- Ways to Give
Janette Rivera Gonzalez, 1st Grade Teacher, Northridge Elementary
Chris is a graduate of the University of Colorado with a BA in History and Education along with a Masters Degree in Educational Equity and Cultural Diversity. Chris has spent the past 10 years at Longmont High School and has taught a variety of classes including Honors U.S. Government, Advanced Placement European History, Personal Finance, Student Council, and Arriba Club. He is married to Malerie.
Chris was nominated by several people, including a fellow teacher who wrote, “Chris spent two years developing the new high school personal financial literacy curriculum and student handbook. He is committed to his trade. He goes above and beyond when working with his colleagues as well as in the classroom. He is a passionate teacher who loves his subject but also enjoys helping students learn the skills they need to be successful in life.” A previous student said, “I graduated in 2016 and I can say Chris single-handedly made my experience in school a positive one. He was the one who encouraged me to go to college out of state and realize my potential. More than anything, he genuinely cares about each of his students which is a rare trait. He puts his heart and soul into teaching and building relationships. He has led the Student Council, which I was president of my senior year. He made school enjoyable and a safe place for all students. I could write pages about how much he has impacted me, but most importantly, he made me feel important and capable.”
The 2018 St. Vrain Valley School District Educator of the year was nominated by several people, including a parent who wrote, “Some P.E. teachers can make their classroom about sports or running laps…however, this teacher brings humor, patience, and consistency to his classroom. He has an innovative approach about health and exercise. When learning about the heart, students walk into the gym to find Heart City, a room set-up with mats, stations, and heart rate monitors. Students become cells and travel through arteries and veins! He makes learning FUN! He is the type of teacher my children will ALWAYS remember when they look back at their elementary years, and, perhaps, as adults enjoy exercise! A colleague wrote, “This teacher is the heart of Longmont Estates! Every Tuesday and Thursday, for about an hour before schools starts, you can find this teacher with his 100 mile club with over 30% of our schools students participating. He works to integrate a variety of subjects in his work including using scanning technology with his 100 mile club, to mark how many laps/miles each student completes. For Pi Day, he had students enter the gym and run/walk for 3.14 minutes, and then explain the significance of that number. He finds ways to keep kids engaged and learning, no matter what the topic.” Mike’s principal wrote, “He took on a new challenge of teaching adaptive PE to students in our autism center school programs. I love observing him teaching our students with autism. It is MAGICAL. He is so kind to the students and what he has been able to get them to do is remarkable. He has done a great job of adapting activities for these students. He cannot hide the fact that he loves these kids. The classroom is filled with smiles, but the biggest smile is Mike’s!” For the last 14 years, Teacher Mike Newell has brought energy and enthusiasm to St. Vrain Valley Schools including Mead Middle School, where he taught 6th, 7th, and 8th graders; and for the past 7 years, Mike has taught at Longmont Estates Elementary. Mike is a proud graduate of Colorado State University where he played for the RAMS football team, and then continued his football career playing professionally for 5 years with the Green Bay Packers, Saint Louis Rams and Houston Texans. Mike credits his grandmother, who was a teacher in Rock River, Wyoming and Cherry Creek High School, as his inspiration to become a teacher and states, “What I like most about teaching is the ability to have an impact on children. Not only teaching them physical education skills but life skills and character building as well. Everyday has its twists and turns with no two alike, it keeps my brain healthy and active!” Mike’s Principal, Traci Haley, states, “It is hard to put into words the impact Mike makes. I have been in education for 20 years…, been in hundreds of classrooms and I can confidently say that Mr. Newell represents the best of St. Vrain Valley Schools. He makes a difference in the lives of children and on the adults that get the honor of working with him.
The 2017 St. Vrain Valley School District Teacher of the year was nominated by several parents of students and former students, a colleague and a principal. This is what they had to say: “This teacher is a one in a million teacher. My son will forever benefit from having him as his teacher. My son learned and was encouraged to think critically about literature, how to write creative stories, how to dissect materials and really analyze them and become a deeper thinker. He relates stories to me weekly about history, language arts and science facts he learned from Mr. Garcia, last year! My son had visual convergence issues and this teacher challenged him and us to raise the bar of expectations. This teacher knew our son could perform and learn at a very high level and then enabled our son to so achieve. He nurtures every child, invests himself in each student and tries his best to ensure that each one gets what he or she needs to grow as an individual into a positive and wonderful citizen.” Another parent writes, “I am a parent who enjoys seeing our daughter turn from a good reader who we had to entice to read to one who is a voracious reader because of the fire lit by this teacher.” She adds, “Our daughter has always been an artistic child, now she is a prolific writer of poetry, stories, and journaling and blogging because she has been exposed to this teacher’s teaching style, passion for his work and love for his students. He is constantly encouraging and challenging his students to be the best students they each can be, the best Coloradoans and the best partners in learning as they collaborate on lessons such as ramp and bridge projects to incorporate engineering and technology in his teaching. He updates us weekly by e-mail and on the class website about spelling, math and writing requirements and assignments. His excitement for learning is contagious and embraced by his students. He is kind, generous, humble and full of grace.” His colleague writes “this teacher exemplifies professionalism and passion for teaching every hour of every day. I have worked with him for twelve years and he inspires me to be a better teacher. Sharing ideas, working through challenges, mentoring teachers new and experienced, this teacher maintains a wonderful sense of humor. His passion for writing is shared by every student to have passed through his classes.” His principal tells of an individual who is repeatedly referred to by those in the community as “the best teacher I’ve ever had.” He is honored and revered by all in his community for he loves teaching his students. In an age of communicating in 140 characters or less, this teacher loves writing and helping his students share his love for writing. A published author, he seeks feedback from his students and learns from them! This teacher has been teaching children for decades. Already well accomplished, he could rest on his laurels, depend on ideas and strategies from his wealth of experience. Not this teacher! Whether it is use of technology or his many Schoology seminars for staff members, this teacher is at the top of his game — his craft and his calling. The principal states, “Recently I toured a mother and father through the classrooms, showing them all the wonderful things we have to offer. As we entered this teacher’s classroom the mother was brought to tears at the sight of this teacher. As he wrapped her in a huge hug, the principal could hear the mother tell this teacher what an impact he had on her life, when the mother was his student. For over forty years this teacher has worked in the same school and for forty years, according to our superintendent, he has always asked of himself, “What more can I do to help this student, to reach this child, to support this family?” An example for all who teach and educate children, our St. Vrain Valley School District 2017 Teacher of the year is Erie Elementary 4th grade teacher Mr. Charlie Garcia, known far and wide as Gar.
Ashley McIntyre shares her essay, “Why I Teach” with the Education Foundation for the St. Vrain Valley: “I am a teacher. As I write these four words, my entire body feels the weight of what that means. My heart is filled with an unbearable light and love for what I do. The role of the teacher, the place that she serves in the lives of young people, is one that I hold with sacredness. The teacher is so much more than just a position, so much more than just a job. As a young girl, teachers were my role models, my protectors, my encouragers. I formed tight bonds with my teachers and have not forgotten what they contributed to who I have become as a teacher, or a person, for that matter. Growing up in a home where everything was always uncertain—would the electricity be cut again, would dad leave again, etc.—school provided a place of much needed stability. For however unstable home was, I knew what I could expect when I got to school. In my classroom, I was free to be a scientist, a novelist, a mathematician. Whatever it was, I could do so because my teacher created a safe environment to explore limitless possibilities. In my teen years when I was in foster care, a time when nothing else in my life was sure—my teachers were a constant and that gave me a sense of belonging. Each one has left a lasting impression that I carry with gratitude. But there was one teacher in particular who I will always remember with gratitude and profound love–Mrs. Plitt. She was the one who showed me what it meant to not just teach, but to embody the principles of being a teacher. After all these years, there is not one day that goes by while I am in the classroom that I am not reminded of the awareness, compassion, and encouragement for each student that I felt from her. It is because of the profound impact that she had on me that I became a teacher myself. I have always said that if I could touch the life of just one of my students, as Mrs. Plitt had mine, then I had succeeded. For me, being a teacher goes beyond subject matter, assignments and grades. Being a teacher is being an authentic presence in the classroom. Being a teacher is being an example of what it means to be compassionate, honest, and devoted to those with whom we come in contact. Being a teacher is being aware of our roles and the powerful influence we have on our students, and being aware of how we choose to direct that influence. Being a teacher is about being authentic and modeling integrity so our students have a solid reference as they work through finding their authentic selves. I am currently in my tenth year of teaching and I can honestly say there have been many disheartening moments in my career. During my first year, I found myself disillusioned. I was shocked at the focus on testing and the explicit instructional time dedicated to testing strategies rather than the focus on real, authentic learning. Meeting after meeting, I found myself shaking my head in confusion and frustration at the approach we were taking with our children. In spite of my desire to leave the profession early on, I knew this was where I belonged. My heart could not abandon these students that I knew I could reach despite the restrictive manner in which we, as educators, were being asked to teach. For me, the silver lining behind all of the stress and conflict I felt was my ability to continue to meet each child everyday and know that my relationship with them was much more profound than any standardized test could show. Inherently, I knew the importance of building relationships and community with students. I also knew that in order to create these relationships, I must establish a strong community rich in compassion, openness and trust. To do this takes time and a conscious effort on my part to relate to each child on a human level; but this has always been the first area of focus for me. I know my place is in the classroom, with the students who continue to give me courage to continue teaching. My goal is to encourage critical thinking in the form of questioning, of really considering one’s opinions and the origin of their beliefs. It is my goal to support each student exactly where they are and invite them to examine issues present in the world, and how these issues impact them. I seek to unlock their desire to use their voices in the classroom and beyond, to have the courage to speak their mind articulately, intelligently and compassionately. The potential I see in them every day keeps me committed to my own development as a more authentic and compassionate human being, and it is through my example that I can guide them on their own paths. This is why I teach.”
The 2016 St. Vrain Valley School District Teacher of the year was nominated by 5 of her students and one of her colleagues. This is what they had to say: “The bell rings and the clamor of hundreds of middle school students fill the hallway, lockers are opening and closing as students rush to their next class. But somehow this classroom is like no other. It feels like students enter another planet, a better planet. It’s calm and tranquil in this classroom. It feels cozy and welcoming. Yet most of all, it feels safe to be in this room. There is a slight hum of mellow music softly playing in the background. The lights are low and a kind-hearted, gentle teacher awaits her students with a warm smile. To say this teacher is an excellent educator is an understatement; this person is a change agent. Under this teacher’s guidance students are transformed from apathetic, under-achieving students to eager, self-motivated genuine learners. This person intrinsically builds the most necessary ingredient for students to learn: trust. She creates such a bond with her students that they do not even realize how hard they are working as they are hungry to learn more and write more under her instruction. She is a master of her subject matter as she introduces great writers of the past and present to her students. She helps students in their self-discovery of everything from current, heated political topics to major catastrophes of the past through writing, summarizing and discussing emotional topics. Through these endeavors, her students make tough, real world personal decisions and take stands on what they believe in or reject. She plots out her year with the goal of having her students self-reflect and plan for their futures. She is not only a leader in our school in implementing Individual Career and Academic Planning into her weekly lesson plans, she is also an ICAP pioneer for the district and the state. She is a Race to the Top Relationship with Educators Accelerate Learning Mentor Program (REAL), a REAL mentor to 10 students. Many of her students’ parents and guardians work late shifts and she also makes herself available to them late at night and on weekends. Her students each speak to the calm, peaceful, trust-filled atmosphere of her classroom. They speak to her passion for teaching, the care and respect she gives to every student, the work she does on their behalf well beyond the end of the school day. She makes sure no one gets lost. She helps students overcome barriers and obstacles in their lives where no one else has been able to make a difference. When asked about this teacher, one supervisor said simply, “She changes lives!” One student speaks to this teacher’s ability to bring a lot of different kids together in a calm, safe environment. Depressed students, students with issues at home and school, “bad boys,” “goodie two shoes,” they all get together and work in peace and laugh together, almost like family. Another writes, I exuded the definition of outcast. I wandered the halls of my middle school as a living stereotype of my weirdness. Previous events in my life had left me broken and closed up, vulnerable and defensive. I was ready to live in the shadows, I was ready to slip by life without observing the oddities and the wonder of it all. The first day I stepped into her classroom I was taken aback. Her classroom was filled with calm energy. My broken heart and confused emotions ceased to exist when I met this teacher. She radiated wisdom, her eyes were old and knowing. And this teacher didn’t just care about me. She cared about everyone, with her entire heart and soul. She instilled in me a fire that I thought was blown out forever. She has worked so hard and has done so much for her students. She deserves the Encore Award because she doesn’t expect it. She deserves to be recognized because she has recognized the potential in every student who has passed through her class.”