Austin Widger, Ojai Valley News reporter
Ojai Education Foundation shined the spotlight on a teacher, student and volunteer, naming Nordhoff science department chair Natalie Hay, Teacher of the Year; Nordhoff senior Abilene Runyan, Student of the Year; and full-time school volunteer Asli Ruf, Volunteer of the Year, at the Ojai Education Foundation’s annual fundraiser breakfast Oct. 11, held at Nordhoff High School.
More than 200 people jammed the gymnasium.
Hay has been a science teacher at Nordhoff since 2013. Last year, she brought a hands-on lab to the district’s fifth- and sixth-graders, as well as an after-school enrichment science class to Mira Monte Elementary.
At Nordhoff, Hay led nearly 40 students on a science trip to Iceland over the summer, along with fellow science teacher Naiymah Houston. She left the audience with an anecdote about her last day as a high school student: “We each came in and found a typed poem on our desks … (it) stated, ‘Come to the edge,’ he said. ‘We can’t, we’re afraid,’ they replied. ‘Come to the edge,’ he said. ‘We can’t, we will fall,’ they replied. ‘Come to the edge,’ he said. And they came, and he pushed them, and they flew,” Hay said. “I, too, want that for my students.”
Runyan attended Meiners Oaks Elementary, Matilija Junior High and is now a senior at Nordhoff. In summer 2017, Runyan attended the California State Summer School for Mathematics and Sciences (COSMOS) at UC Davis, which inspired her to set a goal of providing Galileoscope kits for her classmates. “My peers and classmates are all deeply, deeply intelligent and wonderful people who push me … inspire me and motivate me each day in class,” Runyan said. “To me, each of them are my student heroes.”
Along with the help of her teacher Hay, she applied to OEF for a grant to buy 50 kits from OEF. COSMOS teachers then donated 100 more kits.
A native of Istanbul, Turkey, Ruf has been a full-time volunteer in the district for the past 12 years, including stints as president of the Topa Topa PTA, the Matilija PTO and the Nordhoff Parent Association. She spends much of her time supporting arts in district schools, since she has an art education and background. “I have to tell you that it is an honor to be sharing this town with all of you,” Ruf said. “I am so proud to be living in a country, a state and town where access to excellent education is a right, and not a privilege.”
Both Ruf and husband Kevin, president of the Ojai Unified School District board, have three children enrolled in Ojai public schools.