Martha Michael: Females at the front of the class

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Usually when the words “education” and “sacrifice” are used in the same sentence, it’s parents of a collegian discussing the high cost of university tuition. But this week, parents and students across the Santa Clarita Valley offered their thanks to educators, drawing attention to their sacrifice of time, energy and talents as a part of Teacher Appreciation Week.

There are many notable instructors at all levels who are worthy to be recognized, and some serve as inspiration for the rest.

Local resident Erin Oxhorn-Gilpin, a first and second grade teacher at Northlake Hills Elementary School in Castaic, was chosen to be a California state “Teacher of the Year” for 2018. Of the nearly 300,000 teachers in the state, only five are chosen, and Oxhorn-Gilpin is the only elementary teacher among them.

“I create a sense of community and family in my classroom,” she said. “I believe that if students are going to succeed, they need to feel that they matter.”

Oxhorn-Gilpin epitomizes the reputation teachers have for sacrificing their time. And consequently, time management is her biggest challenge.

“I love to research new ideas and I seem to believe in reinventing the wheel every school year,” she said. “I could spend 12 hours a day with my students and still feel as though there is more that I want to do with them.”

When it comes to women in the field of education, Oxhorn-Gilpin has the gamut of experiences in her life. She is also a mother to three boys, ages 2, 4 and 5.

“It is important to me that all students feel valued and that they understand that they all have an equal role in our classroom family,” she said. “I always hold on to my belief that kids come first and I don’t lose sight of the fact that it is a privilege to teach.”

Canyon Country resident Kim Tredick is part of an exclusive “club.” She is a Milken Educator Award recipient, which means that in a span of 30 years she is one of only a few thousand teachers nationwide who have been the target of a “secret notification,” which results in public praise and a $25,000 check – but with no advance warning.

Milken Award recipients have no idea they’ve been chosen until the day they’re on campus attending an all-school assembly and committee members announce their names.

“It was a complete surprise!” said Tredick, whose name was announced on January 23, 2007 at an assembly at Sulphur Springs Community School. “I had several of my deserving colleagues in mind. When it was me, I was shocked.”

Milken Educator Honorees need to show educational accomplishments and strong, collaborative leadership ability. At the time, Tredick had just created, with the help of a few school psychologists and speech and language pathologists, a program called “Let’s Play.” It became district-wide and was designed to help children learn social skills and make new friends, pairing them with peer coaches who had more advanced social skills.

After 24 years as a classroom teacher, and time as both an assistant principal and principal, Tredick is now the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for the Sulphur Springs Union School District.

When asked about her female colleagues in the world of education, she said: “The women that I get to work with are amazing for lots of reasons! They work selflessly and tirelessly to help their school kids, then they go home to take care of their families.”

Last week, College of the Canyons hosted a non-partisan civic and community engagement student summit to promote social awareness and responsibility among community college students.

Perhaps the most notable aspect was the keynote speaker: Avriel Epps.

If you aren’t acquainted with this former COC student, buckle your seatbelt, because she is going places. A UCLA grad and now a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard, she could easily end up a Nobel Prize winner, a chart-topping record producer, or take her seat in the Oval Office.

But that’s the interesting part. She’s as likely to eschew positions of status as bask in the spotlight. So far, Epps has walked away from standard measures of success to accomplish her mission – to lift the most marginalized people in her community.

At last week’s summit she focused on her journey through COC to UCLA, including the career choices she’s made to get her to Harvard.

“I wanted students of color to know you can start at COC and end up at Harvard; there is a path,” she said. “But I’ve had to make some difficult choices.”

When Epps graduated from UCLA she was writing and producing music, including a successful alt-R&B album (nearly 2,000,000 streams on SoundCloud) and was offered record deals and a European tour.

“But there was something about the music industry I wasn’t going to be able to do,” she said. “The industry wanted to position me as a product. I was fed up with the misogyny in the industry.”

Her sacrifice would be a win for students. Through her research in the education department at UCLA, Epps had grown concerned about under-resourced schools. She began advising high school students to improve their college acceptance rates and got an idea that led to the founding of SeekU, a college and career planning company with a buy one get one policy. For every person of privilege who hires her team, a student without resources gets free advisement as well.

“I have a responsibility to help those less privileged than I am,” she said.

At Harvard she is studying identity development for youth, particularly adolescents of color, including the effect of artificial intelligence and machine learning on the process.

Identity development is also her chief concern for women.

“I think a lot about how the identity of being women intersects with a lot of other identities that we own,” she explained. “I’m a woman, but I’m also an Angelean. I’m also black, and I’m also Jewish, a straight woman. … What’s next for women is to be cognizant and be in conversation with each other in our multiple, intersectional identities.”

From student body president in elementary school (yup—she was that too) to her constant quest to learn more (while in the Ph.D. program she’s concurrently earning a master’s degree in computer science), Avriel Epps is paying forward whatever she picks up from her educators.

With the sacrifice of women like these, the classroom can be a training ground for the future female leaders of tomorrow. And that’s a reward of its own.

Martha Michael is a contributing writer for The Signal and serves as editor for three local publications. She has been writing professionally for decades and is the author of “Canyon Country” by Arcadia Publishing.

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