New Faces at SA: Christina Azahar

Humanities+teacher+Christina+Azahar

Humanities teacher Christina Azahar

Bella Santos, Staff writer

One of the new faces on campus this year is Christina Azahar, who taught Humanities III in the fall. The junior-level course asks the essential question of what it means to be American. Azahar focuses on what it means to be American for members of specific ethnic groups, encouraging students to examine the big issues and who they affect.

Azahar has a musical background as a singer and saxophone player. Her favorite type of music to listen to is indie folk, rock, or R & B. She spent time living in Central America and South America, which helped her gain a new understanding and perspective of music. “I really got acquainted with this music in tons of different spaces, whether it be pop, folk, and all these different types of music. I got to appreciate music based on what it means in this community.”

Azahar lived in Georgia until college; she attended college at the University of Georgia and came to UC Berkeley for graduate school. In college, she double-majored in Music and Latin American studies. Ultimately, these areas of studies led her down the career path of ethnomusicology, the study of music in a cultural context. “We look not just at music, but at a lot of different cultural practices to try and understand how these types of practices factor and communicate with one another.” At UC Berkeley, she spent six years researching and teaching classes on music, feminist activism, and racial justice movements across the United States and Latin America. Within eight years she earned a Ph.D. in Music.

Before Sonoma Academy, Azahar was a teaching assistant at UC Berkeley, which was how she paid for graduate school. “I was really scared,” she said. “I had never taught before, I was having to step into a room filled with college students and try and lead these discussions. But once I got into it, I realized I enjoyed teaching. I got hooked on those light bulb moments. For me, it was never about the content, but getting people to make those connections between what we were talking about in class and things that are going on in their daily lives.”

By the end of graduate school, Azahar realized teaching was a career she needed to pursue long-term. She discovered that she loved teaching, writing, and getting people to think differently about music and other art forms.

Looking back, it was Azahar’s saxophone teacher  who fueled her aspirations to become a teacher. “She struck a really good balance between direct and clear criticism but also doing it with such kindness and grace so that it never felt invalidating. She made me feel motivated.” Motivating her students is something Azahar strives to do in her teaching.

This is Azahar’s first year teaching at a high school level. “I chose to teach at SA because I thought it had a great balance of a lot of things I was looking for in a teaching job. I’m able to be creative with the different classes I’m designing, how I structure my courses, and not be set on a certain curriculum. The community aspect is something that drew me to SA.”

Azahar loves the close-knit environment and how students get to know one another. “I found that high schoolers are very energetic and willing to jump in and try new things, a little bit less hesitant than students who are at the college level.”

She feels as though there is a culture in flux at Sonoma Academy, “SA is a community that has a lot of integrity and loyalty to one another. ‘Honor is backpacks outside the Adirondacks’ really hit me hard because it’s not easy in other schools having that trust and having others look out for one another.”

Her favorite part of Sonoma Academy culture is how much fun students have with one another and how much ownership they take for their learning. She hopes to bring a lot more interdisciplinary programs, dialogue, and classes, especially in building connections between the Humanities and Music departments. She looks forward to getting involved with Intersession and international travel by helping envision what these programs can be.

If Azahar were to run an Intersession trip, her dream would be taking a group of students to Chile, where she spent a year doing her graduate school work conducting research and community building. Her research included feminist organizing with different populations in music groups around Santiago. “My dream would be to take students there because it’s a really good place to figure out climate issues,” she said. “Because geography is so diverse, you can hit a ton of different regions in one trip. Also, we could explore the connections between art and their community.”

In addition to loving the students and culture of SA, Azahar’s favorite GAC meal is turkey or beef bolognese. Azahar is eating for two and unfortunately isn’t teaching at Sonoma Academy this semester. She is pregnant with her baby boy, who is due in February.

Although Azahar is on maternity leave for the Spring semester, she’s looking forward to teaching electives in the next fall school year. She would love to offer electives such as Latin American Music, Gender and Women’s Studies, and different World Music classes.

Azahar stated, “I couldn’t be happier with the support the faculty and students have given me.”

We look forward to meeting her new little guy soon!