County Teacher of the Year overcomes obstacles to see her students
Alisyn Blanton, a fifth-grade teacher at Miguelito Elementary School in the Lompoc Unified School District, said students “always deserve the best of what you’ve got.”
After being named Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year, some might say Ms. Blanton has accomplished just that, with all but an easy path.
The teacher told the News-Press that she heard about the award while she was by herself in her classroom.
“The kids had left and I was alone in the room. It was a moment to really take it in and look around my classroom that I was so glad to be back in,” Ms. Blanton said. “It really was that moment to think about how many years I’ve been at that school, in that classroom with the kids coming in and out, and really be appreciated for the job that I do and the job that we all do.”
Teaching runs in Ms. Blanton’s blood, with her great grandmother, grandmother and sister all as fellow educators.
The Lompoc teacher said that from the moment she was old enough to get a job, she worked with kids in jobs such as parks and recreation and day camps. Ms. Blanton then got her psychology degree from UCSB, followed by her master’s in education from UC Santa Cruz.
“I really just always knew I’d end up with kids one way or another, and that’s where I went,” she said.
Lompoc Unified School District welcomed Ms. Blanton in 2004, and she’s been with the district ever since.
She has taught at Los Berros Elementary, Fillmore Elementary and is currently teaching fifth grade at Miguelito Elementary. She believes her current classes — two groups of 16 students — are the only classes on campus where every single student is back learning in-person in the classroom.
The teacher said she and those 32 students have been through a lot, starting back in October 2019, when Ms. Blanton was diagnosed with Churg-Strauss syndrome, a blood vessel disorder.
This diagnosis kept her in the hospital for a week and out of the classroom for three months while she received six treatments weekly of biological chemotherapy, followed by a treatment every three months and steroids that she is still continuing.
Ms. Blanton said she had to fight her doctors to allow her to come back to the classroom, and she wasn’t able to see her students’ faces until Feb. 2, 2020 — a little over a month before the pandemic hit the nation.
“We only had six weeks back together, and then we all had to leave,” she said. “This class in particular had a very rough year, but the day it was announced, I literally sent home computers, we sent home books and we started distance learning within two days.
“I’d been out for three months and never Zoomed … But my class? They all worked with me, every single one of them, and even after having had a very weird year, they all still went with me to fifth grade.”
She said the bond between her and her students was critical to navigating distance learning.
“We did everything we could as possible together, and I think that familiarity really helped us, because we weren’t new to each other. Many classrooms didn’t know each other, but we did,” Ms. Blanton said.
However, chemotherapy wiped out all of Ms. Blanton’s COVID-19 antibodies, and while she said she received a vaccine, her doctor informed her she could still contract COVID-19, but just not as severe. The teacher said she can fight some infection, but she has zero immune system.
“I go to school every day with no immune system, but I don’t care. I just don’t care,” Ms. Blanton said. “I know these kids are so well-trained … Those kids were like, ‘We have sanitizer in every corner.’ They were so good at trying to make sure we were all safe that I don’t have any fear about being with them.
“I know they value my health and I know they want me to be there every day, so I feel like we value each other’s health and we take it seriously, so I don’t have any fear about my health at all going back there.”
This ongoing trust and respect between Ms. Blanton and her students was something the teacher said she values, and, “They deserve it. They always deserve the best of what you got.”
Now that the fifth-grade teacher was named the Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year, she is eligible for the state and national Teacher of the Year recognition programs. However, when asked about what those awards would mean to herself and her family, she responded that it really isn’t that important to her.
“They said this looks like the Oscars of teaching. For me, I don’t think it (state or national recognition) would mean a whole lot different than what this (county award) means to me, except what it means to bring it home for my community and for my school,” the teacher said. “It’s really about Lompoc. It’s about that community and those families that I stay for and that I love. It’s about recognizing who they are and what they bring to me. They’re what makes me great, they’re what feeds my soul.
“It’s really only about being able to show how they make me great.”
In Ms. Blanton’s standards, “great” meant putting in plastic teeth when she lost eight of her teeth to her disorder so her students could see her smile; attending school meetings during chemotherapy; teaching from the hospital after her appendix was removed; and having her husband hand deliver her computer to her to Zoom her kids, simply so they could see her face.
But to her, it’s not about that.
“It’s the kids, every single one of them, through the highs and lows, the good days and the hard days. It is absolutely every single one of their faces that makes me never want to leave that classroom,” Ms. Blanton said. “I could be in administration or I could work at a district office, but then I wouldn’t have them.
“Often people say, ‘At that level, you make bigger changes that change their lives,’ but I want to be in there with them and I want to change their life that day. It is absolutely why I do it, for each and every one of them … so that in 30 years, they will remember me and I can still be a part of their life as they grow.”