Honoring Sally Paz y Miño-Wilson


Sally Paz y Miño-Wilson

Elementary School Teacher

Annapolis, MD

Sally Paz y Miño-Wilson became an educator because of her desire to support and fortify the children affected by generational poverty in her hometown of Annapolis, Maryland. She witnessed the cycle of poverty with which her classmates struggled throughout her PreK-12 years in Title I and challenge schools.  She began as a Social Work major at the University of Maryland College Park before changing her career path to Elementary Education.  At UMD, Mrs. Wilson was inducted into the Kappa Delta Pi Education Honor Society.  At the time of her graduation, she received a nomination to be the University of Maryland Commencement speaker.

Mrs. Wilson began her teaching career in 2010 at the British School Quito (BSQ) in her father’s birth country, Ecuador. She served as an ESL teacher, as the Ecuadorian students of the school received all academic instruction in English.  In 2011, she brought the ESOL experience that she gained at BSQ to Tyler Heights Elementary in Annapolis, a high-poverty, high-transience school of largely recent Central American immigrants, and students of low-income backgrounds with the goal of empowering all of her students through education.  There, she has continued her teaching career, working passionately to open the door of education to her students in order to accomplish the ultimate goal: to break the cycle of poverty and provide all children with the tools needed to become lifelong learners and achieve their goals for the future.  After completing her first year of teaching, Sally traveled to the Dominican Republic to serve as a bilingual literacy teacher with Outreach 360, an international nonprofit organization.

During her time with Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Mrs. Wilson has been an advocate for her students and the community. She has mentored many students over the years as a part of the school’s mentor program.  She has been a Saturday Kids’ College teacher in her district, whose goal was to build background knowledge through unique experiences for children in poverty.  She is a member of her school’s Community Engagement Committee, which seeks to build the school/home partnership in various ways including planning community events.  Since 2014, she has served as her school’s Intermediate Lead Teacher, as an instructional leader in the school.  In 2015, Mrs. Wilson founded the Teachers of Newcomers Think Tank, which brings together teachers of students who immigrated to the US within the last year, in which those teachers brainstorm strategies and best practices, in order to build teacher capacity to serve these high-needs students.  She is a member of the Maryland ELL Family Involvement Network, which creates and shares resources in support of ELL families in Maryland. Recently, she served as a volunteer for adult English classes for many of her students’ parents through her church.  Mrs. Wilson was recently appointed as her school’s Equity Liaison.  As the Equity Liaison, she will provide professional development to her fellow teachers in order to strategically close the achievement and opportunity gaps through targeted action steps.  Currently, she is pursuing a master’s degree in School Counseling in order to broaden her impact to more students and families.

Throughout her career, Mrs. Wilson has maintained her focus on breaking the cycle of generational poverty through bridging the gap between home and school, and recruiting families as partners in the learning process. She has planned various academic events for families to increase parent presence in the classroom.  She continues to act as an advocate for families in her community through planning and participation in family forums, community walks, and family partnership circles.

Why do you teach?

I teach to transform the community in which I live. I want to empower children to take charge of their futures, and believe that they really can live the life that they choose.  The work I do each day is centered on motivating children to believe that education is the ticket to a better life.

What do you love about teaching?

There is so much that I love about teaching. I love the magic that happens when a student who has struggled in the past begins to believe in the power of effort, and becomes more invested in her or her education. I love creating authentic lessons that get children excited about the content.  When a student makes connections beyond the classroom, and begins to carry skills to other arenas of his or her life, it makes me hungry to push on even harder in my efforts in education.

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

I had many wonderful teachers throughout my school career. The teachers who made an impact on me were those who showed passion and a love of teaching even in schools that presented unique challenges.  One stands out among them; Mrs. Patricia McQuade.  She showed so much compassion, love, and patience for each of her students, while maintaining high expectations to which her students rose.  She inspired me to go into teaching, and we remain in touch to this day.

Honoring Shajena Erazo Cartagena

Ms Erazo2

Shajena Erazo Cartagena

High School English/College Prep Teacher

Washington, DC

Born in New York, but raised in Miami, Shajena Erazo Cartagena is the child of immigrant parents from Honduras and Puerto Rico. She has had many influential teachers in her life that helped change the game for her, which inspired her to go into the classroom. A graduate of the University of Miami (UM) in 2009, Mrs. Cartagena received her Bachelor’s degree in English, with minors in Psychology and Religious Studies. After graduating from UM, she decided to do a year of service through an AmeriCorps program called City Year, where she served as a tutor, mentor, and role model to 28 first graders in Southeast, DC. It was that experience that solidified her desire to go into the classroom, where she is now beginning her seventh year as an English/College Prep teacher at Ballou High School, just nine blocks away from where she served her AmeriCorps year. Mrs. Cartagena has a Masters in the Art of Teaching from American University, and she is the 2015 American Express DC Teacher of the Year. She was also a 2013 Finalist for DC Teacher of the Year and a Finalist for the White House “Champions of Change” Award, presented by the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Why do you teach?

I teach because I believe that education has the power to change the life outcomes of my students. I am a first-generation American, whose parents were born in Puerto Rico and Honduras. And it was because I had teachers that cared greatly for me, that the trajectory of my life was forever changed. Education is the greatest gift I could ever give someone, and I love that I get to do that every day with my students.

For me teaching is more than a job. It’s ministry. It is about more than just teaching standards and meeting benchmarks. For me, teaching is also about developing the character of my students. It’s about showing them how to love, how to forgive, how to handle their anger. This is especially important when teaching in a low-income, high needs school, where students are constantly dealing with trauma. It is my hope that by being my students’ teacher, that they will not only get into college and careers, but that they will have the character that sustains them through challenging times.

What do you love about teaching?

My favorite part of my job is building relationships with my students. Each kiddo is so unique and has so much to offer the world. I love that I get to see them grow from insecure-and-timid freshmen to college-bound seniors in four short years. Of course, I am proud when my students improve their reading Lexile or raise their SAT scores. As an AVID (college prep) teacher and AVID Coordinator, I have the chance to explicitly teach my students the soft skills they need to be successful in college. So, I especially love it when their college acceptance letters start arriving to their homes. But truthfully, the part I enjoy most is getting to know my students and having the opportunity to shape the character and minds of America’s future, all while laughing and “getting to do life together.”

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

I’ve been so blessed to have so many incredible teachers that inspired me along my education journey. Because my mom passed away when I was three, and my dad became a single parent at 26 years old, responsible for my younger sister and me, education was a way that I was nurtured during that tumultuous time. If it were not for educators such as Ms. Mobilia and Mr. Falcon in my elementary school years, I wouldn’t have known what it meant to be challenged and pushed in elementary school, which is foundational for a positive experience with academia. Mrs. Young helped me navigate the awkward middle school years with her wisdom and social-emotional understanding of youth. And it was Mr. Muchnick who taught me about the about the world through courses in Global Studies and World History. He is the reason why I love learning about the world and truly value being a global citizen. My English champions and the ones who inspired me to get my Bachelors in English—an irony because Spanish was my first language—were Ms. Termine and Ms. Louis, whose love of literature allowed me to get lost and found in books. And it was Ms. Bailey who taught me how to refine my craft of public speaking in her Speech class, as well as my leadership because she served as my advisor during my tenure as Student Government President of my high school.

If it were not for these teachers, who willingly chose to teach in some of the toughest schools in Miami-Dade County, I would not be the person I am today, nor would I be the tender-but-tough teacher that I am now with my students in Southeast, Washington D.C.

Perhaps one day one of my students will say the same thing about me. And that, in itself, is the greatest honor one can receive—to learn that someone else’s life is different…better…forever changed because of…you.

Honoring Francisco Parra


Francisco Parra

High School Science Teacher

South Gate, CA

As a graduate of Pacific Palisades High School in LAUSD, Francisco Parra was well prepared for completing a biochemistry degree at Loyola Marymount University. The education he received has taken him from working as a cancer formulation scientist, to Columbia Law School, and finally to what he believes is his true calling, teaching. Currently, Mr. Parra serves as the AVID Science Teacher, Leadership Teacher, AVID Site Team member, Instructional Team member, and as School Site Council Secretary for a third year at STEAM Legacy High School in South Gate, CA.  Mr. Parra finds his work rewarding everyday.  He hopes to help provide an educational experience to our students such that they too can find their way to feeling self-actualized.

Why do you teach?

I teach because I believe our students deserve excellent public schools; I am driven and fulfilled by seeing my contributions towards this goal everyday.

What do you love about teaching?

Being part of the excitement my students feel when they are empowered to be successful at anything they set their mind to.

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

I was fortunate to have many dedicated teachers in my life. One, Ms. Matthews, was first to call me Mr. Parra. Years later I feel she saw in me what I now believe to be true, my true calling is teaching.

Honoring Marvin Cano

Martin Cano photo

Marvin Cano

Middle School Science Teacher

Los Angeles, CA

Marvin Cano was raised by two hard-working Mexican immigrants who came to the United States in search of a better life. When his father came to this country, he had the equivalent of a third grade education, while his mother had no formal education at all.

Equipped with the support and wisdom of his family, Mr. Cano was able to receive a Bachelor’s Degree from Whittier College. After college, he began his career in education working as a teaching assistant at Para Los Ninos Charter School. Shortly thereafter, he began the Teacher Education Master’s Program at UCLA. After two years of research and fieldwork, he received his Multiple Subject Credential as well as his Masters of Education degree as a Dean’s Scholar.

At the moment, Mr. Cano teaches middle school science and writing at Extera Public Schools, serving Hispanic students from the Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles in California.

As a science teacher, Mr. Cano works to deliver a science-based curriculum that has real implications for the lives of students. To bring awareness to climate change, seventh grade students are publishing informative essays using data from both National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Meanwhile, sixth graders studied neurology by dissecting a sheep’s brain. In this exploration, students were able to study the lobes and nerves also found in the human brain. Students also got the chance to use the same tools that surgeons use on a daily basis.

By immersing students in activities like this, he hopes to inspire other educators to design curriculums that are not only relevant to the lives of students, but also helps students become agents of change.


Why do you teach?

I teach because I want to be a resource for my students and their families. More specifically, I want to equip my students with the knowledge and confidence to maneuver a world that has historically denied them the opportunities they deserve. I teach because I want my students to become the surgeons, detectives, or physical therapists that they have long aspired to be. I also teach because I want to break down the language barrier that often exists between schools and families.


What do you love about teaching?

The best part of teaching is building relationships with my students. Since I teach 6th and 7th graders, I never know what a day is going to be like. There may be days when I can talk about anything my students, but there are also days when I have to deal with anger, tears, and frustrations. Although it might not be apparent, it is on these days that teachers have the opportunity to become superheroes. On those tumultuous days, I make sure to talk to my students one-on-one, give them scheduled breaks, or simply give them their spaces. It’s amazing to see how much students appreciate you when you take the time to care for them. Although I rarely get a thank you, I know I’ve made a difference when students greet me the next day with a warm, “Sup, Mr.” or that classic up and down head nod.


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

When I was in high school, I had a math teacher who made me retake a math course, even though I was only one point away from a passing grade. I remember going to him after school to pretty much beg him to pass me. After a few minutes of silence, he looked at me and told me that he was going to do me a disservice if he allowed me to pass. I remember storming out the classroom in complete shock, because I didn’t understand what he meant. Now that I’m older and wiser, I greatly appreciate Mr. Aviles for doing that. That conversation now shapes the lifestyle I live and the amount of effort that I put into my teaching.

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.