2005 Teacher of the Year

Saint Mary's Kalmanovitz School of Education and River of Words Celebrate our Teachers of the Year!

River of Words / Kalmanovitz School of Education 2005 Teacher of the Year 

Ocean Jones, of Merced High School; Merced, California


Ocean Jones is a poet, artist, and educator. She was raised in Tracy, California, and is the oldest of six children. Her fondest memories are of the annual family camping trips. They inspired her love of nature and desire to share her experiences through poetry and photography.

After high school, Ocean left Tracy to continue her education at UC Berkeley, where she majored in literature and theater arts. While there, she interrupted her studies to go across the Bay and become a lighting designer for rock bands. She also worked for Two Window Press, where rare books were printed on handmade paper. Returning to college, Ocean majored in theater arts, and psychology at UC Santa Cruz. She has credentials in theater arts, art, and lagnuage arts, and is a certified language development specialist. 

Ocean has been able to combine her strengths - knowledge of cultures and nature, artistic talents, love of poetry, and a desire to teach young people - at Merced High School, where she has been a member of the Language Development Program for seventeen years. She loves helping students discover the value of their lives and cultures, using poetry and writing as a way to help them let their voices be heard. She has been the department chair of the Language Development Program for over twelve years and has been a district mentor for many years. She is also proud to say she is a California Writing Project fellow, graduating from the first UC Merced class.

The Highway 99 literary anthology inspired Ocean to re-connect with her valley roots and provided an impetus to help her students find their connections to heritage, place in the community, and themselves. Poetry became the vehicle for that journey. In 1999, Ocean organized the Valley Voices Poetry Program (VVPP) for the Merced Union High School District. The program includes teacher and student workshops, an annual poetry festival, which provides an opportunity for high school students to showcase their multilingual, multicultural work for the community and publishing a poetry book. The focus of the poetry program has always been the people, places, and cultures of the Central San Joaquin Valley.

After discovering the River of Words Program in 2003, students and teachers in the VVPP have been actively exploring and writing about the Upper and Lower Merced River watersheds. A collaborative effort between science, art, and language arts teachers has provided countless opportunities for everyone involved to learn and grow together as they focus on the environment. All of these valley voices experiences are reflected in Ocean's soon-to-be-completed Masters' thesis, Writing in Your Own Backyard.