Gina Ortega

Position: First Grade Teacher

School: SOAR Charter Academy

School District: San Bernardino City Unified School District

City, State: San Bernardino, California

About the Nominee: Gina Ortega was nominated by her school's HR director, Tammi Fort. SOAR Charter Academy has been in operation since 2008. Right from the beginning, Ms. Ortega was a part of the SOAR family. She began as a parent, an aide and a substitute teacher. Eventually, she found a permanent spot with SOAR as a 4th grade teacher. As a new teacher, she was eager and enthusiastic. Walking into her classroom was an amazing sight; one could find a motivated teacher, motivated students and a whole lot of learning going on! The next year, a first grade position opened up. Ms Ortega filled the position and has truly been a shining star ever since. As an educator, Ms. Ortega believes that her role does not begin or end in the classroom. She gives an extraordinary amount of her personal time to ensure that her students understand the necessary academic information and provides the extra resources her students need to be successful. Ms. Ortega not only incorporates high levels of content and strategies into her classroom, but she is so engaging with her personality and maintains the utmost respect for every individual and unique student. The level of energy in her classroom can only be described as "WOW." In recent years, Ms. Ortega has implemented 'flexible seating' in her classroom, providing an environment that is conducive to open collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking. Ms. Ortega never stops learning herself; she is always one of the first to volunteer to go to workshops and conferences. She soaks up knowledge and information, practices its uses, adapts it and implements it in her classroom. SOAR has begun its first year of implementing The Leader in Me program, and Ms. Ortega has already instilled leadership language throughout her classroom and beyond. She has transformed her teacher-centered room into one that clearly instills leadership and independence among her students. Ms. Ortega is confident that her "firsties" will grow to become well-rounded, outstanding, educated citizens with a future in making positive change!

Darren Jackson

Position: Varsity Girl's Basketball Coach

School: North Salinas High School

School District: Salinas Union High School District

City, State: Salinas, California

About the Nominee: Darren Jackson was nominated by his spouse, C. Melissa Jackson. Coach Jackson has been the varsity girls' basketball coach for the past 17 years and has amassed over 350 wins during his career. He has built the girls' basketball program into a powerhouse in Salinas. He inspires the girls in his program to strive to be better than they think they can be and to always give their all each time they step on the court. In Salinas, very few girls only play one sport. Most of the girls in Coach Jackson's program play multiple sports, but once basketball season starts, he makes sure their attention and focus is only on basketball. His standards on the court are set at a higher level, and he always expects them to be followed. He sets high standards for the classroom, as well. He asks all players to sit in the front of the classroom for their classes, turn in progress reports and be respectful students.

To some of the girls, Coach Jackson is their father figure. Some of the players come from single-parent households and look to Coach Jackson as a role model, a trusted confidant and someone they can rely on. He and his staff never leave the school until all players have been picked up. He has even waited in the cold with his assistant coach while a player waits in the warm car, sometimes hours after practice, until her ride arrives. Every year, past players can be found in the gym asking to practice, work out or stop by to visit.

Coach Jackson is so well respected as a coach that other area coaches will call to ask his advice, ask for mentoring or just to pick his brain. He is always looking to better himself as a coach, and he will spend off-season and pre-season studying college coaches. You can always find him online or watching DVDs of those coaches so that his coaching practices are up to date.

Coach Jackson doesn't ever coach in the spotlight. He always takes pride in the girls' winning, not in his many accomplishments. He has been League Coach of the Year, County Coach of the Year, Northern California Coach of the Year and a Golden Whistle winner. Coach Jackson will ask that the girls be recognized first, and that they are the reason for his success. His teams have won the league title 7 times and have won 3 sectional championships. In 2009-2010, Coach Jackson brought the Lady Vikings to the sectional championships 20 years after their last visit and brought home a win. He did it again with back-to-back (2013-2014 and 2014-2015) championships and last year as runner-ups (2015-2016).

Coach Jackson also has a travel program for local boys and girls ages 10-18. He takes his teams to play throughout California and Nevada. Although there is a fee for playing on the travel team, Coach Jackson will never turn away a player who cannot pay. He will contact businesses that he knows to ask for sponsors so that every child can play. He will also fundraise for these players and do what needs to be done so that players will be kept busy and off the streets during the summer.

Coach Jackson has worked for the recreation department in Salinas and as the Activities Director for a local middle school. He knows firsthand that children need to be respected as individuals in order to show respect to others. He takes pride in teaching his players how to show respect so that they are successful on and off the court. Coach Jackson is constantly stopped by former players (even those from other schools) and students who remember him and the positive ways he has touched their life.

Overall, Coach Jackson is a LifeChanger because of the tireless effort he puts into the sport that he loves. His countless hours in the gym helping all three levels of his program are awe-inspiring. He shows such a passion for coaching that his players buy into his ability to teach them the game and produce wins. The months of November-July are basketball season, and Coach Jackson will spend those months doing what he loves. His wife states that as an alumni of North Salinas High School, she couldn't be prouder of the reputation he has brought to her school, city and state. Coach Jackson is definitely a LifeChanger!

Martha Infante

Position: Seventh Grade World History Teacher / GATE Coordinator

School: Los Angeles Academy Middle School

School District: Los Angeles Unified School District

City, State: Los Angeles, California

About the Nominee: Martha Infante was nominated by a colleague, Jennifer Mickey. Many would describe Ms. Infante as a Life Changer for the work she has done at her school. They might cite how she has created the most prosperous Gifted Program in all of South Central L.A, or how she has helped generations of students obtain numerous educational experiences such as scholarships for attendance to private school, or to travel to China and Japan on education exchanges. They might even cite her own magic as a classroom teacher who brings Medieval World History to life and whose students eagerly rush to class to learn their next lesson.

Ms. Infante is a LifeChanger because she literally embodies what it means to change a school and a community. Los Angeles Academy Middle School would be very different had she not been a teacher there.

Through relentless and unceasing efforts, Ms. Infante has fought to change the image of what it means to be a student in South Central L.A. In a place that is often known for its gang violence, she has encouraged and succeeded in helping students from varying backgrounds find the scholar in them. She is someone who sees past the outer reflections of an environment to see the value and potential of each individual student. Students who were reluctant learners have transformed into ambitious and voracious learners due to the many programs and initiatives she started in the school, such as:

-the New Teacher Roundtable, which reduced teacher turnover -Professional Development for teachers, which placed the most able educators in front of high need students -the School for Advanced Studies, a renowned program of accelerated learning that students from all over the district seek to attend -the Student Travel Program, which takes students to domestic and international locations each summer

It would not be enough to improve her school without improving the wider community, however. Ms. Infante:

-conducts numerous parent trainings in both English and Spanish -has led electronic waste collection efforts to remove dangerous items from streets and alleys -obtained numerous grants for education projects -helped students and parents obtain citizenship -convinced runaways to come home to their parents -mentored teachers throughout the state of California and beyond

The number of individual lives she has changed are too numerous to list. There is one anecdote, however, that represents how Ms. Infante is a LifeChanger on a regular basis. There was a student whose parents were separating, which forced the mother and her children to live in a homeless shelter. The student's attendance and school performance were sporadic. As soon as she found out the cause, Ms. Infante went into commando mode and called as many contacts as she could to find a way to help the family. She was able to obtain a full scholarship so the student could attend a Cal Arts summer residential program. This relieved the mother from the stress of taking care of three children while homeless, and it gave the bright, but underachieving student a glimpse into a different world. The student is now a working artist, and the entire family found their way shortly thereafter.

There is no doubt that if Ms. Infante received a Life Changer of the Year award, she would invest any funds into continuing to improve her school, and to cement its role as a ray of hope and sunshine for many students.

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Darryl Newhouse

Position: Mathematics-Career Technical Education Teacher, grades 6-12

School: Foshay Learning Center

School District: Los Angeles Unified School District

City, State: Los Angeles, California

About the Nominee: Darryl Newhouse was nominated by a student, Jason Mares. Mr. Newhouse teaches at-risk students from inner-city South Los Angeles. About 82% of the families in the neighborhood he teaches in live at or below the National Poverty level, and almost 63% of his students live in single-family households. Despite these challenges, Mr. Newhouse is an educator who has worked tirelessly to bring passion, inspiration, excitement and opportunities to an underserved population of African American and Latino students.

Mr. Newhouse has been teaching STEM to students at Foshay Learning Center for more than 20 years. He has taught literally thousands of students about mathematics, robotics, the engineering design process, brainstorming and computer programming. He has shown his students that a career in STEM is quite possible and achievable, regardless of socioeconomic status. Mr. Newhouse also teaches students the 21st century life skills needed for any career, such as problem solving, critical thinking skills, time management, accountability, information accessing, habits of minds, creativity, innovation, commitment and “Gracious Professionalism.”

Mr. Newhouse provides a safe haven in his classroom where students are allowed to be themselves. He has created an environment where students aren’t judged, but nurtured. This way, they can develop their fullest potential. He has developed a support network of passionate female mentors that work with him inside and outside of the classroom to ensure Gender Equity as students learn the mechanics of robotics and STEM.

Mr. Newhouse has generated passion and inspiration within his community. He teaches his students about the importance of volunteering and community service. Members of his high school Robotics Team are required to do at least 200 hours of community service. He stresses that by volunteering, team members take ownership and responsibility for what goes on in the community. His students’ year-round activities include Books & Toys for Tots and the LA City Bike Giveaway, where students help put together bicycles and hand them out to families during the Christmas holiday. Other activities his students participate in include the LA AIDS Walk, Breast Cancer Awareness Week & Walk, “Walk for the Cure”- Bone Marrow Awareness (“Be the Match”), “Say No to Drugs Walk,” and the Multiple Sclerosis Walk. His Robotics Team members are active in Project Read to Achieve, where they share the joy of reading with elementary and middle school aged children. The Robotics Team is also active in 9-1-1 for Kids, a program where they visit elementary classes and teach the children how and when to use 911. Another program his students volunteer for is “Banking on your Future,” which teaches middle school students about financial literacy. Mr. Newhouse sparks passion in his students and teaches them about the importance of community service and volunteering.

How does Mr. Newhouse bring excitement and opportunities in his community? In 2010, NASA rolled out its pilot program “NASA Summer of Innovation (SOI),” a direct result of President Obama’s “Educate to Innovate” initiative. STEM lessons would focus on rocketry, meteorology, aviation and robotics. Mr. Newhouse’s robotics team recruited, educated and serviced over 1500 middle school students, hosting STEM Camps during the summers of 2010, 2011 and 2012. Many of these student leaders involved with his NASA STEM program are now working as professional engineers in the corporate world.

Members of his robotics team also provide after school math tutoring three days a week for both elementary and middle school students. To make science more exciting, the team implemented a program called "Mission Science.” Team members use a standards-based curriculum to teach lessons and perform scientific experiments with elementary & middle school students. Mr. Newhouse has helped create and mentor over 60 FIRST LEGO League middle school robotics teams over the past four years.

Mr. Newhouse also served as the Math Department Chair for over ten years, working diligently and collaboratively with the math teachers, as well as the lead teachers from three California Partnership Academies. Last year, Mr. Newhouse wrote and received a Perkins grant for Career Technical Education and established a Project Lead the Way Engineering Academy for both middle and high school students. Over 200 middle school and high school students will benefit from activity-based learning projects. Moreover, Mr. Newhouse has had an International Award winning FIRST Robotics Competition Team at Foshay since 2001. His classroom is alive with energy as his students work collaboratively in an International Baccalaureate environment, where they work on real life challenges and problems.

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Ben Stanton

Position: Art Teacher

School: Ralph Bunche Elementary School

School District: Compton Unified School District

City, State: Carson, California

About the Nominee: Ben Stanton was nominated by a friend, Marie Cammack. For many students in Compton Unified School District, Mr. Stanton's art class is usually the first art class they've been offered. This art class, however, teaches much more than just artistic techniques. Mr. Stanton has created a nurturing atmosphere for expression and has made a lasting impact in the lives of his students. In the words of one of his students: “You have given us hope to turn our goals into actions. Therefore, you are helping us discover ourselves and our hidden abilities. Moreover, I have now developed confidence within myself, and I’m trying to become a difference maker, so I may give others the opportunity that Mr. Stanton offered Compton Unified School District.”

Mr. Stanton has displayed leadership at the school and district level in the implementation of six main initiatives:

1) grassroots fundraising to fund his school's art studio 2) partnering with non-profits and corporations to create unique art projects for the students 3) promoting student philanthropy and charity involvement 4) partnering with museums for educational field trip opportunities 5) developing Circle Painting Mural Projects to promote team-building for faculty, students and the community 6) bringing in local and international artists as guest speakers in the classroom to provide a diverse learning experience.

Mr. Stanton teaches nine classes at two different schools. The classes are 100 percent funded through grassroots fundraising and community support. When there weren’t funds available, Mr. Stanton spent money out of his own pocket to buy supplies. This curriculum wouldn’t be available to the students if it weren’t for his fundraising efforts.

Mr. Stanton has also partnered with non-profits and corporations to create meaningful art experiences for his students. He partnered with Bridge to Skate, a non-profit that builds skate parks in undeveloped countries. Together, they created the Compton Plywood Project, where used skateboard decks were donated for the students to paint with their own custom artwork. Then, Mr. Stanton solicited corporations such as Vans, Jack’s Surf Shop, and Active to sponsor prizes for an art show where the students’ skateboards were displayed and sold. This project also tied to the student philanthropy initiative; the students donated a portion of the proceeds to charities of their choosing.

In another project, Mr. Stanton partnered with Shuzz, a non-profit that brings water, medical supplies and shoes to impoverished countries like Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba. Shuzz sponsored an art contest where the students designed a shoe, and the winner’s design was published nationally. In a new opportunity, he is partnering with the Brown Paper Bag Project, a non-profit that provides sack lunches to the homeless in LA. Mr. Stanton’s students will be decorating the paper bags with motivational messages and custom artwork.

He has also worked diligently to fund unique field trips and learning experiences for the students. Mr. Stanton is one of only 25 teachers in the Los Angeles area to have a partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art and The Broad. This allows his students to go on field trips to the museums and continue the classroom curriculum in a setting where they can discuss, critique and interpret art on display. If it weren’t for his individual efforts to secure the donations for the field trips, the students would not be able to have these meaningful experiences.

Mr. Stanton also spearheaded a Circle Painting project on campus. This team-building event with faculty, students and the community created a collaborative experience with social and artistic values. The project fostered group interaction, inspired community involvement and produced 3 murals that reflected the school’s core values.

Mr. Stanton has also invited local and international artists to speak to the students in his classroom to teach them new artistic methods. He exposes his students to a diverse spectrum of art, whether it be a clothing designer discussing branding, a woodworking artisan bringing wood shop activities to the classroom, or instruction on woodcarving by a Jamaican artist via Skype.

Mr. Stanton is making an impact on the lives he touches through his teaching. Through his commitment to creating a nurturing atmosphere and an environment for expression, students have been able to cope with personal struggles outside of the classroom. One student even stayed after class to tell Mr. Stanton that his art class had saved their life by helping them find ways to express themselves, build confidence and find a purpose to continue. Mr. Stanton is a LifeChanger, but as much as he has made an impact on his students’ lives, they have also been a positive force in his life during difficult times. One does not need to guess whether he has made a beneficial difference - the students' own words express how he has been a LifeChanger in their lives and in the community.