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Home / News / Education / 1st ever animatronics instructor is final Riverside County Teacher of the Year

1st ever animatronics instructor is final Riverside County Teacher of the Year

by Staff
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Riverside County schools Superintendent Edwin Gomez made his final Teacher of the Year announcement when he stepped into a Winchester middle school classroom Thursday and surprised Misty McBee as this year’s fourth and final honoree.

McBee, who teaches at Harvest Hill STEAM Academy, is the first animatronics teacher in Riverside County to receive a teacher-of-the-year honor, according to the Office of Education.

“Ms. McBee’s innovative spirit is exemplified in her development of a middle school animatronics program,” Gomez said during the surprise announcement. “This program which started with just a set of state standards and laptops, was crafted to provide students with hands-on, project-based learning experiences that prepare our students for the future.”

After hearing the news, McBee said in a statement, “I just love what I do and working with all of my students. Everyone here just makes this job so fun and actually very easy sometimes. So to me, all of this just feels like a normal day.” 

McBee describes her current job as a STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics — teacher as a dream come true, according to the county. When Harvest Hill needed a course to implement the Menifee Union School District’s investment in a new Garner Holt Animatronics Lab, McBee developed the curriculum, wrangled volunteers for supplies and recruited students into what is now among the school’s most popular elective courses.

McBee’s classroom is characterized by “facilitated learning, real-life problem-solving, adaptability, and other vital skills transferable to any 21st century career pursuit,” according to the Office of Education. “She regularly integrates exhibitions of learning that simultaneously foster a spirit of collaboration and creativity, while enhancing school culture and showcasing student achievement and recognition.”

McBee also does a lot of extra-curricular work at the school. She coordinates pet adoption efforts and leads Harvest Hill’s Saturday STEAM Academy, which is an optional learning activity that has become popular with students.

Her colleagues describe her as “a teacher leader who not only teaches and leads with passion, but also inspires the curiosity and desire to learn for her students,” according to the Office of Education. “Her principal describes how visits to her classroom often go unnoticed due to the focus of deeply engaged students.”

McBee has a master’s degree in education from National University, a bachelor’s in science from Northern Arizona University, authorizations and certificates in computer concepts and applications and cross-cultural language and academic development.

McBee joins Amy Torres, a math teacher at Indio High School; Bob Mauger, automotive technology instructor at Corona High School; and Amanda Zonker, who teaches history-social science and English-language arts at the Riverside STEM Academy, as the county’s 2024 Teachers of the Year.

Amy Torres. | Photo courtesy of the Riverside County Office of Education

Torres’ colleagues describe her as helping every member of the math department increase their content knowledge while “pouring her heart into teaching students that life is about going beyond your limits, and realizing you are capable of helping others regardless of current situations,” according to the county.

“Ever since I started as an AVID tutor here for my first job in education, I always knew that I wanted to be back at Indio High School,” Torres said following the announcement, according to the county. “It is a privilege to work here, and I enjoy every minute of it. It’s my goal to engage students, help them be successful, and to learn how to give back.”

In addition to serving as the chair of Indio High’s math department, Torres is also an advisor for the National Honors Society and California Scholarship Federation.

She started her teaching career in 2015 as a long-term substitute, then taught math at two different middle schools in Desert Sands USD prior to her current position at Indio High School that began in 2017.

Torres earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies with a minor in mathematics from California State University, San Marcos. She also has a master’s degree in mathematics education from Western Governors University and recently earned a computer science supplementary authorization from Cal State Chico.

“I can see by looking around this classroom that there is a lot of learning that takes place here,” Gomez said during the surprise visit, according to the county. “Ms. Torres is a committed educator who emphasizes the significance of mathematics in everyday life. She models good stewardship in her class and across campus, creating a benefit for the entire community.”

Bob Mauger receives his Teacher of the Year certificate from Superintendent of Schools Edwin Gomez. | Photo courtesy of the Riverside County Office of Education

Mauger said his teaching career gets more rewarding with each passing year, especially as more students make transition out of his classroom into their own careers, according to the county. His greatest satisfaction is from seeing students experience “aha” moments when diagnosing and fixing issues under a hood of vehicles.

“Bob shows his students how to focus on resiliency and the importance of building relationships and community connections,” Gomez said in a statement. “His resourcefulness in securing industry-standard tools and equipment helps ensure that students have what they need to succeed, secure jobs, and overcome personal challenges.”

In a statement Mauger said when he started, he knew his teaching job “was about preparing students for careers in automotive technology.” But now he’s “come to realize that connecting them to the community to help those who might not otherwise be able to afford car repairs was important.”

Mauger earned a bachelor’s degree in social and criminal justice with a minor in child development from Ashford University. His master’s degree in teaching and learning is from Brandman University.

Amanda Zonker displays her 2024 Teacher of the Year award. | Photo courtesy of the Riverside County Office of Education

Zonker “is as much a teacher of history and English, as she is a coach, leader, culture-builder, and lifelong learner who desires to change lives through authentic connections to students,” according to the Office of Education.

“I love what I do, and you guys make it great,” she told students following her award announcement. “So, thank you so much to my students.”

Gomez said in a statement, “Zonker emphasizes the importance of building students’ self-efficacy, self-worth, and self-purpose, and using a variety of teaching strategies to make that happen. She has been pivotal in developing a positive and inclusive school culture, organizing events that bring students together across different grade levels and backgrounds, thus enriching the student experience and fostering community spirit.”

At Riverside STEM Academy, Zonker co-founded a weekly student-produced news show called STEM News, redesigned student government and coordinated pep rallies to build campus culture across middle school grades. She also serves as a coach for Science Olympiad, LEGO Robotics and co-leads National History Day activities.

Her colleagues describe her as “actively incorporating global issues, perspectives, and experiences into her teaching, fostering cultural competence and global citizenship among her students,” according to the county. A parent said Zonker has “a remarkable ability to unlock the unique talents of each student in her care.”

She began teaching in 2012 after receiving a bachelor’s degree in literature and writing studies, along with a teaching credential from California State University, San Marcos. She later earned a history credential from Phoenix University and a master’s degree in integrated curriculum from the American College of Education. 

All four honorees will represent Riverside County in the 2025 statewide Teacher of the Year competition. Recent Riverside County teachers selected as California Teachers of the Year include:

  • 2022 – Nichi Aviña, Cielo Vista Charter School, Palm Springs Unified School District
  • 2021 – Keisa Brown, University Heights Middle School, Riverside USD, and Allison Cyr, Lyndon B. Johnson Elementary School, Desert Sands USD
  • 2020 – Brenda Chavez-Barreras, Good Hope Elementary School, Perris ESD
  • 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

Riverside County Teachers of the Year are selected from nearly 20,000 educators, officials said.

“The rigorous application process requires candidates to spend time reflecting on, and carefully defining, their teaching philosophy,” according to the Office of Education.

Personnel from county schools nominate teachers to an Office of Education selection committee that selects semifinalists, officials said. The selection committee then does interviews and on-site visits to choose the final four honorees before the superintendent makes the surprise announcements.

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