Hispanic Teacher Profile, Natasha Escobar


Natasha Escobar

Spanish High School Teacher in Baltimore, MD

Natasha is a dedicated and passionate educator. She currently teaches Spanish at Paul Laurence Dunbar High in Baltimore, MD. Natasha grew up along the U.S.-Mexico border in Brownsville Texas. Although both Natasha and her parents were born and raised in the United States, her family maintained a strong sense of their heritage and culture. Natasha’s Mexican-American upbringing would later help her draw from her own experiences as a foreign language learner. It would help her to connect and reach her students who were not at all familiar with the Spanish language and the diverse cultures that share it as a mother tongue. Natasha attended the University of Texas in Brownsville, Texas and received her B.A. in History. In 2014, she received her Master’s in Educational Studies from Johns Hopkins University. She has served as a grade level team leader, a member of the instructional leadership team, and has sponsored various student clubs. Next, Natasha plans to take students out of the country for the ultimate immersion experience. Aside from teaching, Natasha really loves exploring new cuisines on different continents.

Why do you teach? I teach because that is what I have always done. Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a teacher in some capacity. Initially I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher, and I would even play pretend school with my dolls. Later, I decided I wanted to be a college professor. I attended the university with that intention. One year after I graduated, I began volunteering as a tutor for high school students in DC. I had such an amazing time that I decided to apply to Teach for America and become a teacher.

What do you love about teaching? I love the creativity that is essential to teaching. I also love the spontaneity that comes with teaching. Each day is a new opportunity for both my students and I to learn and grow, both of which are difficult and messy processes. There is nothing like seeing students experience success through trial and error.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? There was a professor in college who not only inspired me, but mentored me as well. I met Dr. Kendall during my first year of college. I remember he asked me to stay after class one day and I was terrified. I thought I was in trouble or did an assignment wrong. It turns out he just wanted to get to know me better. That semester he helped me decide on my major, which also happened to be the subject he taught. He is also the person that suggested I be a college professor. He was the perfect mix of tough and warm – and I will never forget him.


Hispanic Teacher Profile, Faith Rodriguez


Faith Rodriguez

Second Grade Teacher in Thermal , CA

Faith M. Rodriguez is a 2nd grade teacher at Las Palmitas Elementary School in Thermal, CA. She has been teaching for the past 11 years within the Coachella Valley Unified School District. Faith has always been inspired by her parents to do her best and follow her dreams to become a teacher. Both her parents are Mexican immigrants who came to the states to better their family’s life. Faith received her Bachelors, teaching credential, and Masters in Education from California State University, San Bernardino. She has served as grade level lead for her school, organized National Young Readers Day, and taught summer school for Migrant students. Not only does she teach within the public school system but she also serves at her church as a Sunday school teacher. There she organizes Vacation Bible School for the community. Faith believes her experiences will help encourage her students to further their education by attending college.

Why do you teach? Ever since I could remember I’ve always wanted to become a teacher. I teach to make a difference in a child’s life. My goal is to make a child feel at home when they come to school. Our children are the future.

Growing up my parents always instilled the importance of obtaining an education. Even though my parents only spoke Spanish and struggled to help me, they always found a way to encourage me. I share my personal story every year with my class. I share it in hopes not only to inspire them, but that they dedicate themselves in striving to attain their goals.

What do you love about teaching? There’s nothing more that fulfills my heart than seeing a student’s transformation happen in my class or beyond. I’ve always reflected on the teachers that have made an impact in my life and I strive to do the same for my students.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? To this very day I can still recall my 2nd grade teacher Mr. Loomis. Mr. Loomis was an awesome teacher who always put us first. Every morning he would greet us at the door and welcome us to school. He made a connection with each of his students. He wanted to make sure we felt safe and cared for. Mr. Loomis taught me to make a connection with my students. If a student feels like you care, then they will care to do their best in school.


Hispanic Teacher Profile, Manuel Hernandez


Manuel Hernandez

Elementary School Music Teacher in Washington, D.C.

I was born in Morazán, El Salvador, a state that was heavily impacted by the Salvadorian civil war. For the same reason in 1990, my mother decided to migrate to the United States leaving me with my grandparents at only 4 years old. In 2001, my mother decided that it was time for me to travel to the U.S. When I arrived in Washington, DC, I went to school to learn English and improve my musical skills. Being the son of a mother who fed us by cleaning houses and getting paid the minimum wage, I was encouraged to keep studying and have no limits on my educational goals. Therefore; once I graduated from Bell High School with honors, I decided that I wanted to be the first one in my family in the US to go to college. In 2012 I obtained a Bachelor’s degree in music education from the University of the District of Columbia. That same year I started working in DC Bilingual Public Charter School (PCS) as a part-time music teacher while I was working on my M.A in early childhood education. Now I’m a full time educator at DC Bilingual PCS where I teach music from Pre-kinder 3 to 5th grade, have an 18 student school choir, and 6 students enrolled in one on one piano classes.

Why do I teach? I teach because I want a better world, a better society and better human beings. I believe that humans are like trees, their beginning is fundamental for their later life. Being an elementary educator gives me the opportunity to effectively address my students.

What do I love about teaching? I love to see children learn and be exposed to experiences that they otherwise would not be exposed to if I was not there. I love to see them have fun every time they go to my classroom. I love to see them grow physically, mentally, and  socio-emotionally year after year.

Was there a teacher that inspired me? Yes, my uncle! When my mother left, she assigned my uncle to be responsible for my education. He was the first one in my family in El Salvador to go to college. He would walk for one hour to ride the bus to go to college. He would study overnight to be the above his peers, that inspired me. I was also present when he obtained his degree in psychology. Because of him,  I knew from a very young age that going to college was not an option but a must.


Hispanic Teacher Profile, Eleonora Villegas-Reimers


Eleonora Villegas-Reimers

Associate Professor at Wheelock College in Boston

I am currently an Associate Professor at Wheelock College in Boston, where I work in the preparation of teachers, both the undergraduate and graduate levels. I joined the faculty of Wheelock College in 1988 as Assistant Professor, and was promoted to Associate Professor in 1995. In 2004, I was appointed Acting Dean of the Child and Family Studies Division after having served as the Coordinator for the Child Development and Early Childhood Program, and the Child Development Studies program since 1998. In 2006 I was appointed Dean of the School of Education and Child Life, and in 2009, I was named Chair of the Elementary Education Department. Prior to coming to Wheelock, I was a high-school teacher and an Assistant Principal in a private K-12 school in my country of origin, Venezuela. I started teaching during my first year of college; the country was in need of prepared teachers, and college students in teacher preparation programs were able to have their own classrooms. I started teaching pre-schoolers, but soon moved to teaching 7th, 8th and 12th graders. I focused on social studies and citizenship education with the younger grades, and on sociology with the seniors. After 6 years in the classroom and now with a bachelor’s degree (and a teaching license) in hand, I came to the U.S. to do my master’s and doctoral degrees in Education at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. While studying about moral education and working as a teaching fellow, I developed a passion for teaching teachers. I realized that I could contribute to the education of children quite effectively if I prepared the teachers who work with them. I love working with new college students who have dreamed all their lives of becoming teachers; I also love working with those who have been teaching in the field and come to graduate school for more education. Educating teaching candidates about how to work effectively with all children, including Latino children, immigrant children, and ELLs in particular is something I think of as a mission. I am convinced that teachers have the highest influence on children after their families.

Aside from the work I do with teachers in preparation at Wheelock, I also do other work that benefits teachers and schools: I serve as a Board member to the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care, as an advisor in a number of workgroups and taskforces of the Boston Public Schools, and have worked as consultant and advisor to a number of international organizations such as UNESCO, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Board on International Comparative Studies of the National Research Council, and the Academy for Educational Development on matters related to education, teacher preparation and development, education for democracy, and values education.

Why do you teach? I teach because I believe that the best way to effect social change is by educating individuals who can think critically, solve problems, develop a sense of responsibility to get involved, and ultimately change their own lives, that of their families and their communities.

What do you love about teaching? I love engaging with students in a deep way that allows them to learn and truly understand their role as educators, community members and citizens of the world. I love seeing a student’s face when they have understood something for the first time, when they have accomplished a major goal, and when they have experienced the exhilarating moment of seeing a child learn something new, from reading for the first time, to something about their community.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? I was very lucky with ALL of my teachers; in one way or another, I have learned from all my teachers. They inspired me when I was in their classes, and they continue to inspire me to do my best so that other children can be as fortunate as I was with such caring, dedicated, knowledgeable and expert professional educators! I am grateful to all my teachers.


Hispanic Teacher Profile, Arlene Perez

Arlene Perez

Mathematics  Middle School Teacher in Washington, DC

Growing up in Pico Rivera, California to two Mexican immigrants, Arlene knew the true value of a great education.  She became the first in her family to graduate from college. Having been a product of the Pico Rivera public school system, she understood the struggles English Language Learners faced and the critical roles teachers play in student lives to go to college.  Arlene received her bachelors at the University of California, Santa Barbara in Political Science and Philosophy in 2011, but realized that if she wanted to pursue a career in Education Policy, she needed first-hand experience as the role of an educator. That summer, she joined Teach for America in Washington D.C. as a middle school math teacher where she taught math entirely in Spanish to an amazing group of students who came from diverse backgrounds. These students mirror her experiences as a child since they are also first generation, English Language Learners of Latino descent. Teaching math not only allowed her to see that policy has a major influence on her students’ lives, but it also gave her the opportunity to notice the positive impact a Latina role model can have on their academic success. Because she has seen the lack of Latinos in STEM education, she is continuously striving to have her students fall in love with math by leading a coding course, a robotics team, having a Parent Math Course for Spanish speaking parents, and getting her team of 7th graders ready for this winter’s DC Math Quiz Bowl. Moreover, alongside her Teach for America coach, Arlene created Teach for America’s La Familia in DC to build a community of Latino educators in the DC region and aided with the recruitment efforts in DC and in LA to increase the number of Latino applicants to Teach for America. Arlene serves on the board for Teach for America’s The Collective and Young Alumni Board. She currently teaches 7th grade Math at Oyster Adams Bilingual School in Washington D.C.

Why do you teach? When I hear the terrifying statistics about Latinos regarding high school completion rates, college graduation rates and students pursuing STEM majors, it is the fuel that drives me to teach my students every day. These statistics are not simply numbers, they represent me, they represent family members, and they represent my students. I teach because I want to make sure that my students know that I was once in their shoes and they can achieve anything their hearts desire. My students need someone who can advocate for them and show them the way to college.

What do you love about teaching? I absolutely adore my students! They are the most creative, intelligent, unique, and hilarious human beings you will ever meet. Being so far away from home, these students have become my family. I love that we share so much knowledge and culture in our classroom. They are truly the reason I teach.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? Definitely! My 5th grade teacher Mrs. Lomeli was the main reason I went into teaching because she advocated for me to exit out of a bilingual classroom (knowing I would later be tracked in middle school) and how that affected my chances of attaining AP courses by the time I would enter high school. Moreover, my high school Calculus teacher Mr. Francis is truly my role model when it comes to teaching math. He would stay at school tutoring my classmates and I until 8pm at times and truly believed in me when I didn’t. He was someone who was there for his students no matter what and always told us how we were smarter than a calculator. Because of him, I make sure to have strong relationships with my students so that they know that I will always be there for them and even till this day, I continuously remind them that they are smarter than a calculator.


Hispanic Heritage Teacher Profile, Amadis Velez


Amadis Velez

World History & Expository Writing High School Teacher in San Francisco, CA

Amadis Velez was born and raised in Berkeley, California and lives in San Francisco’s Mission District. He earned his BA in Psychology and Spanish Literature from UC Berkeley and his JD from George Washington University along with an MA in International Studies. He obtained his teaching credential from San Francisco State University, where he also serves as a mentoring teacher for aspiring teaching candidates. Amadis began his career working as a voting rights attorney at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF). In 2007, Amadis found a new calling as a world history and expository writing teacher at Mission High School in San Francisco. He specializes in teaching newcomer students from all nationalities on how to navigate the complex and nuanced process of admission to an American university.  In addition to teaching, Amadis proudly serves as the faculty sponsor of the Awaken Dreamers Club that seeks equal opportunity and access for students who encounter barriers because of their immigration status. In his summers, he also worked as the co-director of Aim High at Urban Promise Academy in the Fruitvale district of Oakland, California.

Why do you teach? I teach so my students can have equal access to higher education. I teach to help my students find their own voice. I teach because I am needed as an advocate, a mentor, and an instructor.

What do you love about teaching? I relish in the direct and absolute honesty of high school students. I love working with recently arrived immigrant youth who cling to the dream of making a better life for themselves and their families. I appreciate the subtle process of building trust and respect, and then encouraging my students to reach heights they never imagined. Most of all, I love sitting behind a student when they open an offer of admission from a university and thinking “si se puede”.

Was there a teacher who inspired you? I was fortunate to have been taught history by Mr. David DeHart at Albany High School. His classes were inspirational and controversial and he demanded that I reach a higher bar. When I graduated I knew it was only a matter of time before I would follow in his footsteps. As I continue to develop my teaching practice, I am fortunate to count on the support of Mr. Robert Roth, an experienced colleague in the Mission High history department. He has taught me to juggle a multitude of responsibilities while always remaining focused on the essential and fair rigor that we must demand of all our students.


Hispanic Heritage Month Teacher Profile, Selina Alonzo


Selina Alonzo

English High School Teacher in Phoenix, AZ

For eleven years Selina Alonzo Helton has represented an outstanding commitment to children and families in her community. As an English teacher in the Phoenix Union High School District, Mrs. Alonzo Helton demonstrates a love of learning and a passion for her profession.   She was named her district’s 2009 Teacher of the Year, and was also honored in 2010 with the Esperanza Award given by Chicanos Por La Causa, Inc.  As a community member, Selina represents urban families by serving on the Board of Directors for The Neighborhood Center, through Neighborhood Ministries and also through volunteering.  As an expression of their faith, Selina and her husband Phillip are committed to working for justice by living, teaching, serving and fellowshipping in the Calle 16 neighborhood of downtown Phoenix. In 2012, Selina was selected as a White House Champion of Change by the White House and the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Why do you teach? I have a bulletin board in my room labeled, “The Reasons I Teach” it has pictures of students that span 11 years. I teach because of them and for them. They are worth the effort.

What do you love about teaching? I love the opportunity to impact and motivate youth. I love that I play a role in shaping hearts, minds and the future of this country through education.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? I have had so many AMAZING teachers. I am fearful to make a list because I know I will leave someone out, but Sallie Chalfin, Sharon Bernero, Jose Arenas, DeeDee Falls, Lynn Palacios and Pat Robinson are the ones that stand out the most. What’s true about all of them is they all told me that I would be something someday and they believed and pushed me into success. As an adult I am still a student and I have been greatly impacted by Dr. Kent Scribner. He has invested in me and challenged me to always be the best version of myself. Furthermore I have had the opportunity to learn while teaching alongside powerhouses like Reyna Huerta, Alaina Adams, Pam Ramsey, Gerald Neal, Carrie Deahl, Edie Fluker, Gayle Deaver, Judy Laufer, Dr. Robert Turley and Dana Cook. These colleagues teach me daily.


Hispanic Heritage Month Teacher Profile, Octavio Alvarez

Octavio Alvarez

Octavio Alvarez

Mathematics High School Teacher in Los Angeles, CA

Octavio Alvarez is a mathematics teacher at Brawley Union High School where he has been teaching traditional and bilingual mathematics for 12 years. Mr. Alvarez graduated from the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California with a major in Civil Engineering, but decided to pursue a career in teaching. During his time at Brawley Union High School, Mr. Alvarez has improved the academic outcomes for Southern California English Language Learners, and has equipped his students with the knowledge to succeed after high school. In 2012 Mr. Alvarez was recognized by the California Association for Bilingual Education for his contributions to improving the English Learner Mathematics Program as well as improving student outcomes on the California Standards Tests and California High School Exit Examination. That same year, he was selected as a White House Champion of Change by the White House and the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Why do you teach? Teaching is a passion for me. It enables me to transfer all of the knowledge and wisdom I have gained over the years to my students.

What do you love about teaching? I cherish the opportunity to inspire and help students who have typically had difficulties with the educational system. I want to help my students succeed and prepare them for real life experiences after high school.  I also love teaching because it enables me to give back to my community.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? Absolutely yes. When I was a student in Mexico, I admired my math teacher because he had a lot of wonderful strategies to teach us math concepts. He liked to use many real life examples and infuse humor into his lessons that made the environment feel very comfortable. In fact, while I teach math I emulate techniques used by Mr. Cerda, my old math teacher.


Hispanic Heritage Month Teacher Profile, Elaine Romero


Elaine Romero

Teacher in Albuquerque Public Schools, NM

As a high school student, Elaine had dreams of being a teacher but lost confidence in herself as a Latina surrounded by a predominantly White student body. However, she was able to regain her confidence and earn a Master’s in Education from the University of New Mexico. Her goal is to ensure no students find themselves in a similar situation but instead retain their confidence to accomplish their dreams. Twenty years after her graduation, Elaine served as a long-term substitute in a small Catholic School. After that she completed an education post-bachelor program and placed herself in high-need classrooms. She currently works with Albuquerque Public Schools to improve teaching in high-poverty, high-minority schools. Her other accomplishments include securing a federal Comprehensive School Reform Demonstration grant in her first year of teaching. She has also been involved as a Teacher Ambassador Fellowship for the US Department of Education, and worked with Strengthening Quality in Schools, a New Mexico Public Education Department initiative for school improvement. She is also an education policy analyst for the New Mexico Senate and a community activist for creating strong public schools for all children. Elaine is completing a Doctorate in Educational Leadership.

Why do you teach?  I teach because teaching is a social justice profession and one that is essential to preserving American democracy

What do you love about teaching?  What I love about teaching are the relationships that develop with children, my colleagues, and the community – who respect educators.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? There was no single teacher who inspired me as a K-12 student but at the university level, renown Chicano writer Rudolfo Anaya was my undergraduate advisor and he helped me understand our history in New Mexico and the Southwest.  Currently, my dissertation chair, Dr. Allison Borden inspires and encourages me daily to stay persistent in completing my dissertation work.


Hispanic Heritage Month Teacher Profile Joseph A. Almeida


Joseph A. Almeida

Sixth Grade Mathematics & Science Teacher in New Bedford, MA

Joseph A. Almeida, in his 10th year of teaching, currently serves as a sixth grade mathematics and science teacher at Keith Middle School in his hometown of New Bedford, MA.  He has worked at KIPP STAR College Prep Charter School and KIPP Infinity Charter School in New York City.  He has written the district-wide curriculum and assessment systems there as the Official Point Person for the Mathematics Working Group.  In 2011, Mr. Almeida led his students to earn the second highest scores in Manhattan among charter schools on the statewide mathematics test.  Prior to joining KIPP in 2008, Mr. Almeida began his career as an educator at the Paula Hedbavny School (PS/MS 278) in the upper Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood as a Teach for America corps member upon graduating from Georgetown University in 2005.  During his tenure at this school, Mr. Almeida taught fifth grade, was a member of the school’s leadership team, and founded an after school dance troupe called Groove Theory (in honor of the group that he helped to develop while a student at Georgetown.) In 2007, due to his leadership in the classroom and his students’ high academic achievement, Teach for America selected Mr. Almeida as its National Teacher of the Year and awarded him the Sue Lehmann Award for Excellence in Teaching.  In that same year, Mr. Almeida earned his Master’s degree in childhood education from Pace University.  Mr. Almeida has appeared on national news networks, in various national publications and is one of the featured educators in Steven Farr’s book entitled Teaching As Leadership: The Highly Effective Teacher’s Guide to Closing the Achievement Gap.  From August 2011 to June 2012, Mr. Almeida worked at the Alma del Mar Charter School in his hometown of New Bedford, Massachusetts as a founding teacher and chair of the mathematics department.  Joseph is also an America Achieves Fellow as well as a Student Achievement Partners Fellow.  He has facilitated presentations for district leaders, principals and teachers at various conferences across the country with regards to Common Core implementation.  He also has a very popular and helpful YouTube channel that explains to teachers, parents and students the content of the Common Core in math.  It is called Math with Mr. Almeida, http://www.youtube.com/user/MathwithMrAlmeida.

Why do you teach? I teach because I know that our young people need adequate guidance to hone the academic and character skills that will enable them to be productive, self-sufficient, and happy in both college and career.  I know firsthand the power of having a teacher that motivates her students to achieve excellence, and I want to be that leader for my students.

What do you love about teaching? Everyday has the potential to be the greatest day of your life.  I love that I learn more about my students everyday and the best ways to reach them.  As a math teacher, I love when students get the concepts that for years they did not understand.  Having a student develop a love of learning—both inside and outside of the classroom—is what I enjoy the most.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? I had many inspiring teachers when I was a student.  One teacher stands out the most because she helped me to see that school could be just as engaging and fun as my learning experiences were at home with my mother.  Her name is Ms. Kay LaFontise, and she was my second grade teacher.  We learned about the life cycle through mealworms and had spelling bees.  She devoted her lunch periods during the first month of school to take each student out to lunch and make each of us feel special.  And we still stay in touch today after she made a surprise visit to my classroom while I was teaching.