Shelby Anderson at Disney

Shelby Anderson’s classroom at Laguna Beach High School doesn’t look like your average classroom. With its six original military uniforms standing upright on dress forms and a soldier’s footlocker filled with World War II memorabilia, her room looks a little more like a museum. 

“I had a unique educational experience growing up. I was homeschooled by my mom from kindergarten to eighth grade. She emphasized hands-on education. I wanted to provide the same experience for my students,” says Anderson who graduated in 2018 with double majors in social policy and public service and education sciences and went on to complete her Master of Arts in Teaching/Credential the following year.

It’s this unique approach that earned Anderson recognition from the Walt Disney Company for bringing creativity and imagination to life. She was one of 100 elementary, middle, and high school teachers recognized this year from more than 7,900 applicants from across the country.

Anderson and her fellow winners were rewarded with a stay at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim and took part in a teacher celebration event May 4-7, just before National Teacher Appreciation Week and during the Walt Disney Company’s 100th Anniversary.

Over the long weekend, Anderson participated in workshops led by Disney leaders and Imagineers at the Disney Imagination Campus, marched in a parade held in her honor, was treated to fabulous meals, and was given a $200 gift card to use as she enjoyed the park.

“It was such a wonderful experience,” says the award-winning teacher. “UCI has had an undeniable impact on where I am today. I’m so thankful for the training I received that helped bring this moment to fruition.”

The good in history

The creativity and imagination that gained Anderson this award began her first year of teaching high school history. This unfortunately coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic and Anderson had to think outside the box to keep her students engaged online.

As a member of the Historical Unit of Southern California, Anderson is a reenactor with the Women's Army Corps. To create a unique learning experience for her students, she gathered her fellow reenactors to help host extra credit events for her students on Zoom. Through these sessions, students could interact with World War I and World War II reenactors to learn what conditions were like for soldiers and what day-to-day life was like on the home front. They were even able to take a virtual ride in a Willys WWII Jeep, the standard utility vehicles built for the U.S. military during that time. In a moment of history repeating itself, Anderson invited members of her reenactment group to speak to her class about what life was like during the Spanish flu pandemic a century before.

Anderson not only brings history to life, but devises lesson plans that encourage her students to think critically about how society has formed. She aims higher than just teaching facts; she tries to create empathetic, resilient, and innovative people.

Once Anderson and her students were finally able to return to the classroom, she continued to make her classes as interactive as possible. In one lesson, Anderson created a WWII rationing simulation. Students were given a limited number of tickets to plan meals for a month.



“Students had to get creative and through this exercise developed a sense of empathy for the tough decisions that everyday Americans had to make on the homefront during WWII,” she says.

Anderson is particularly fascinated by the American experience during WWII. A lot of the uniforms, newspapers, and artifacts she has collected come from this era.  

“I like to look for the good in history. During WWII it was essential that people put their differences aside and unite for the common cause of winning the war. Because of that, we saw significant improvement in civil rights, women's equality, and much more,” she says. “There was obviously still much progress to be made, however this shake up of priorities allowed for individuals from underrepresented groups the opportunity to prove their capabilities that had been there all along. I love seeing the underdogs get their moment.”

A north star

Before she was an award-winning teacher, Anderson was an active Anteater at UCI. When she arrived on campus as a freshman, she knew she wanted to dedicate her life to public service. She just wasn’t sure what form that service should take. Fortunately, she met associate dean of undergraduate studies and professor of teaching Jeanett Castellanos who introduced her to the social policy and public service major. 

“Dr. Castellanos is a powerhouse and has been an inspiration to me from the beginning. She inspires me as a woman, as an educator, and as a researcher,” Anderson says. “I hope to emulate her as much as possible.”

During her senior year, Anderson took a couple of classes in education and quickly decided to double major. She realized how much she loved learning and wanted to share that passion with others. She was homeschooled from kindergarten through eighth grade by a mother who believed that education should be hands-on, and that Anderson and her siblings should experience the world to understand it.

“My drive comes from my parents. They instilled in me that learning could be fun and exciting. I want to share this with my students,” she says.

Anderson fulfilled all her education degree requirements during her senior year and immediately began the MAT program at UCI.

“Teaching is a rewarding career and is worth going into,” says Anderson. “Your relationships with professors are instrumental to that journey. Find the leaders you like and emulate them. This will help you become a better mentor. You have to have a north star.”

When you wish upon a star

After participating in the Disney workshops, Anderson and the other teachers were celebrated with a parade held specifically in their honor. The parade began at It’s a Small World and traveled down Main Street, U.S.A. Some teachers waved from floats; others rode a double-decker bus. Anderson traveled the route on foot wearing Mickey Mouse ears and waving streamers in her hand. As she walked, she was overcome with gratitude.

“I’ve never felt this loved and appreciated for my career,” she says. “I felt seen for the hours I put in to make my students’ learning experience valuable and meaningful. To be recognize for this hard work filled my heart.”

-Jill Kato for UCI Social Sciences and Education

-pictured: Shelby Anderson ’18, ’19 MAT, was one of 100 teachers selected for the Walt Disney 100th Anniversary Teacher Celebration which included a four-day trip to Disney, complete with a stay at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, attendance at workshops led by Disney leaders and Imagineers at the Disney Imagination Campus, a parade held in her and fellow award winners’ honor, and more. The Laguna Beach High School history teacher’s creativity in the classroom ties in with her role as a reenactor with the Women's Army Corps.

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