The Educator Spotlight is a new feature in the Daily Press recognizing those who contribute to the education of local students. Educators were chosen by consulting with site PTSA (Parent Teacher and Student Association) and ASB (Associated Student Body) as well as staff recommendations. They were chosen for their reputations with students, staff, parents and the community.

Chrysta Powell is in her 20th year as a full-time teacher, all 20 years spent in Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District. During graduate school she was placed at Will Rogers Learning Community (WRLC) though UCLA’s Center X., and was then hired to teach first grade. After 8 years at WRLC she went on special assignment as a Mentor for the Cotsen Art of Teaching Program. As a mentor she spent four years working with 10 WRLC teachers, supporting them in moving their teaching practice from “good to great.” “It was the most powerful and inspiring professional development experience I could have asked for,” says Powell. When it came time for her to return to the classroom, there was a position open at Santa Monica Alternative School House (SMASH), where she’s been teaching in Core 1 (K-1-2) for the past 8 years.

Powell co-teaches in Core 1 with two other very talented teachers: Graciela Barba-Castro and Christian Carter. Although teaching was not her original plan, Powell feels that as a teacher, “There are always so many things to be excited about, and that makes you happy to go to work each day.”

Last year as a school, SMASH focused on Mindfulness. “I am really seeing the positive impact this has had on our students in Core 1. Last year, I focused on how the room environment impacts student learning, affects student stress, and supports executive functioning for our youngest learners. This year, all this work continues. We are also focused on the power of play, and the teaching and learning of science, in early elementary and beyond,” says Powell. “At the end of the day, in all content areas, I teach in the way that I know is right for children. I have been fortunate, in the past 20 years, to work in schools and in a school district that supports the implementation of the best teaching practices.”

Powell Speaks…

Not everyone gets to work with some of their best friends… My principal, Jessica Rishe, and I went through graduate school together. My teaching partners, past and present, are some of my most trusted confidants and dear friends. Teachers need support systems. Teaching is so personal and can make you feel so vulnerable. You need people in your corner you can reflect with, inquire with and grow with. The best teachers I’ve met are the ones who are constantly reflecting upon their practice and are always working toward growth. The lucky teachers are the ones who have the freedom to take risks, the space and time to learn with their students, and colleagues and parents who trust and respect them.

Our youngest children at SMASH come to us with natural curiosity…, a deep love of learning and fearless ways of expressing themselves. My goals include helping them to continue to grow a strong identity around being readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, artists, public speakers. All this while being cooperative, responsible and empathetic citizens of a larger community. I want my students to authentically care for themselves and each other, and to be able to speak up for themselves and others out in the world.

My 9 year old daughter, Emma, is by far the best teacher I have ever had… I am so lucky to have her as a student at SMASH with me. She has made me a better teacher of all students, and by far a better person.

As for myself, my current goal is… to continue to learn, along with my students at SMASH, for another 20 years in the classroom.

– Barbara Ransom