Honoring Vanessa Cruz

Vanessa Cruz

Vanessa Cruz

Elementary Science Teacher

Fort Worth, TX

Vanessa Cruz teaches 5th grade at West Handley Elementary School in the Fort Worth Independent School District. She is the Science Lead at her school. She brings passion into her classroom and entices her students in her science class through hands on experiments. She is passionate about science and instilling in students a desire to learn. Ms. Cruz wants to provide opportunities for her students to succeed both in the classroom and outside. She emphasizes the importance of having qualities of empathy, compassion and understanding. In her classroom, students are free to engage in discussion about academics and other interests. Ms. Cruz makes an effort to connect with her students via their hobbies, favorite past times and sports. She firmly believes that students perform better if they feel adults around them care about what they have to say. Every voice matters and this is one of the reasons why she provides different ways to complete an assignment. Ms. Cruz is currently enrolled in the Master of Education with a STEM specialization in Southern Methodist University.

Why do you teach?

I teach to empower students and to help them realize their potential. It is my goal to help students meet their goals and seek the opportunities that exist. I also teach to give back to the community that helped me become who I am today. I teach because teacher believed in me. I do my job thinking of paying it forward and helping others achieve their dreams.

What do you love about teaching?

I love when students are engaged in their learning and wanting to participate in class. I also love when students tell me about their weekend, their fears and ambitions. The relationships you build as a teacher are the most rewarding aspect of teaching.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

My high school teachers at Manhattan International High School with their kindness, support and understanding made me feel like I wasn’t alone though I didn’t speak any English at the time. They encouraged me and made me realize we all had a lot of offer to the world as long as we worked hard and didn’t let obstacles deter us from our dreams.

Honoring Cesar Garcia

Cesar Garcia

Cesar M. Garcia

High School Spanish teacher

Sparks, Nevada

Cesar Garcia has taught for 12 years. He grew up in Spain and moved to the United States at the age of 30 following his heart after meeting an American girl (his wife of 31 years now) in Madrid. His journey into his career as a teacher began in a boarding school in Soria, Spain but this dream was not fulfilled until after a career as a bodyguard for the first democratic President in Spain, Adolfo Suarez and then in the United States he worked in a grocery store at night so he could take care of his kids during the day. After all three of his children were in public schools, he decided to go back to college and start a degree in secondary education with a major in Spanish. Mr. Garcia graduated in December 2003 from the University of Nevada, Reno and soon after was offered a job at Sparks High School to teach Spanish for Spanish Speakers and Spanish to high school students. The program has been very successful and currently he is also teaching AP Spanish Language and Culture as well as AP Spanish Literature and Culture.

Why do you teach?

I started teaching because I wanted to fulfill an old, delayed dream of mine. For seven years in my native Spain I went to a boarding school to get an education. My teachers were almost all priests and wanted me to become a priest and to dedicate my life to teaching. At age 30, I moved to Reno, Nevada in order for my wife, a native of Reno, to finish her Master’s degree in Foreign Language and Literature. What should have been an American adventure of only two or three years became a permanent move. After raising three children in public schools it became clear to me that the time had come for me to give back to society, so I decided the best way to accomplish that would be to use my knowledge, expertise, and experiences in life to teach students with socio-economic challenges. Sparks High School was and is the perfect place to fulfill my dream.

What do you love about teaching?

At this moment in my life I love everything about teaching. The relationship with students, the relevance of the topics, and the increasing rigor of the materials taught after the first year or two. My students are like my patients. They enter my class every day with different symptoms (happy, angry, rested, tired, traumatized, calm, crying, laughing….) It is my mission to engage, inspire, and teach them regardless of their situation in life or their mood. Teaching gave me the opportunity to get up every morning happy and ready to go with a purpose in life and the opportunity to change or make a difference in a student’s life. I had several jobs in my life and none of them gave me the feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction that being a teacher does. That’s why I would love to continue teaching in the future. In 2012, I was diagnosed with sarcoma, a type of cancer, and during that difficult time my students were the best therapy against the illness. I owe them big!

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

As I mentioned, I attended a Catholic boarding school in Spain from thirteen to twenty years old during Franco’s dictatorship. Not one, but several of my teachers challenged me to think outside the box, examine uncomfortable things and give back to society. I tried to inspire my students using the same philosophy that I learned more than 40 years ago. In America, Diane Rosner (Chair of the Foreign Language Department in South Lake Tahoe and Director of the Intensive Summer Spanish Institute) was instrumental in me becoming a teacher. Every day I want my students to feel in my classroom the way I felt in hers.

Honoring Sara Torres

Sara Torres

Sara Torres

Elementary Science Teacher

San Marcos, TX

As a child, Sara Torres grew up in South Texas and attended a segregated school. This school had two classes in each grade level, the smart class and the “other” class. She was in the “other” class all through elementary school. Interestingly by the time students reached high school, 4 out of the 7 students in the highest math class that school offered were from the “other” class. Early on she learned that conditions impact the outcome of schooling, but they do not need to determine them.

The last 15 years she has taught in the San Marcos CISD as a bilingual teacher, gifted and talented facilitator and currently is a STEM teacher at Travis Elementary. She is passionate about public school education! She entrusted her four biological children to public schools. She worked to learn new instruction to benefit students. This passion has moved her to action and initiated partnerships with Texas State University Professors to implement physics labs, non-bias science fairs, after school clubs and engineering opportunities for local students and families. This partnership recently secured a NASA grant that works to implement Engineering concepts to all students in the district with a focus on Aerospace Engineering home extension activities; this work will continue in the summer through a close relationship with Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos a community center dedicated to support families and share the Hispanic cultural wealth with everyone in the community.

She is a graduate of the University of Texas at San Antonio and earned her Master’s of Education in Leadership at Texas State University in May. She understands that administrative leaders looking for the quick fix by pursuing perfect programs has been a futile attempt to improve schools. She believes barriers are much more complicated than choosing the right program. Issues of health, economic language and curricular realignment are needed to transform public schools. She understands that these topics of discussion in educational settings are critical. She believes in order to make education better it will take many conversations and forming partnerships between public schools, universities, and community assets. Her goals and aspirations are to continue education through the doctoral program at Texas State University.

In her spare time, she plays the flute with her Church choir, attends Bible classes and cheers her children on at cross-country competitions.

Why do you teach?

I believe that our vocation as human beings is to remain hopeful and that we can improve public education. Too many times the answer to improve education is to open a new Academy or Private School. This solution only addresses the privileged. Public schools are the only way to change the world we live in because Public schools educate every child. Our youth need to be inspired that THEY can make a difference and I am the person to convince them of that fact.

What do you love about teaching?

I love building relationships with students, families, and community members. Teaching isn’t about transferring information to students. It’s about what we learn from each other. Being a witness to students developing skills in collaboration, communication, and empathy of others is very gratifying. Every child deserves to achieve their greatness and has the right to have an advocate in his or her corner.

Was there a great teacher who inspired you?

A year ago, I met Dr. Miguel Guajardo, professor at Texas State University. He has taught me that a cup of coffee and a great conversation can change the world. His ability to help people develop educational awareness, autonomy, and their critical consciousness has inspired me to continue on this path of giving those around me an opportunity to be successful in their aspirations.

Honoring Angela Palacios

Angela Palacios

Angela Palacios, Ed.D

Spanish High School Teacher

Phoenix, AZ

Dr. Angela Palacios has spent 10 years teaching Spanish with Phoenix Union High School District, where she began her teaching career at Cesar Chavez High School.  In addition to teaching, she has spent time mentoring teachers in and out of the classroom.  She also spent one year as a Curriculum and Instructional Coach for an elementary school in Phoenix.  She has served as a trainer and facilitator for the implementation of professional learning communities, curriculum and instruction, and Freshman House Academy within her school. She is currently serving on South Mountain High School’s Open House Committee, Multicultural Committee, and Graduation Committee.  She also has the privilege to call out the names at the graduation ceremony.  Dr. Palacios was recently selected to participate in the year three pilot of the Teacher Leadership Initiative (TLI), a joint endeavor of the National Education Association (NEA), the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ), and The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (National Board).  She also participates as part of the President’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative which convenes leaders and stakeholders from around the country to work together to form integrated strategies to help every young person find their way to class every day.

Dr. Palacios holds a Bachelor’s of Arts in Communications with a minor in Spanish from the Sul Ross State University of Texas.  She earned her certification as a 6-12 Spanish Teacher at the University of Mississippi and then returned to the Arizona State University to earn her Master’s in Secondary Education and most recently completed her Doctorate in Educational Leadership and Administration also from Arizona State University where she conducted a study highlighting the challenges of five DREAMers and strategies they used to overcome those challenges.  As the daughter of immigrants, Dr. Palacios is aware of the sacrifices and contributions of immigrants.  She can also relate very well to challenges of obtaining a higher education on many levels.

Why do you teach?

As an educator, I strive to develop leaders that are critical thinkers and problem solvers who develop a sense of responsibility to change their own lives and that of their families and communities. I teach because it’s the best way to affect social change.   There’s nothing more fulfilling than seeing student transformations in and out of the classroom.  I make every effort to teach with corazón because once you win the students’ hearts, you can equip their brain with vast knowledge.

What do you love about teaching?

Here is a video made by students that includes students and colleagues acknowledging my doctoral degree.  I made it against all odds.  I am now part of the 1% of the world with a doctorate degree.  I am part of the .5% because I am Mexican, a woman, and also a single mom.  In addition, I am proud to be part of the 8% of Latina teachers that many articles talk about. This video makes me very proud of my accomplishments.  I strive to be a positive role model and it brings me to tears every time I watch it.  To empower students and hear from their own mouths that I made a difference is priceless.  They are the reason I love teaching!

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?   

There are many teachers that helped me along the way.  My biggest supporter and mentor, however, was Mrs. Stapleton, my high school Spanish teacher.  She always provided opportunities for growth, resources, and constantly reminded me of my potential.  Had it not been for her, I wouldn’t have gone to college.  Current teachers like Bolivia Gaytan, Debbie Kunes, and Carla Flores always keep me grounded, inspired, and help me keep perspective on what is important in life.

Honoring Maria Dominguez

Maria Dominguez

Maria Dominguez

1st Grade Bilingual Teacher

Austin, TX

Maria was born in Guanajuato, Mexico where she lived in a modest house with her mother, grandmother, and three siblings. When she was eight years old, her mother received a phone call that would change her. Her father had passed away in an automobile accident in Texas. Her mother then decided that they would migrate to the United States, bringing along her four children.

She graduated high school with honors, she knew that continuing her education would be an adversity. She was an undocumented student, but she did not give up and decided to enroll in Austin Community College. As she got ready to transfer to a four-year university, she made the ultimate decision that would change her life: she would become a bilingual teacher. She received her Bachelor’s Degree from Texas State University in Bilingual Education in December 2007.

Because of her legal status she could not teach at public schools. Nevertheless, she began to teach Sunday School at her church, giving her the opportunity to teach children. She later on enrolled in Texas State University for her Master’s Degree in Bilingual Education and minor in Educational Leadership.

On June 15, 2012, President Obama announced Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which would grant certain undocumented immigrants a two-year work permit and a suspension of deportation. Maria was excited and thankful because she would have the opportunity to practice her profession. She applied for DACA in August 2012 and received her approval in December 2012. In February 2013, she was hired by the Austin Independent School District as a Pre-K bilingual teacher. She works at a Title I school where over 96% of the students receive free or reduced lunch. She attended a similar school and now she has the opportunity to give back to a community that reflects the community where she came from. Her students come from similar walks of life and they all share similar stories. This allows the teachers, to become their role models and make a positive impact in their lives.

As a teacher, Education Austin member and AFT member she has been granted the opportunity to work with the immigrant community – in particular undocumented youth. She helps U.S. residents fill out their citizenship applications and Dreamers fill out their DACA application. She has also shared her story at DACA forums. She has also attended several conferences with AFT that focus on immigration, and how members can work with their locals to help members, parents and students.

Thanks to the work she is doing in her classroom and in her community, the White House honored her this past July 24th, as a DACAmented Teacher Champion of Change. She felt thrilled to receive this kind of recognition by the White House. There needs to be constant people who advocate for students, parents and the community.

Why do you teach?

I teach because I believe I can make a positive difference in the lives of my students.  I care about my students and my goal is to help them achieve their dreams, even if that simply means believing in them. I feel I have been given the opportunity to achieve my potential and I truly believe that sometimes children only need someone who is going to care enough to guide them and motivate them.

What do you love about teaching?

The best part of being a teacher is that I am also a student, I learn with my students. We grow together; we learn together, they motivate me to try new ways of teaching. At the end of the day, everything is worth it when I see my students’ academic and personal achievements. I love to hear my students say, “I got it!” during a math lesson. I love seeing them struggling to read and seeing them become fluent readers at the end of the school year.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

Yes, definitely! I had great teachers that made a difference in my life. They saw something in me that I did not see at the time. They believed in me, they made me feel like they cared about me. I remember Ms. Morin in middle school, my ESL teacher, who pushed me to learn English and motivated me to speak English because I was a very shy student. Sgt. Claywell, my ROTC instructor, who knowing I was undocumented saw my potential and helped me write letters to congressmen trying to find a way for me to go to college. I thank these amazing teachers for believing in me.

Girls and Coding: Seeing What the Future Can Be

This is crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

From left to right, Gilliam Jacobs, Brittany Greve, Andrea Chaves, Noran Omar, Angela Diep.

“You can’t be what you can’t see.”

This is a common expression that, perhaps like me, you’ve heard many times. For the girls at the Young Women’s Leadership school where I teach in New York City, this is – sadly — the case. My students couldn’t see themselves as women in STEM careers, and in fact, knew little about the opportunities offered within the field.

That’s why I made it my mission to bring computer science to our school.

My principal was excited at the idea of incorporating computer science (CS), but took me by surprise when she said I would have to teach it. As a certified Spanish teacher, I had no background in CS other than being digitally competent. But, after starting to learn through an online training program, I decided to blend computer science into my advanced Spanish speakers class because I figured why not have students learning Spanish dive into coding, too.

On the first day of class, I announced to the girls in Spanish that we were going to do tons of reading, writing and editing – but in a language called JavaScript. I made it clear that I wasn’t fluent in this language, but reassured them that we were on this journey together.

It didn’t take me long to realize that the gender gap is not due to women lacking STEM-related skills, but rather because young women are conditioned to believe that careers in technology and science are reserved for men. That’s part of why I also decided to start two after-school programs: a partnership with an existing organization, Girls Who Code, which works to inspire and educate women to pursue careers in technology and my own program, TechCrew – an internship program that exposes girls to coding, graphic design, animation and film.

Watch the girls in Chaves’ class who created the nutrition game, Healthy Bunch, which won the MIT-sponsored competition “Dream It. Code It. Win It.”

Each club started with eight girls, but TechCrew now includes 30 girls working collaboratively to create and produce technology-driven projects. Students have coded video games and apps about recycling, healthy eating habits, carbon footprints, space debris, learning Spanish and more. As one of my students, Brittany Greve, says, “Computer science has allowed me to look at a problem from multiple perspectives and use logic to come up with innovative solutions.”

My students have also become leaders within the CS community. We’ve worked together on all sorts of projects, such as a summer coding camp in Queens where girls learned to build apps that advocate for social justice. Additionally, my TechCrew is currently leading 50 girls in the creation of a Digital Dance, in which dancers, filmmakers, graphic designers and coders are bringing together their expertise to create a beautiful piece of art.

Watch Chaves’ students talking about why they love to code and how coding has influenced them (in English).

Watch Chaves’ students talking about why they love to code and how coding has influenced them (in Spanish).

I am a Spanish teacher by training, but I took a risk to integrate CS into my curriculum and learned that this language does not have to stand on its own. It can be infused into any subject in any classroom. All it takes is a little innovation, trust and risk-taking.

One of my students put it best, “CS has opened a new pathway in my life. It has made me discover a part of who I am that I didn’t know existed. I can now see what I would like my future to be,” she said.

Andrea Chaves is a Spanish and computer science teacher and creative director at the Young Women’s Leadership School in Astoria, New York. She was recently named a White House Champion of Change.

Supporting and Empowering Male Educators of Color

Crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

The Male Educators of Color Symposium convened May 8, 2015 at the U.S. Department of Education (photo by Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)

Male educators of color are seldom recognized for our expertise in the engine that drives this country. But through the Male Educators of Color Symposium, the U.S. Department of Education shined a light on the work of the nation’s most underrepresented educators in preK-12 schools. At this gathering, some 150 plus men of various minority races discussed issues of policy, teacher mentorship, recruitment, cultural competency, and our roles in modern education.

Although collectively we comprise a very small percentage of the teaching force, our skills and dedication to the craft were largely represented at the symposium. Men traveled from as far as Hawaii to engage in the pre-planning of a significant step into changing the face of schools around the continental states.

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What is ESEA?

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. The law represented a major new commitment by the federal government to “quality and equality” in educating our young people.

President Johnson, Johnson, seated at a table with his childhood schoolteacher, Kate Deadrich Loney, delivered remarks during the signing ceremony for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. (Photo credit: White House Photographer Frank Wolfe/LBJ Library & Museum)

President Johnson, seated at a table with his childhood schoolteacher, Kate Deadrich Loney, delivered remarks during the signing ceremony for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965. (Photo credit: White House Photographer Frank Wolfe/LBJ Library & Museum)

When President Johnson sent the bill to Congress, he urged that the country, “declare a national goal of full educational opportunity.”

The purpose of ESEA was to provide additional resources for vulnerable students. ESEA offered new grants to districts serving low-income students, federal grants for textbooks and library books, created special education centers, and created scholarships for low-income college students. The law also provided federal grants to state educational agencies to improve the quality of elementary and secondary education.

In the 35 years following ESEA, the federal government increased the amount of resources dedicated to education. However, education remains a local issue. The federal government remained committed to ensuring that disadvantaged students had additional resources, however, because as a nation we were falling short of meeting the law’s original goal of full educational opportunity.

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The Pathway to Success at King/Drew Magnet High School

This is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom.

King/Drew Magnet High School isn’t just preparing its students for graduation; it’s preparing them for life.

The school may be located in one of the most disadvantaged parts of Los Angeles, California, but its students are reaching for the highest levels in education – and they are succeeding. Students at King/Drew not only gradate in high numbers, fully 90% of those who graduate go on to attend college, including many of the country’s top schools, and they receive millions of dollars in merit-based scholarships and university grants.

“All students should be prepared for college and for careers because they should have all options open to them,” says English Teacher Latosha Guy. Teachers at King/Drew are preparing their students for the future by meeting their full range of needs, from career internships and fairs to after-school health and educational tutoring.

Teachers and students across the country are working together to focus on college and career readiness by setting and reaching higher standards inside and outside of the classroom. Teachers are helping their students succeed by nurturing and building their confidence along the way. As student Symmon-e Scott puts it, “High expectations make me nervous, but I know I can do it if I really put my mind to it.”

In this new video, see how teachers are helping students overcome challenges in the community to succeed at school and in life. Improving Education: A View from King/Drew Magnet High School shows how students truly believe that “there is no other pathway that will bring you success like education.”

We will continue highlighting extraordinary educators doing remarkable things in classrooms nationwide in our video series. To learn more, visit our Partners in Progress page.

Hispanic Heritage Month Teacher Profile, Natalie A. Morales

Natalie Morales

Natalie A. Morales, EdD

Science High School Teacher in Newburgh, NY

Dr. Morales has spent fourteen years teaching Biology and more recently, Human Anatomy and Physiology, at Newburgh Free Academy, where she began her teaching career as a student teacher. In addition to teaching, she has spent time aligning her course curricula and developing new curricula for a course integrating science and technology. Dr. Morales has been selected to participate in numerous building level and union committees and trainings. She has served as a turnkey trainer and facilitator for the implementation of professional learning communities, classroom management skills, and the Common Core State Standards within her school. Dr. Morales recently began mentoring student teams conducting independent research utilizing network science as part of the Newburgh Free Academy’s NetSci High research program in affiliation with West Point’s Network Science Center. She is currently serving on Newburgh Free Academy’s High School Steering Committee which has been tasked with researching and developing an implementation plan for the creation of two independent high schools.

Dr. Morales holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology/Secondary Education from the State University of New York at New Paltz which earned her certification as a 7-12 Biology/General Science teacher. She returned to the State University of New York at New Paltz to earn her Master’s of Science in Education in Literacy Education which granted her Literacy Certifications in grades Birth-5 and 6-12. Dr. Morales also earned a professional degree for Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in Educational Administration which allowed to become certified as a School Administrator and Supervisor and a School District Administrator. She recently completed her Doctorate in Education in Instructional Leadership at Western Connecticut State University where she conducted a study comparing high school students’ and their teachers’ perceptions of factors affecting academic achievement and underachievement.

Dr. Morales was selected to the Class of 2013-2014 as a Phi Delta Kappa International Emergent Leader. As a PDK Emergent Leader, she served as the teacher advisory committee member, in Washington, DC, for the 2014 PDK Gallup Poll and reviewed applications for Phi Delta Kappa International’s Duncan Scholarship awarded to graduate students pursuing their doctorate degrees. Her Ed Profile was also featured in PDK’s Kappan magazine. Dr. Morales was also designated a New York State Master Teacher in STEM. She was one of twenty-six STEM teachers in Mid-Hudson, NY selected to into the first cohort of Master STEM teachers in New York State where she will be spending the next four years working towards the improving the integration of STEM and STEM careers within the classroom.

Dr. Morales is an active member within the New York State United Teachers union and Newburgh Teachers Association where she served was a former head delegate and is a current delegate of Newburgh Free Academy’s North Campus. She also serves as a delegate representing the Newburgh Enlarged City School District Teachers at the New York State Teacher Retirement System Delegate meetings. Dr. Morales is also a member of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum and Phi Delta Kappa.

Why do I teach? I teach because I have a heart for and towards my students.. I teach because I want to pass on all that I know to those who will listen both in and out of the classroom so that they, too, can become more informed and educated.

What do you love about teaching? I love to see my students’ self-confidence and self-efficacy blossom and grow over the course of the year as they acquire and apply their biological knowledge to real world applications.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? My high school biology teacher, Mrs. Murphy, exuded heart and passion when she taught which allowed for a positive teacher-student relationship to develop grounded in motivation and care.