Riverside County Superintendent of Schools Names Four Teachers of the Year in Virtual Surprise Announcements

Perris, Thermal, Indio, and Riverside educators are named 2021 Riverside County Teachers of the Year. Honorees will attempt to extend streak of six consecutive years of Riverside County teachers being named a California Teacher of the Year

RIVERSIDE – A high school teacher that started a surf club in the middle of the desert. An elementary teacher that uses shapes for the names of students to help expand their vocabulary. A middle school teacher who was the first in her family to attend college—while raising her nine-year-old sister after they lost their mother. An elementary teacher whose damaged vocal chords were rehabilitated by reading aloud to her classroom.

These four teachers were surprised by Riverside County Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Judy D. White, with the news that they had been selected as 2021 Riverside County Teachers of the Year. Colleagues, district superintendents, and board members gathered together under the guise of another online video conference meeting that soon turned into pure excitement and tears of joy as the surprise was revealed.

Anne-Marie Bravo

Anne-Marie (Annie) Bravo

Grade 3 – Railway School of Math, Science, and Technology
Perris Elementary School District

Application Quote: “A teacher never stops growing and needs to constantly be making their fires glow brighter, along with the students, to keep up with the rapidly changing times.”

Dr. Judy D. White Surprise announcement quote:
“You breathe hope into your students, your colleagues, and your parents, and even to me, your county superintendent.”

Surprise announcement quote from Annie Bravo:
“Thank you so much, this was such a big surprise. I’m stunned and so excited. Thank you to the district for putting up with all my crazy ideas.”

Menifee Resident – 17 Years in Education
Notable Fact: Believes that classroom isn’t just hers, but belongs to her students, their parents, and the community. In the classroom, students call each other by math names to expose each other to additional vocabulary. Annie writes math and English/Language Arts songs that mimic popular songs—complete with hand and body motions. Raised more than $28,000 for field trips and special activities for students. Leads GATE Academy that includes math escape room, tower-building challenges, making slime, and working with clay. Recently accepted new position within district to lead new online blended instructional programs starting in the fall.

Keisa Brown

Keisa Brown

7th/8th Grade Science/AVID – University Heights Middle School
Riverside Unified School District

Application Quote: “Although teaching is hard work, it is truly heart work. Regardless of a student background, every child needs to be heard. Everybody is looking for the same thing. Everyone wants to know, “Am I okay…did you hear me…do I matter…did what I say mean anything to you.”

Dr. Judy D. White Surprise announcement quote:
“You were an angel by raising your younger sister, and you’ve been an angel to your students. Now, you’re an angel to our county as the 2021 Teacher of the Year.”

Surprise announcement quote from Keisa Brown:
“It has been a blessing to be able to change lives and advocate for students. Growing up in the time I did as a student, I needed someone to address my social/emotional needs, so now I let kids know we can get through this together because I was like them.”

Moreno Valley Resident – 20 Years in Education
Notable Fact: Thought she would be a probation officer or social worker but followed the “still, small voice” to become a teacher. Helped further the college-going mindset of the AVID program across the entire campus. Initiated programs to educate students on the effects of prescription drugs and underage drinking. Wants her students to have a voice—a desire to learn, speak up, and engage in life as a learner and citizen that transcends the walls of a classroom. Was first in family to go to college. Raised her nine-year-old sister when they lost their mother. Remembers the exact date and time she signed her first teaching contract.

Allison Cyr

Allison Cyr

3rd Grade – Lyndon B. Johnson Elementary School
Desert Sands Unified School District

Application Quote: “The beauty of being a teacher is that there is no such thing as an ideal day. As a class, our goal is to always be better than the day before.”

Dr. Judy D. White Surprise announcement quote:
“You give hope to people and engage students so they can see your light. You seek out those in the greatest need to inspire them.”

Surprise announcement quote from Allison Cyr:
“I hope that I can continue to tell my students that they can make a difference and that one person can really change the world.”

Palm Desert Resident – 9 Years in Education
Notable Fact: Knew as a child that she wanted to be a teacher and remembers lining up stuffed animals and creating worksheets for them to complete. Struggled with reading growing up and committed to read books aloud to her classroom as a teacher—regardless of the age of the students. Was diagnosed with vocal chords paralysis and speech therapy assignment was to practice using her “real” voice which led to reading aloud to kids as a healing practice. Class writes get-well cards and send packages to people all over the U.S. like cancer patients, police officers, and veterans. Attended Desert Sands Unified School District schools and donated a kidney to an Indio High School teacher to save his life and now works with him as a colleague.

Krysten Gonda

Krysten Gonda

9th and 12th Grade English/Language Arts and AVID – Desert Mirage High School
Coachella Valley Unified School District

Application Quote: “I make a conscious choice in my classroom to put relationships above all. I may not be a therapist, but I’m qualified to care. I take the responsibility of preparing my students to become functioning members of society seriously.”

Dr. Judy D. White Surprise announcement quote:
“You are broadening your students’ horizons and engaging them in things that they’ve never seen. You push them and let them know that they have choices in the world and can explore the world outside of what they are seeing right now.”

Surprise announcement quote from Krysten Gonda:
“To be able to represent my students in the east valley, it is hard for me to find words. It is all so very humbling and difficult for me to hear because I’m used to celebrating and raising up my students and remaining in the background so they have the opportunities to shine.”

Palm Desert Resident – 12 Years in Education
Notable Fact: Current school year has included environmental challenges due to fires near Salton Sea, death of a student, and closures from COVID-19. Set up tents and hiking backpacks to serve as learning station to better understand characters and situations from a book. Creates a supportive environment of risk-taking in the classroom where students can fail so they can feel confident and informed in making choices the next time. Serves as gender support coordinator and advisor for LGBTQ+ club. Despite being 100 miles from a beach, launched East Valley Board Riders surf club that allows students to participate in civic and environmental causes outside of their small community.

With a combined teaching experience of 58 years, all four teachers of the year will represent Riverside County in the 2021 California Teacher of the Year competition where at least one Riverside County teacher has been selected as a California Teacher of the Year in six of the last seven years:

  • 2020 – Brenda Chavez-Barreras, Good Hope Elementary School, Perris Elementary School District
  • 2019 – Dr. Angel Mejico, El Cerrito Middle School, Corona-Norco USD
  • 2018 – Dr. 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

The Riverside County Teachers of the Year are selected from nearly 20,000 educators in the county. The rigorous application process requires candidates to spend time reflecting on, and carefully defining, their teaching philosophy. 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 an outside selection committee reviews the applications on each district candidate and selects semi-finalists. The selection committee then conducts interviews and on-site classroom visitations to select the final four candidates before the county superintendent announces the Riverside County Teachers of the Year.