ALAMOSA —Teaching is often a thankless job, however 14 educators from around the San Luis Valley were recognized for their hard work and dedication on Wednesday night. During the 33rd Annual San Luis Valley Outstanding Education Recognition Banquet, the San Luis Valley Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) gave Monte Vista School District's Tracy Simon the top honors of being the Outstanding Educator of the Year.
At the start of the awards ceremony Cheri Jones, last year's winner, spoke about having passion to the crowd gathered at the Rodeway Inn. Inspired by Josh Drean's "Find your because" speech given to Ortega Middle School students in January, Jones said that teachers have to find and fuel their "because" to stay motivated.
She said that there are three things teachers could do to be more effective in the classroom. The first was that teachers have to have enthusiasm for what they do.
"If we don't find something exciting, how will they find it exciting?" asked Jones.
The second point was for teachers to interact with students when they're learning, rather than simply stand at a chalkboard. She told the audience to "get off your butts, get off your phones," and treat other kids like they'd want their children to be treated.
Finally, she instructed teachers to build relationships in their classroom by finding out about their students' hobbies, such as social media and video games. "Let them know you have a genuine interest in them," Jones said.
She then had teachers stand up in the banquet hall each time they've seen hungry kids save their breakfast for food at home, seen them come to class without bathing or changing clothes, had to console students worried about deportation or comfort students about other topics. Many teachers stood up multiple times.
"I challenge every one of you here to reach out to these students and build relationships,” said Jones. "They need us now more than ever...Some things in education you can't control, but you can control this."
Jones ended her speech with a toast to the other educators. "Teaching is our 'because.'"
Before handing out the awards, BOCES Board President Tina Freel said, "Educators are born, not made."
The following teachers were recognized:
Monte Vista School District
Tracy Simon (Educator of the Year)
Tracy Simon, pictured above, has been with the Monte Vista School District for 12 years where she teaches special education at the Byron Syring Delta Center and Monte Vista Online Academy. Simon received a BS degree from University of Tennessee along with a teacher licensure in elementary education and a MA degree in special education from ASU.
Simon has a dual role in her current special education position with the Delta Center alternative education program and Monte Vista Online Academy program. She handles that dual role extremely well by ensuring that learning is focused and clear enough that both students and teachers know what is going on so learning can be objectively measured.
"It is truly a calling," said Simon. "I'm truly honored."
Alamosa School District
Maxine Baker has been with the Alamosa School District for 20 years where she teaches high school English. Maxine received a MA and BA degree in the arts.
She believes in mentoring her students and helping them along their path to becoming thoughtful, engaged, self-aware citizens who are able to make choices that reflect their most cherished values and dreams.
Centennial School District
Nikkole Zincone (Not pictured)
Nikkole Zoncone has been with the Centennial School District for five years where she teaches Kindergarten. Zoncone received a BA degree in elementary education from Adams State University.
Zincone instructs students individually and in groups, using various teaching methods such as lectures, discussions, and demonstrations. She feels that as an educator it is her responsibility to grow the “whole child,” so that success can happen in the classroom.
Center School District
Kevin Hagan has been with the Center School District for five years where he teaches seventh and eighth grade ELA. Kevin received an AA degree from Colorado Mountain College, a BA degree and a MA degree from Adams State University.
It is evident that in his lesson plans and lesson delivery Hagan's core belief is that all kids can achieve regardless of their language, background and socioeconomic status. His belief is that every student can think and deserves to be challenged in a way that will prepare them for life after high school.
Del Norte School District
Jill Martinez has been with the Del Norte for 21 years where she teaches seventh and eighth grade social studies. Martinez received a MA degree in American history, a MA in curriculum and assessment, and a BA in secondary teacher education.
Martinez communicates with students and parents consistently and she spends many evenings after school working with individual students. She ensures that she provides students with a variety of learning opportunities to cater to all learning styles. Martinez guides students to make connections within history and makes each topic relevant to the students.
Moffat School District
Lyndal Smith has been with the Moffat School District for 19 years where she teaches high school social studies. Smith received a Bachelor of Science in human development and family studies from Colorado State University.
A special focus in her classroom is to create in depth, hands-on learning units that allow students to highlight their skills through a variety of mediums and methods. Smith has taken numerous groups of students on excursions exploring the state of Colorado.
Mountain Valley School District
Andrew Virdin has been with the Mountain Valley School district for six years. Virdin teaches high school English. He received a MA degree in education from University of Tennessee and a BA degree in English from Furman University.
Virdin believes that educators shape the future of our world by preparing the youth of today. They facilitate growth, understanding, and pride. His students are encouraged to express opinions and ideas in a respectful and safe environment.
North Conejos School District
Kim Meis teaches physical education for the North Conejos School District where she has 26 years of experience. Meis received a BA in K-12 physical education and elementary education from ASU.
Meis uses the SPARK Program (sports, play active, recreation, kids). She believes that this program has helped her to provide quality instruction to her students. She models activities so students can visualize the activity. Meis collaborates with classroom teachers to integrate spelling, math, social studies, and science into her PE lessons.
Sanford School District
Tracy Larsen has been with the Sanford School District for four years where she teaches junior/senior high school English. She received a BA degree in secondary language.
Larsen exemplifies effectiveness with criteria, she also demonstrates exceptional dedication, innovation, passion, and commitment to meeting the needs of each of her students in the Sanford School District.
Sangre de Cristo School District
Roxanne Vigil has been with the Sangre de Cristo School District for six years where she teaches high school English. Roxanne received a MA degree in education, a BA degree in English, a BA degree in Spanish arts and a minor in America Sign Language from ASU.
Vigil ensures that learning is on a collaboration that constantly allows for progress to be measured. It is never her goal to influence the minds of her students, but instead to model for them the importance of questioning why they believe the things they believe.
San Luis Valley BOCES
Christie Sederquist has been with the San Luis Valley BOCES for three years where she teaches special education at Ortega Middle School. Sederquist received a BA degree from Concordia College.
She creates a classroom with high common expectations for not only her students but also the paraprofessionals that work with her to meet the needs of the students. Sederquist has created a great structure and culture of learning.
Sargent School District
John Willis has been with the Sargent School District for years 22 years where he teaches high school social studies. He received a BA in social studies education from ASU.
Willis has taught many different grade levels. He is also a sponsor for Knowledge Bowl, student council and history fair. Willis is a facilitator who provides opportunities for students to hone important skills.
Sierra Grande School District
Eileen Gonzalez has been with the Sierra Grande School District for three years where she teaches kindergarten. She received a CLD Masters from ASU.
Every child in Gonzalez's class shows a tremendous amount of growth and her dedication to her class is second to none. She is a professional and works with other staff members to create an environment conducive to learning for all of the students at Sierra Grande.
South Conejos School District
Cordelia Lujan has been with the South Conejos School District for five years where she teaches K-12 art. She received a BA degree from ASU.
Lujan's focus has always been to give children the chance to show their highest abilities, to show what they excel at. She is not in teaching for herself; she is into teaching for the students and giving them the confidence to go out into the world and be creative, be successful, and have the strength to be proud of who they are.