Educators honored at Teacher of the Year awards ceremony
By Jennifer Berghom, Public Affairs Representative
(956) 665-7192
Posted: 10/29/2010
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Combined, they have almost eight decades of teaching experience and have influenced a myriad of students, including some who have gone on to become faculty of The University of Texas-Pan American's College of Education.

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UTPA hosted its sixth annual Teacher of the Year Awards ceremony Wednesday, Oct. 27. This year the event featured the new UTPA College of Education Teacher Legend Award. Longtime educators Sylvia Alvarado, pictured third from left, and Criselda J. Guerra, pictured third from right, were the award's first two recipients. Also pictured from left to right are: Dr. Hector Ochoa, dean of the College of Education; Dr. Velma Menchaca, profesor in the educational leadership program; Dr. Veronica Estrada, professor of curriculum and instruction; and Dr. Miguel Nevárez, professor of educational leadership, executive director of the UTPA Coastal Studies Lab and former UTPA president.

And on Wednesday, Oct. 27, longtime educators Sylvia Alvarado and Criselda J. Guerra were honored for their work in inspiring UTPA faculty to pursue a career in teaching. Alvarado and Guerra received the first UTPA College of Education Teacher Legend Award during the sixth annual Teacher of the Year Awards ceremony and banquet held at the UTPA Annex.

The award is given to longtime educators from the Rio Grande Valley who received their education at UTPA or its earlier incarnations and have inspired and created a lasting impact on their students who have gone on to become UTPA faculty members.

"We recognize that we wouldn't be standing up here to be able to do and love what we do if it weren't for the teachers who taught us," said Dr. Hector Ochoa, dean of UTPA's College of Education.

The annual event pays tribute to elementary and secondary teachers from school districts throughout the Texas Education Agency's Region One, which includes the Rio Grande Valley. Educators are selected by their respective school districts.

This year, the University honored 47 teachers from 25 school districts. All but three of the participating school districts chose one elementary and one secondary teacher to reward. The other three school districts chose one teacher for their awards.

Teachers enjoyed testimonials from three students about how they were encouraged by their honored educators to do well in school. They also heard about the importance of developing group leadership from the event's keynote speaker, Dr. Miguel Nevárez, a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership, executive director of the UTPA Coastal Studies Lab and former president of UTPA.

Ochoa also recognized Dr. John Edwards, vice president for the Division of Enrollment and Student Services, for his contributions to the annual event. Edwards, who announced his retirement earlier this semester, was instrumental in the development and continuation of the awards ceremony and his office has co-sponsored the event every year.

Ochoa, who nominated legend award winner Alvarado, had her as an Algebra teacher at McAllen High School and called her "a master teacher."

During every class Alvarado would make sure she met with each student in class to receive feedback on whether they were understanding their assignments, Ochoa said.

"She could teach anyone Algebra," he said.

Dr. Veronica Estrada, professor of curriculum and instruction, nominated Guerra, her junior high school science teacher in San Isidro, for the legend award. Estrada said it was Guerra's passion for teaching her students everything from science to dancing that inspired her to become an educator.

"She taught me how to be an active learner," Estrada said after the ceremony.

Both educators said they were honored and excited to receive the award, and that they both returned to teaching after brief retirements because they loved working with children so much.

Though she has been a professional educator for more than 40 years, Alvarado said her career as a teacher began when she was a child, teaching her younger siblings and later tutoring friends in high school.

"I firmly believe I was put in this world to teach," Alvarado said.

Guerra has always had an inclination for science and mechanics. She originally desired to be a research scientist, but she wanted to stay in her hometown of San Isidro more, so she decided to become a science teacher instead and hopefully educate future scientists.

"All you have to do is remember to love your job," Guerra said.

Honorees are:

Brownsville ISD: Nancy Waterhouse, Elizabeth Stone

Donna ISD: Malgorzata Grabowski, Amber Wang

Edcouch-Elsa ISD: Rocio Torres, Gloria Gonzalez

Edinburg CISD: Martha Ortiz, Melissa Rowland

Harlingen CISD: Jesse Salvidar Jr., Thomas Bald

Hidalgo ISD: Naila Martinez, Domingo Ganno

La Feria ISD: Anna Lisa Garcia, Graciela Campos

La Joya ISD: Albert Fuentes, Angela Castilleja

La Villa ISD: Jennifer Montelongo, Laura Escamilla

Lasara ISD: Sandra Martinez, Robert Peynado

Los Fresnos ISD: Laura Treviño, Priscilla L. Molina

McAllen ISD: Leanne B. Sanders, Rachelle Grace

Mercedes ISD: Antonio Anzaldua III, Ana Lisa Treviño-Garcia

Mission CISD: Dolores G. Reyna, Norma Carrera

Monte Alto ISD: Susana Palacios, Julissa Torres

PSJA ISD: Robert Sandoval, Sergio Sauceda

Point Isabel ISD: Jesus Orta

Rio Grande CISD: Maria Teresa Ramirez, Sara E. Saenz

San Benito CISD: Jaime Y. Rodriguez, Jason Stern

San Isidro ISD: Elvira Garcia, Criselda J. Guerra

San Perlita ISD: Stacie Lopez, Paula D. Martinez

Santa Maria ISD: Ricardo Guerra

Sharyland ISD: Cheryl Viera, Lila Torguson

Valley View ISD: Candelaria Peralta

Zapata County ISD: Juanita M. Wheeler, Roel Ibanez