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Featured Image: Mayor Joe Muller and the rest of the Dana Point City Council on Tuesday, May 17, recognized Andrea Brannam, a kindergarten teacher at RH Dana Elementary School, after recently taking home a Teacher of the Year award from the Capistrano Unified School District for her work in the dual immersion program. Photo: Breeana Greenberg

By Breeana Greenberg

Entering the classroom in 1981, Andrea Brannam was filled with confusion and fear but was met by her teacher with a “welcoming smile and warm embrace.” It was that experience that left a lasting mark on Brannam, who’s now a kindergarten teacher at RH Dana Elementary School.

Brannam, who has been teaching for 25 years, spoke only Spanish when she started kindergarten. But 12 years into her teaching career, Brannam and RH Dana Elementary School Principal Kristen Nelson started a dual language immersion program, teaching students Spanish and English.

Brannam’s work in the dual immersion program earned her recognition this year from the Capistrano Unified School District, as she recently took home a Teacher of the Year award—an honor that the Dana Point City Council further recognized at its meeting this week. 

“Looking back, I just remember the love that my teachers gave me,” Brannam said. “It didn’t matter that I didn’t understand their language. … I look back to that experience of the love and the care that my teachers had, and I just wanted to make that kind of difference in the lives of my students.”

Nelson, who has served as the school’s principal for four years, started the dual language immersion program three years ago with Brannam’s help.

“She was the only person that really could have started the language immersion program,” Nelson said. “Her belief in it, her own experience being a second-language learner, her passion for teaching bilingual children and multicultural children. I just knew there wasn’t anybody else who really could help me start the program here in Dana Point so successfully. I was relieved when she said yes.”

During the first eight years of Brannam’s teaching career, she taught preschool. She has taught in the CUSD system the past 17 years and now teaches kindergarten, with Mayor Pro Tem Mike Frost’s daughter currently in her class.

The journey to become a teacher was long and unexpected, Brannam said. She was initially interested in the medical field, though she always loved kids and babysitting.

She’s been married for 25 years with two grown daughters. While raising her daughters and working as a preschool teacher, she also worked toward her bachelor’s degree, one class at a time, which took 10 years to earn.

The long journey was worth it, Brannam said, because the best part about being a teacher is the knowledge that she’s pursued her passion and the joy that comes from the relationships she develops with her students.

“There is so much, just knowing that teaching really truly is my calling and my passion,” Brannam said. “But when I narrow it down, it’s the word ‘joy.’ For me, the best part of teaching is experiencing the joy that comes from developing positive relationships with my students and their families.”

The joy of seeing her students’ excitement when they start understanding new lessons in both English and in Spanish is life-changing, Brannam said.

“Witnessing my students blossom and learn so much in two languages, it’s the joy of hearing the squeals of excitement when my students interact with our hands-on lessons,” Brannam said. “The joy that comes from planning meaningful activities with my colleagues and laughing every day.”

As part of the council’s recognition of Brannam on Tuesday, May 17, Mayor Joe Muller presented her with a proclamation.

 “I want to thank you for all your hard work that you’re doing over there. Your service is invaluable to where this community is going and our country needs to go,” Muller said. “Thank you so much for all the work you do.”

Brannam thanked the City Council and Nelson on behalf of the teaching staff for their support of the elementary school.

Muchísimas gracias, a la ciudad de Dana Point, esto es un gran honor, muchísimas gracias,” Brannam said in Spanish before reiterating her remarks in English. “Truly, just an honor. I’m so thankful for the city of Dana Point for being so supportive and dedicated to our little school, RH Dana.”

“What a joy to have gone to help start the Spanish Immersion program coming from Las Palmas and just to watch it blossom and grow,” Brannam added. “In three years, to see it grow so much and see our little kiddos learning Spanish and English. … We have an amazing principal, Mrs. Nelson, and through her leadership and her vision, this has become a reality. So, thank you all so much, Muchísimas gracias.”

Breeana Greenberg

Breeana Greenberg is the city reporter for the Dana Point Times. She graduated from Chapman University with a bachelor of arts degree in English. Before joining Picket Fence Media, she worked as a freelance reporter with the Laguna Beach Independent. Breeana can be reached by email at bgreenberg@picketfencemedia.com

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