you should probably prepare," Young said. "So we started prepping a week before we closed and I started distance learning on March 16th.”

RELATED: Will Distance Learning Make The Grade In San Diego Schools?

Reported by Bennett Lacy

Among middle school teachers, Paula Richardson earned the teacher of the year distinction. Richardson teaches music to 6th-, 7th- and 8th-grade students at Wilson Middle School in City Heights. In her announcement video, Richardson talked about the validation this honor brings.

“Especially as a music teacher, it really means a lot to me to be able to show that music teachers really make a difference,” Richardson said.

In addition to traditional orchestra and choir, Richardson has expanded the musical possibilities for her students with a drumline, jazz band, guitar club and mariachi. She says learning how to perform can be a key to unlocking personal growth.

“Watching my kids go through that emotion, their own self-confidence and their pride growing and changing, that makes my heart happy," Richardson said.

RELATED: KPBS, SDUSD, County Ed Launch Remote Education Resources While Schools Closed

San Diego's high school teacher of the year is Deirdre Fabian, a physical education teacher at Morse High School in Skyline. Fabian has also taught at nearby Lincoln High School the past three years.

“I’ll brag and say I have the best job in special education being an adaptive PE teacher,” Fabian said.

The county's stay-at-home order has not slowed down Fabian's dedication to reach her students. While working from home, she has some help in developing active lesson plans for her students.

“My son has autism," Fabian said. "He’s a freshman in high school so he’s doing some videos with me to show the kids that it’s for them as well.”

In the district's announcement video, Morse High School principal Cynthia Larkin spoke highly of the impact Fabian has on campus. Larkin praised some of the new ideas brought to campus, like a unified physical education class.

"We were able to have one class period where we had gen ed students and our students with abilities come together and work out and learn about inclusivity, tolerance, and just compassion," Larkin said. "I feel like she's doing a phenomenal job and we're really blessed to have her on our site. And I wish every high school to have a Dierdre Fabian on their site."

Beyond the teachers of the year, the San Diego Unified School District announced three runners-up to this year's award. They are Melissa Taleb from Language Academy Elementary in the College Area, Erica Soto from DePortola Middle School in Tierrasanta, and Jill Schenk from San Diego High School SciTech in downtown San Diego.

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