One teacher described her work as being a detective in finding out more about a student’s learning disability, and then helping them overcome an obstacle.

“When students finally get it, you can literally see their faces light up,” said Julie Fong, a special education teacher at Elk Grove Elementary School.

Another teacher said that the arts can enable high school students to strengthen their knowledge and critical thinking skills.

“Anytime I tell people I teacher theater, they say, ‘Oh, that must be really fun!’” said Christina Chun Moslen, a theater teacher at Cosumnes Oaks High School. “Yes, it is fun because learning is fun. I love that what I get to do is to teach and get students to learn, and they don’t even know they’re learning.”

Fong and Moslen were honored as the Elk Grove Unified School District’s Teachers of the Year this month. The teachers were nominated by their peers and they were selected by district staff.

These honorees will now represent Elk Grove Unified when they will be considered for the Sacramento County Teacher of the Year recognition this summer.

Here are their stories.

Christina Chun Moslen, Cosumnes Oaks High School

Christina Chun Moslen has been in the Elk Grove school district for much of her life – starting when she was an elementary school student. She joined her first theatrical show as a third grader at Union House Elementary School.

Moslen later became a student of Christopher Hoffman, a future superintendent of Elk Grove Unified, when she attended Laguna Creek High School. He encouraged her to double-major in history and English before she went to the University of California, Davis.

That path ultimately led her to become a high school teacher.

“I just wanted to teach,” Moslen said. “I had such a great experience at Laguna Creek – I had adults who really impacted my life in a positive way and I wanted to pay it forward.”

She has taught theater and produced numerous plays at Cosumnes Oaks High since the Elk Grove campus opened 11 years ago. A long row of posters for school plays and musicals decorate her classroom.

Moslen told the Citizen that she enjoys seeing students discover who they are when they take her classes.

“There’s something about having a student who doesn’t want to be in your class...and end up falling in love with what they do,” she said.

The teacher described an arts education as an application of core academic subjects.

“Musicians have to access math in order to read music,” Moslen said. “In my class, students have to critically analyze literature on a daily basis in order to produce plays. They need to access their knowledge of history to create characters from a certain time period.  They have to study human behavior in order to create characters that are authentic. It’s truly the application.”

When it comes to preparing for a role in a classic play, Moslen advises her students to avoid watching YouTube videos of other actors perform that role until their school’s production is finished.

“I want them to pull from what they see in the literature and not to copy somebody else,” she said.

Moslen credited the help from a team of teachers at Cosumnes Oaks and its sister campus, Pinkerton Middle School in creating theatrical productions.

“A lot of the time, theater teachers are by themselves,” she said. “I’m lucky that I get to work with really talented people.”

Asked about a favorite success story, Moslen recalled a time when her students worked with a non-verbal student who uses a computer device to communicate with others. She assigned a student to perform a scene with that student.

Despite her inability to speak, the student was still able to choose the correct lines of dialogue on her computer.

“It was the most amazing thing I’ve seen,” Moslen said. “She made a noise and her face lit up. It was a beautiful moment.”

Julie Fong, Elk Grove Elementary School

Julie Fong has spent the past 20 years working with students who have learning disabilities. The special education teacher at Elk Grove Elementary School recalled a recent case where she worked with a sixth grader who still read at a kindergarten level.

The educator said that at first he could not read simple, short-vowel words.

“I put a lot of effort into him,” she said about the process of helping him overcome his challenge.

This month, the student was evaluated and he now reads at a second-grade level.

“He just wants to keep learning,” Fong said. “He’s excited that he gets to a new level or a new lesson, and he mastered it.”

She mentioned her meeting with the student’s mother.

“This was the first time when an educator said what her son could do, and not what he couldn’t do,” the teacher said.

Fong grew up as the daughter of a teacher in the Monterey County town of Greenfield. She initially did not desire to become an educator until she attended the University of California, Davis and volunteered in a fourth grade classroom.

“I absolutely loved it and couldn’t wait to go back every day,” she said. “After much introspection and reflection, I decided that teaching was what I wanted to do.”

Fong later started teaching at Barbara Comstock Morse Elementary School and said she was attracted to the Elk Grove school district’s “cutting edge” special education program.

“They were doing a lot of new, innovative things to support kids,” she said.

Fong spent nearly two decades teaching at Morse, Joseph Sims, and Marion Mix elementary schools before arriving to Elk Grove Elementary. She said that she hears from former students who are succeeding in life, including a Cosumnes River College student who wants to become a police sketch artist.

As part of the Teacher of the Year selection process, she had to write about her philosophy of education.

“I believe that every child is a reader, it might take them longer but every student can learn to read,” Fong said. “What you believe is what they achieve, so you need to believe that your students can and expect that of them – they will rise to the occasion.”