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.

Honoring Emily Grijalva

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Emily Grijalva

High School English Teacher

Los Angeles, CA

Emily Grijalva roots her pedagogy in social justice and love. The youngest daughter of Central American immigrants, she has been an English teacher for 9 years. Currently, she teaches at Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez High School in Boyle Heights. She holds a B.A. in Sociology with an Education Studies Minor and a M.A. in Education with a Teaching Credential from UCLA. She also has a M.S. in School Counseling because she realized that her students needed social-emotional support as well as literacy skills. Emily received the United Way’s Inspirational Teacher award in 2014 and is a UCLA Writing Project Fellow. Along with teaching, she is a Restorative Justice Lead teacher, Students Run LA marathon leader, and works to engage parents and community members in supporting students’ education.

Why do you teach? I came to teaching when I realized how little I knew of my cultural heritage. Throughout my K-12 education, I did not read a single Latino/a author. I had studied very view historical events that included Latino/as. It was almost as if we did not exist. When I had the opportunity to attend college and I took my first Sociology course, I was finally able to learn about Latin American history. I quickly enrolled in Ethnic Literature and Latin American poetry courses. I remember getting goose bumps when I read my first bilingual literary piece. To see myself, my language, my cultural heritage woven into words being taught in an academic institution was awakening and affirming. I realized right then that it was unjust that I had to wait to college to learn about my heritage and decided to become an educator who would strive to make her curriculum culturally-relevant, inspiring and reflective of my school community.

What do you love about teaching? I am fortunate to witness my students discovering their voices and realizing that they are important contributors to society. I love that as an English teacher, I can incorporate art, music, theatre, and personal experiences along with the written word, and thus find multiple ways to engage youth and have them express themselves. Also, seeing students dream and work hard to make their dreams come true is a blessing.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? My 6th grade teacher, Mr. Haberstock went beyond the classroom to make sure I didn’t fall behind. As a child, I struggled with Math- and in that particular year, I became ill and would need to miss many days of school. Mr. Haberstock made it a point to come to my house afterschool and tutor me. I was able to keep up with the work and advance to the next math level. Now, I strive to be like him and always be mindful of my students’ realities and find ways to overcome obstacles that may keep them from learning.

Welcome Chief of Staff Michelle Moreno

IMG_3250The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (Initiative) welcomes Michelle Moreno to serve as Chief of Staff.

In this role, she works on driving the Initiative’s mission of increasing the Hispanic community’s educational attainment and outcomes through the development of key partnerships,  implementation of operations and capacity-building. Michelle most recently served in a predominantly Latino local school district in San Antonio, Texas working to ensure access to and expand the school district’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) initiatives. Through her leadership, she helped further opportunities for students to engage in STEM project-based learning experiences, robotics programs, and gain 21st century skills in order to foster a generation of “Engineers of Change.”

Prior to her work in San Antonio, Michelle was a Program Officer for the Migrant Education Program at the United States Department of Education in Washington, D.C. Her commitment to education opportunities and academic success was strengthened by the work done across the country to provide equitable and quality educational programs to migrant farmworker families. Also, Michelle proudly served in the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs to improve health care services and benefits for our nation’s veterans.

Michelle is the first member of her family to graduate from college. She earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biomedical Science from Texas A&M University and a Master of Arts Degree in Public Administration from American University.

Michelle can be reached via email at Michelle.Moreno@ed.gov.

 

#LatinosTeach, Honoring Cirilo Ojeda

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Cirilo Ojeda

High School Math Teacher

Pasadena, TX

Cirilo Moreno Ojeda, Jr. is the oldest boy of 9 siblings. He has a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems Technology from the University of Houston and a Master of Education in Instruction Leadership from Lamar University. This is his eleventh year as a classroom teacher and football coach where he serves as the offensive coordinator. Ojeda’s roles have included teaching 7th Grade Math, Algebra I, Math Models, Independent Studies Math, and now his role is focused on closing the achievement gap as the Math Department Intervention Teacher at Pasadena High School.

He commits his time to the whole school with various roles over the years as the sponsor for the Senior Class, Young Knights’ Leadership Academy, and the Eagle Elite Fitness Club. His leadership roles have included being the Algebra I Team Leader, Rice University School Mathematics Project, Expectation Graduation, and the campus Eagle Vision Team member.

Ojeda’s current time is spent working with at-risk students throughout the campus and helping them get on track and stay on track to graduate high school. It is very challenging at times, but well worth the effort. Ojeda has been nationally honored by Omega Delta Phi Fraternity, Inc. as a Knight of the Round Table. He has raised over $10,000 for various groups that he works with on campus. He volunteers his time to the East End Eagles Youth Football organization and has worked with local area youth with the Houston Texans Youth Football Camp and camps hosted by Arian Foster and Brian Cushing.

Why do you teach?

I teach because I am the oldest boy of 9 siblings. I accepted this role at a very young age and it has always been my job to lead and take care of others. Adversity, my story, and my experiences drive me to make me who I am. I feel it’s a calling that I have answered and take very seriously. There is always something I can give and the best part is when I can learn something from a student that helps me be a better educator. I teach because I always believe that every day there is someone I need to have a conversation with to help them get through their day. I like to build positive relationships and show young people that they can achieve anything. I feel it is important to teach them that their background, heritage, or socioeconomic status are NOT excuses to fail, but tools to help them grow to become stronger and successful individuals.

What do you love about teaching?

What I love about teaching is the daily interactions that I have with students to help them grow as a person. There are many choices students are faced with and being able to help them reflect on what they do and what they could do better is what I love the most. The academic piece is easier to achieve when positive relationships are built, confidence increases and expectations are raised and raised again as the year goes on. I love seeing and hearing from my former students that find success with higher education, careers, and their family.

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

Deborah Nasir inspired me to be more than I believed myself to be. I was a student athlete and while the term says what it should be, she said I was her oxymoron because I was a football player but also in advanced classes, top 10% in my class, and in the National Honor Society. She never let me produce anything less in her class than the expectation she individually set for me and I am truly grateful for the inspiration to become an educator like her.

Honoring Mayra A. Lara

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Mayra A. Lara

High School English Teacher

Maywood, CA

Mayra Lara is a high school English teacher who loves integrating literature to contemporary social issues. Mayra was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico and immigrated to the United States with her parents and older sister when she was three months old. She grew up in the Baldwin Village of Los Angeles and fondly remembers the apartment complex where she lived as it was filled with extraordinary people whose daily struggles were often dwarfed by urban sounds. Although the world outside of her complex was chaotic, the life her parents created for her and her siblings was rather calm. This background helps her create meaningful and lasting relationships with students so that they enter her classroom open to learning. Mayra received her B.A. in English Literature from California State University Long Beach where she also obtained her M.A. in Social and Cultural Analysis of Education. As a Teach Plus Policy Fellow, Mayra was featured in The Wall Street Journal and participated in a round table discussion with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. She is currently working on a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership for Social Justice at Loyola Marymount University and is enjoying applying theory to practice. In addition to teaching for nine years, Mayra has served as the English department chair, union representative, Students Run L.A. coach, adviser to several clubs, and was named Bell Teacher of the Year in 2014. Currently, she is working on helping to create safe spaces at her campus for young women to voice their dreams, fears, and aspirations

Why do you teach? I teach because growing up, school was one of my only safe spaces and I want to help create that for other students. I also love learning. I love sitting in classrooms and engaging in meaningful conversations with others and I think that I have learned more through dialoguing with my students over the years than they will ever learn from me.

What do you love about teaching? I love the sound of purposeful noise in my classroom just as much as I love the sound of awkward silence. I think that it’s during these times that the most important thinking and learning are happening. Most of all, though, what I love most about teaching is meeting young people, hearing their stories, and developing lasting student-teacher relationships

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? Yes! Carlos Valverde was my high school AP Spanish teacher and one of the most inspiring people I have ever met. He always encouraged me to challenge myself academically as well as think about college as a reality even though, at that time, I was an undocumented student. I think more than anything, Dr. Valverde helped me understand the world around me and find my place in it.

Honoring Lessie Paugh Ortiz

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Lessie Paugh Ortiz

High School ESOL Reading Teacher

Orlando, FL

From the tender age of six, Lessie Paugh Ortiz knew she wanted to become a teacher. She was quick to use any wall as a chalkboard and her siblings as pupils.  A 27-year veteran educator, she continues instilling her passion for language and reading to her high school students.  Today she proudly works at Freedom High School in Orlando, Florida as an ESOL reading teacher. Prior to assuming this role, Paugh Ortiz was an ESL teacher for 19-years in Puerto Rico.  Her commitment to education led her to support the work of the Project for Acquiring Language Mastery and Advanced Skills where she teaches adult learners twice a week. She also served in the Parent Leadership Council representing the Southwest Community. Lessie holds a Master’s degree in English as a Second Language from the University of Turabo and a Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez.

Why do I teach?

I have always known I wanted to be a teacher. I observed many of my teachers and emulated them – my siblings were my guinea pigs! Later on, I got the chance to help an English teacher with her first grade class. She explained what I needed to do. It was fun to see the students learn and practice the words in sentences. That was my “aha” moment that completely confirmed I wanted to be a teacher.

What do I love about teaching?

There are many moments that illustrate what I love about teaching. I love to interact with my students and see them accomplish significant benchmarks. I beam with pride when my students make literary reference to other books or authors. It is seeing the students’ progress long after they leave my class. It is seeing their eyes lit up because they start to believe in themselves.

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

I was blessed to have many amazing teachers influence my life. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Bermúdez, was strict and ran a structured class, yet constantly demonstrated her endless patience. My family had just returned to Puerto Rico from the States and I did not speak Spanish at the time. Mrs. Bermúdez helped ease the transition. I learned to read, write and speak Spanish that year! In seventh grade, it was Mrs. Morales who taught English literature and made reading feel like an adventure. In high school, it was Miss Ortiz, my English teacher, who encouraged my reading and suggested that I teach. Many teachers inspired my teaching journey, and I continue to borrow from each of their methods and apply those methods in my classroom.

 

Honoring Christopher De Leon

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Christopher De Leon

Middle School Science Teacher

Hudson, WI

Born in Corpus Christi, Texas, Christopher De Leon is an engineering and technology teacher at Hudson Middle School in Hudson Wisconsin. He has been teaching at Hudson Middle School for 16 years since receiving his Bachelor of Science Degree in Technology Education from the University of Wisconsin-Stout.  He also has a Master’s Degree in education from St. Mary’s University.  Coming from a family that values hard work and dedication, Christopher brought that work ethic with him to his school.  Christopher is member of the school districts “Teaching, Learning and Assessment” Committee, Technology Committee, SMART Goal Team and the Site Based Leadership Team.  He established the school districts summer STEM camp for students in elementary and middle school.  Mr. Deleon is also the mentor for student STEM Competition teams.  On a personal note, Christopher Deleon and his wife recently adopted 3 special needs children from the foster care system bringing their total number of children up to 5. Christopher has earned many accolades as an educator including: Herb Kohl Educational Foundation Fellowship Award, Space Academy for Educators “Right Stuff Award” and NASA Explorer Schools Merit Roll Educators.

Why do you Teach?

I became a teacher in order to help students reach their full potential. My goal is to challenge my students to be better than they feel they are capable of being.   I want all of my students to become lifelong learners that embrace learning as a natural part of who they are.  I expect the very best from my students and I give them the best that I have to offer in order to help them achieve that goal.

What do you love about teaching?

What I love about teaching is seeing the student’s joy when they find success while tackling a challenging lesson. Helping the students feel that they can do something when they feel they can’t do it is amazing!

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

When I was growing up, I had many good teachers but I can’t remember a teacher that I would say is “Great”. I do remember a history teacher when I was in middle school that was just about the worst teacher ever.  She made me feel like I was worthless as a student and like I was a waste of time.  I vowed that I would always make it a point to never be like that teacher.  Every morning, I promise myself every day that I will provide the very best education experience for my students that I can.  I quite literally say that to myself every morning.  My students deserve the best and that’s what I vow to give them.

ParentCamp International: Engaging Leaders from Immigrant Communities

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

ParentCamp International included several breakout sessions. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

ParentCamp International included several breakout sessions. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

When I first heard about the first ParentCamp International, I knew I had to be there! As a Hispanic/Latina mother of a son receiving Special Education services and who works closely with international families in schools, I felt I couldn’t miss the opportunity to meet decision makers in our educational system and share stories and experiences of our groups.

It was an eventful day! In addition to hearing from representatives of the White House, Justice Department and Secretary of Education John King, we were able to network and share stories during many breakout group sessions, which were incredibly meaningful.

During these sessions, we had truly honest conversations about issues international families and minorities face in our schools and communities. We were all able to talk about how we could collaborate to make changes that would positively impact their experiences. One thing that resonated in every session I attended was that every school with a high number of non-English speakers should have one or more bilingual liaison to assist these families and create a welcoming environment.

During the session about supporting families of students in special education (a topic dear to my heart for obvious reasons), we were able to talk about making the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) process friendlier for non-English speaking families. Having a child with developmental delays has taught me so much about compassion and acceptance, and whenever I sit at one of his IEP meetings, I cannot help but think about families who do not speak or understand English. Much of the terminology used in IEP documents can be very intimidating, even for English speakers! So, acknowledging something like this was very important to me. As a group, we talked about the importance of having highly qualified and trained interpreters who have a depth knowledge of all the vocabulary and terms commonly used in Special Education.

I also had the opportunity to attend a session about bridging cultural gaps between parents and children of different cultures – and this was perhaps the most enlightening. It was great to hear firsthand from immigrant parents of backgrounds that are different from my own. These parents were asking for more resources to help them get involved in their children’s education, especially more bilingual staff in schools. Many of them have the language barrier and don’t know who to look for when they need help. It was interesting to see how every school district has different programs to assist international families. Some are way ahead than others in the process, which is why we discussed how important it is for parents and community leaders to advocate for more resources and have their voices heard in events such as this.

ParentCamp International exceeded my expectations. I participated in real brainstorming sessions on how we could improve our educational system and provide international families the resources and tools to help their children be successful academically.

But perhaps the most important thing I took away from this experience was the people I met. This was a great chance to network with other parents and representatives from other school districts. I met a few parents from Virginia and Maryland who also have children in special education. We talked about our fears, struggles and hopes for the future. I also met others from Howard and Fairfax County who work with International families as well. We shared our concerns and the things we do in our schools to support family involvement. It got me thinking about the saying, “It takes a village.” It really does take an entire community to make substantial changes — and I am sure these conversations were the start of something great!

Valerie Perez Vega is a parent of four and was a ParentCamp International attendee. She also works with international families in Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Maryland as a Bilingual Family and Community Outreach Facilitator.

Honoring Matthew Medrano

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Matthew Medrano

High School Science Teacher

Los Angeles, CA

Matthew Medrano is currently a science teacher at the Green Design School at the Diego Rivera Learning Complex in South Los Angeles. His passion is the environment, and he shares this passion with his students during his Environmental Science and Advanced Placement Environmental Science classes.  He graduated from California State University Long Beach with a Bachelor’s in Biology and an option in Education.  He received his credential from the Transition to Teaching Program at California State University Dominguez Hills.  Mr. Medrano shares his passion for the environment with his students on a daily basis, working to create solutions for school, community, and worldwide environmental problems.  Additional, Mr. Medrano works with students daily to unlock their passions and create roadmaps into colleges like UCLA, USC, and CSULB.  In 2013 Mr. Medrano became a Nationally Board Certified Teacher, joining an elite group of teachers recognized for their excellence in teaching and learning.  Additionally, in 2014 Mr. Medrano joined UCLA’s Center X Science Project as a Lead Teacher, helping to introduce computer science, computational thinking, and Next Generation Science Standards into classrooms across the Greater Los Angeles area. Mr. Medrano is continuing his education of teaching and learning, working on his M.Ed at California State University Dominguez Hills.

Why do you teach?

I teach because it’s my passion. I know education is power.  I want to empower my students to follow their passions and empower others.

What do you love about teaching?

I love the “A-Ha” moments that I experience in teaching. Whether it is adult learners or student learners, seeing the accomplishment and faces of students when they solve a problem or create their own solution is unparalleled.

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

I was fortunate to go through school with many inspiring teachers.  However, the teacher that made the biggest impact in my life would have to be my Journalism teacher, Mr. Slagle.  In my four years with him, he allowed me to fail and succeed in a safe environment.  The trust and responsibility he placed in his students allowed them to practice real-world skills in a safe environment.  He is a prime example of living your passion.  His dedication to English Language Arts and Journalism extend beyond the classroom into the Greater Los Angeles Community.