2021 OUTSTANDING TEACHER OF AMERICA
Health Science, Sports Medicine & Kinesiology
Venice High School
Los Angeles, CA
Kirsten Farrell’s trip to adulthood included seventeen household moves, eleven cities, ten schools, six states, two countries, many teachers and one set of parents. She is the proud daughter of an Air Force officer, whose career allowed her to developed a very unique perspective on other cultures, education, teachers, curriculum and how it is taught in urban, rural, large, small, international, public, private, boarding, for-profit and non-profit schools. She spent time in each of these environments and found that, when your life is in flux, you seek stability and it was her parents and her teachers who provided that stability for her.
“The continuity of good concepts within a curriculum was not always present in every school she attended. Imagine for a moment a life without fractions. In one of her moves, she lost a year of math, which meant years of struggle when trying to move forward into advanced math, science, and kinesiology. In each new location, her parents were her anchor and her teachers were my life raft. When teachers were inept, she struggled to keep her head above water. In 2nd grade, her teacher taped the student’s mouths shut. In 4th grade, her teacher was not fond of traditional math. In her senior year of high school, her English teacher felt that marking every twenty-five words of each writing assignment was imperative.
“When teachers excelled, she experienced great joy and a thirst for knowledge. Her initial notion to become a teacher developed when her 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Walters, changed her life. She mentored, coached, cajoled and occasionally enforced as the situation demanded. It was this balance that motivated Kirsten to pursue a career in education. In 8th grade her science teacher made her feel unique and confident. His cartoon drawings on her papers reframed her perspective on her self-efficacy as a student. Her high school chemistry teacher refused to give up on her when she continually fought her on learning because she felt she could not “do science”. Thirty-five years later, Kirsten still has the note she wrote when she received her first “A” on a quiz.
Kirsten’s first ‘real’ job in high school was teaching skiing at a small family run mountain in southern Vermont. She was amazed by how she could take people with zero experience on skis and get them through their first run in a single lesson. She was hooked on watching people grow and learn and the opportunity to see children develop and master skills, based on her instruction, was further ignited her interest in teaching.
Kirsten earned an undergraduate degree in elementary education from Plymouth State University and thoroughly enjoyed teaching second graders in an international school. Having a classroom filled with children from all over the world, each with different learning styles, made her a better teacher. Eventually, Kirsten began coaching and working with teenagers outside the classroom. This led her to pursue a Master’s in Counseling from the University of Vermont and her national certification in athletic training. Kirsten’s next opportunity was to work in a boarding school in the Swiss Alps with students from 50 different countries as dormitory supervisor, which presented her a unique opportunity for teaching outside the traditional classroom.
“Through her years as a teacher Kirsten has, quite literally, contributed to changing the world. She feels that what she has taught her students can be compared to a pebble dropped in the water, with the ripples continuing to expand long after she is gone. I has taught future doctors, physical therapists, athletic trainers, and paramedics. And, because of what has happened in “Shop-6” at Venice High School, in Los Angeles, California, she knows many people’s lives have been and will continue to be saved by her former students.
Kirsten’s greatest accomplishments in education are not measured in traditional ways. Instead, the proof is in graduation announcements, wedding invitations, and Christmas letters she receives and the honor of being invited to attend a medical school graduation of a student she taught when he was a fifteen year old 10th grader.
Kirsten has been teaching for 25 years, and the last 20 have been at Venice High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where she developed the first Sports Medicine Academy in the District. She is the Sports Medicine Team facilitator and, technically is part of the Los Angles County Regional Occupational/Career Technical Education Program. Over the years, she has taught Sports Medicine, Medical Terminology and Sports Therapeutics. She is also a National Certified Athletic Trainer. Her main focus is to prepare students for life after high school by providing hands-on skills that can be transferred to careers and, at the same time, to give them a sound foundation for their college majors. In 2017, Kirsten was selected the Los Angeles County and the Los Angeles Unified School District Teacher of the Year and in 2018, Kirsten was selected as the California Teacher of the Year.
Students in her program come away from their experience with certified skills they can use for a lifetime. They also learn empathy for others when they help treat the injuries and help athletes recover from their injuries. Kirsten says, “Their experiences give them an opportunity to get to know an entirely different group of students they might not otherwise have known. It is fun to see the Valedictorian ‘nerd” interacting and taping the ankle of the star quarterback or the pitcher who was just drafted by a major league baseball team or other players who live in the “hood”. It is a remarkable experience for us all and it brings all types of students together to share in helping one another.”
Kirsten says, “I feel blessed to do what I do and my greatest reward is looking back to see how many of my students have gone on to pursue their education in sports medicine at universities across California and so many others who have been accepted and graduated from schools like Brown and Boston Universities, Utah and Northwestern Universities, UCLA, UC Berkeley and Santa Barbara and so many others. I am amazed by how many have themselves become athletic trainers, physical therapists and physicians. It makes me proud to be a teacher and adds to the energy and passion to continue what we are doing.”