Meet the winners

TOTY award winner banner

Learn more about the Participate Learning Teachers of the Year here.

Meet the finalists

The 2021 Teacher of the Year awards recognizes teachers within the Participate Learning network who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to their students, school communities, and our shared mission of uniting our world through global learning.

We invite you to meet our nine finalists and to join in their excitement about moving to the next round of the awards process. Click on their names below for highlights from their submissions and to hear how they reacted when they opened their congratulations emails!

 

Yanela Ferrer from Argentina

Maria Florencia Guida from Argentina

Paul Guille from the United Kingdom

Ana Herrera from Colombia

Natasha McLatchie from the United Kingdom

Rebeca Pacheco from Costa Rica

Erick Palafox from Mexico

Vanessa Ramos from Venezuela

Diego Rodriguez from Colombia

Yanela Ferrer

Yanela Ferrer
1st Grade, DL Spanish
 
Marvin B. Smith Elementary
Alamance-Burlington School System
3rd year ambassador teacher from Argentina

Watch Yanela’s reaction video

Finalist spotlight:

The Participate Learning network is part of my everyday life. I love to make connections through social media, mainly through Twitter, where I post my passion for global education. I exchange ideas, share resources, and participate in events with passionate teachers from around the world.

I felt extremely proud when at the beginning of the pandemic I was able to help other dual language teachers with tech tool tutorials. As part of the United We Teach community, I’ve had the opportunity to learn from others who shared their experiences and connected from wherever they were in the world. I also loved the summits because they gave me the opportunity to attend plenty of different sessions about the topics that I liked best. I also had the privilege of presenting at both of the United We Teach Summits. My sessions were Global Citizens at School, Mapping: Making Connections in the Global Classroom, and Raising Citizens of the World through Live Virtual Travel.

Furthermore, I’ve had the opportunity to be a local adviser for the third time. It’s important to remember where you were when you started this international experience and give back. I try to offer the best pieces of advice to new teachers and make them feel confident with the decision they’ve made. This has been an enriching experience to feel proud about the amount of things that I have learned during these three years.

I have also engaged with other communities such as National Geographic, Goals Project, and many others where I exchange knowledge and ideas with mostly international, bilingual, and teachers in training. I also participated in more than two hours of Instagram Live for an Argentinian Educators Network. In this experience, the interviewer and I talked about my international experience with Participate Learning and I encouraged teachers to explore the opportunity while answering plenty of questions about teaching abroad.

Being part of educator communities and being connected with fellow educators is my passion. Connect the world and make it better.

[Back to top]

Maria Florencia Guida

Maria Florencia Guida
6th-8th Grades, DLI Conexiones and Spanish
 
Sun Valley Middle
Union County Public Schools
2nd year ambassador teacher from Argentina

Watch Maria’s reaction video

Finalist spotlight:

“Our school community has embraced Ms. Guida and the work she has been called to do. Both staff and students have participated and provided support, dedication, and collaboration. Ms. Guida has facilitated collaboration sessions with several teachers from our school, planned pen-pal opportunities for her Conexiones classes, and coordinated for students to attend a meeting with the Ambassador of Mexico to discuss the state of COVID-19.

Ms. Guida has provided opportunity after opportunity for students to connect, collaborate, and learn locally as well as globally. Without reservation, Ms. Guida continues to show the community how working together and understanding culture and perspectives is a benefit to all.

Ms. Guida has been highlighted for many accomplishments, in addition to being a delegate and speaker at the Future of Education Conference. Being new to our country and school last year, her drive remains unparalleled and her courage to conquer and build long-lasting relationships is never disrupted as she continues to strive for success within the school community.”

– Mrs. Tomika M. Brown
Assistant Principal, Sun Valley Middle School

[Back to top]

Paul Guille

Paul Guille
4th Grade, Elementary
 
Douglas Elementary
Wake County Public Schools
3rd year ambassador teacher from the United Kingdom

Watch Paul’s reaction video

Finalist spotlight:

Some other Participate Learning ambassadors and myself were moved by the Black Lives Matter demonstrations over the summer. Collectively, we knew we could do better and be better by educating ourselves. We also knew that doing so would enable us to truly embrace equity in our classrooms and that it would benefit our classes and our schools.

It was decided that we would pick one book at a time and meet monthly to discuss it. We began with Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, and moved onto White Fragility, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and many other titles.

These meetings are some of the most precious opportunities I have had this year to meet with like-minded educators while doing work that is some of the most important I have done in my career to date.

[Back to top]

Ana Herrera

Ana Herrera
2nd Grade, DL Spanish
 
Bethany Elementary
Rockingham County Schools
2nd year ambassador teacher from Colombia

Watch Ana’s reaction video

Finalist spotlight:

In our classroom, I have designed learning activities that help children develop their open-mindedness and adapt to various situations and changes. I have worked with students on recognizing feelings in themselves and others to develop self-awareness and empathy; therefore, we do an SEL check-in during our morning meeting (virtual and face-to-face). We also use mindfulness and active breaks throughout the day.

I have worked hard to connect the standards in our curriculum to current events in different places and to provide real-life opportunities for my children to interact with the world around them. This year, we have engaged in many projects. One of them is a video-pal project called Flippals (via Flipgrid) where children connected with a class in Monterrey, Mexico to share their lives and traditions and learn about Mexican culture. This project has given them the chance to practice their Spanish with native speakers, one of our primary focuses when learning virtually.

We have also put a lot of attention into working towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. We started exploring the symbols and their meanings, which led us to have them on a wall in our classroom. Some of the children started doing actions aligned to those goals inside the school. We highlight those actions by placing their picture on each SDG symbol and having a whole-group reflection on those actions. I began receiving messages from some families sharing the actions kids were doing outside the school (taking reusable bags to the store, making a family campaign to pick up the trash during their travels, taking care of insects in the street, etc.). This work has inspired me to share their growth with our larger community and we are currently creating a book to promote those simple actions people can do every day to achieve the SDGs.

I am thankful for being an educator because it has allowed me to see that my actions can truly make a difference and has convinced me, even more, that empowering all children through education is essential to changing the world.

[Back to top]

Natasha McLatchie

Natasha Jordan McLatchie
2nd Grade, Elementary
 
R. Homer Andrews Elementary
Alamance-Burlington School System
2nd year ambassador teacher from the United Kingdom

Watch Natasha’s reaction video

Finalist spotlight:

During school closures, a global approach to learning has been a fundamental part of my teaching style. I feel that it is hugely important to incorporate global learning, and the global competencies, in all aspects of the learning and teaching experience for students, not just as a standalone experience linked with science or social studies. One way I brought a global approach to my teaching was by reading stories from a range of cultures, countries, and backgrounds as a part of ELA. Students were then able to develop their respect for differences through researching the origin of stories. Students had the opportunity to work in collaborative groups in order to carry out research on the country and continent where the story originated. Through this work, they not only learned about the history of the locations, the geography, the culture, traditions and the people, but also they developed a deep understanding of the true meaning of diversity, the fact that we are all a part of the human race, and that we have much to learn from each other as we all have different experiences. The inclusion of this small activity sparked incredible curiosity with my 3rd grade students which was amazing to witness. Hearing students excited and inquisitive about the world around them was truly a breakthrough moment for me in my journey as an educator, and they reminded me so much of myself at their age.

Within our school community, we are fortunate to have students and families from a range of backgrounds–Mexico, El Salvador, Jamaica, proud Black students who are inquisitive about their ancestry, and the list goes on. I make a conscious effort to include the families of these students by having them share their experiences, their cultural practices, and norms with our class. This has helped to highlight our self-awareness as global citizens–identifying how our experiences have shaped how we are as people, and for students, how their parents’ experiences have also helped to shape their lives. We developed an awareness of prejudice and discrimination and how some people are portrayed in the media, and we focused on forming our own opinions based upon our experiences with people and not what others say.

This was an extremely important focus for me as I have found students often echo what they have seen online or heard from others regarding people from differing cultures or countries, and I wanted to bring about a classroom culture which celebrated our differences and recognized the amazing diversity in our community.

[Back to top]

Rebeca Pacheco Morera

Rebeca Pacheco Morera
3rd Grade, DL Spanish
 
Glen Arden Elementary
Buncombe County Schools
2nd year ambassador teacher from Costa Rica

Watch Rebeca’s reaction video

Finalist spotlight:

I am passionate about being a Participate Learning Ambassador teacher because I am positive that the love that I put into teaching transfers into my students’ curiosity and love for learning. Becoming an ambassador teacher has been the greatest experience of my professional life. Through these two years, I have enjoyed learning new methodologies to make my lessons more engaging.

My greatest achievement this year has been building a strong classroom community during the pandemic. Even when staying remote for the whole year, my students and I have worked and supported each other, participated enthusiastically in the lessons, and cared for each other’s learning. I know that working remotely is challenging, and even at times when I wished I had my students in the classroom, we managed to feel connected even though we were apart.

I have really enjoyed listening to students speaking in the target language in breakout rooms, on Zoom, and on Flipgrid. I am amazed at how independent they have become and how much they have improved their computer skills. I just can’t believe this was their first year with a laptop, and it is extraordinary to me to see them using all of these different programs so fluently now. This shows me that all the effort I have put into making remote learning meaningful has paid off. I am honestly proud of all their hard work in such a challenging, unprecedented time.

[Back to top]

Erick Magdiel Palafox Palazuelos

Erick Magdiel Palafox Palazuelos
Kindergarten, DL Spanish
 
Bailey Elementary
Nash County Public Schools
2nd year ambassador teacher from Mexico

Watch Erick’s reaction video

Finalist spotlight:

Global competencies and the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are important to Erick and he takes every opportunity to incorporate them into instruction. And he doesn’t just keep his great global and language learning ideas to himself – he shares them schoolwide so that every colleague and student can be involved as well.

Thanks to Erick’s global mindset, students at Bailey Elementary School are welcomed with bilingual morning announcements, every month the school focuses on a different global competency, and he partnered with the school nurse on a project related to health and well being in the time of COVID-19. These are just a few of the ideas that Erick shared to demonstrate his commitment to creating curiosity in students while embracing both languages that are part of the school’s dual language program.

[Back to top]

Vanessa Ramos

Vanessa Ramos
3rd Grade, DL Spanish
 
Sherrills Ford Elementary
Catawba County Schools
3rd year ambassador teacher from Venezuela

Watch Vanessa’s reaction video

Finalist spotlight:

As an educator, I have made many positive impacts in the dual language program at my school and in the area of global learning, which are both aligned due to my role as a cultural ambassador. Currently, I am teaching third grade and we have had the opportunity to do a variety of activities such as Passports Around the World, where students join Google Meets with people from other countries and they learn about their culture, language, and country. They have also participated in virtual connections with students from Venezuela, as well as peers from North Carolina that are in other Participate Learning dual language programs across the state.

Since one of the global competencies is empathy, students have not only learned about and participated in projects related to Venezuela and other countries, but also those focused on their own culture, problems, and solutions. As part of the Global Committee at Sherrills Ford Elementary School, I was part of creating a project where the school collected food for the Catawba Food Pantry. This was a very interesting week where students showed empathy, caring, and appreciation. Currently, we are in the midst of a project exploring COVID-19 as a worldwide problem.

[Back to top]

Diego Andres Rodriguez Moreno

Diego Andres Rodriguez Moreno
6-8th Grade, Spanish
 
Oberlin Middle
Wake County Public Schools
3rd year ambassador teacher from Colombia

Watch Diego’s reaction video

Finalist spotlight:

“Mr. Rodriguez prioritizes student connections and knew that our students were struggling to make connections with others due to virtual learning. Mr. Rodriguez saw an opportunity to connect students from Oberlin with students in Colombia. He partnered with educators in his hometown to schedule weekly meet-and-greets between Oberlin students and students in Columbia. Every Thursday, students sign on to talk about everything middle schoolers talk about. From books, sports, hobbies, culture, food, and TikTok, these students are actively engaged in conversation.

Students take turns speaking in Spanish and English in order to help build fluency for both sets of languages. This unique experience has offered Oberlin students an opportunity to speak with native Spanish speakers and gain confidence in their conversational skills. In addition, this virtual meeting has become the highlight of the week for many and students eagerly await another opportunity to connect.

With the creation of the Oberlin-Cuidad Latina Project, Mr. Rodriguez has built a partnership that has greatly impacted his students this year and this has the opportunity to develop into a longstanding worldwide connection. Programs like this illuminate the power and the opportunities that become possible with knowing a world language. We are thankful for Mr. Rodriguez’s initiative and leadership in starting this amazing program.”

– Briana Pelton
Principal, Oberlin Magnet Middle School

[Back to top]

Meet the applicants

The 2021 Teacher of the Year awards recognizes teachers within the Participate Learning network who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to their students, school communities, and our shared mission of uniting our world through global learning.

We are honored these educators submitted applications for this year’s awards and recognize them for their efforts by sharing one of the highlights from their submissions. We hope you will join us in celebrating them!

Carlos Gonzalez

Carlos Gonzalez
3rd Grade – DL Spanish
 
Shiloh Valley Elementary
Union County Public Schools
5th year ambassador teacher from Colombia

Applicant spotlight:

“Mr. Gonzalez is not only a valued member of our dual language immersion program, he is a valued member of our Shiloh Valley community. He is a passionate educator and understands the paradigm that change begins with me. He has led by example during his UCPS career by building trusting relationships with students, parents, and colleagues. He understands how to honor and celebrate diversity and the importance of showcasing culture through core subject areas and the classroom.

He also facilitates learning by providing standards-based instruction for his DLI students. He has had a tremendous impact on his 3rd graders as he lives by the idea that teachers can empower students to take ownership of their learning. He implements best practices and the DLI instructional framework. He has excelled in developing the learning platform, Canvas, for his students. He also supports his colleagues with Canvas and has created professional development sessions for our district DLI team. He has impacted our district by leading the way in these areas.

Mr. Gonzalez is an exceptional member of our community and he has built a reputable legacy for our school, himself, and his students.”

– Susan Rodgers
Principal, Shiloh Valley Elementary

[Back to top]

Suzy Manuela Prajea

Dr. Suzy Manuela Prajea
10th-12th Grades, Upper Level Math
 
Zebulon B. Vance High School
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
3rd year ambassador teacher from Romania

Applicant spotlight:

“Dr. Prajea is an amazing educator. She teaches upper-level math courses at Zebulon B. Vance High School. As her supervisor for the past three years, I have seen great growth and determination enhance her instructional skills while eliminating language barriers. I have also observed that Dr. Prajea radiates passion and a zest for learning that is reflective in her commendable achievement data and her relationships with her students. She is always researching and employing instructional methods that will intrigue and inspire her scholars; especially during this pandemic through digital learning strategies. Dr. Prajea is also a beloved stakeholder. She productively supports and collaborates with her colleagues offering sound advice that will undoubtedly transform instruction and support.”

– Andre Dixon
Assistant Principal, Zebulon B. Vance High School

[Back to top]

Melisa Patino

Melisa Patino
5th Grade, DL Spanish
 
Carl A. Furr Elementary
Cabarrus County Schools
3rd year ambassador teacher from Colombia

Applicant spotlight:

At 5 years old, Melisa knew that she wanted to be a teacher and her desire to be the best one possible has only continued to grow over the years. In addition to mastering curriculum content, she has three goals for her students: she wants them to be good people, better thinkers, and caretakers of our planet.

As a lifelong learner, Melisa seeks out every opportunity to enhance her teaching practice. She completed her Masters in neuropsychology and education, and a Thinking Routines course from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, so she could acquire tools and strategies to support her young thinkers. She participates in the Global Goals Project annually as a way of promoting global citizenship and integrating the SDGs into her dual language curriculum. And she is always eager and willing to share her learning, resources, and ideas via sessions with others in her school and district, and beyond with larger groups of educators, such as FLANC (Foreign Language Association of North Carolina) and the Participate Learning network.

[Back to top]

Yuning Pan

Yuning Pan
6th-8th Grades, Quan Qiu Hua and Mandarin
 
Marvin Ridge Middle
Union County Public Schools
3rd year ambassador teacher from China

Applicant spotlight:

I think the greatest achievement during my time teaching with Participate Learning is sharing my Chinese culture and teaching Mandarin to my students here in America. It brings me a sense of satisfaction when my students’ horizons have been broadened and they acquire my country’s culture and language. When I share another country with them–one that is very different from the United States–it inspires them to think with a global vision and celebrate differences. It also makes me very happy to see the joy and excitement that they have when doing Chinese handicrafts and Chinese dancing.

It is a huge accomplishment for students who may have never stepped out of the United States to learn to be open-minded about my country’s culture, show caring to their peers and classmates when working in a collaborative environment, and demonstrate curiosity about other people in other countries.

I think I am in the right job, doing the thing that I love to do.

[Back to top]

Tatiana Rudiander Conte

Tatiana Rudiander Conte
4th Grade, DL Spanish
 
International School at Gregory
New Hanover County Schools
2nd year ambassador teacher from Argentina

Applicant spotlight:

“Tatiana is a veteran teacher, highly-involved, and deeply compassionate with her students and colleagues, both here and in her home country of Argentina. Even before she arrived in the U.S., my first experience of Tatiana’s stellar educator involvement was an invitation to a virtual PD week that took place in the Teaching Training College (Instituto Superior del Profesorado Rio Grande) where she worked in Rio Grande, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. I was thrilled that she included me in this event, as it allowed me not only to see her professionalism as a global educator, but the expert leadership that she would share with our building.

Just one year into her time with us, Tatiana already serves as her grade level chair, is on our Social-Emotional Learning Committee, and serves on our School Improvement Team–a commitment usually reserved for those looking to create long-term vision and change for the school.

Tatiana has worked diligently to use virtual connections to bring Argentinian culture to her classroom; in a virtual school exchange (which she also shared with the United We Teach Community during a live session on December 17, 2020), her students were able to see how Argentinians live and also how their same-aged peers are experiencing school during the time of COVID-19. I was fortunate to participate in these sessions, and to witness the positive impact it had on our students and the program model. This should be happening in every classroom, but it takes initiative, drive, and a work ethic like those found in Tatiana.”

– Jean Hall
Assistant Principal, International School at Gregory

[Back to top]

Carla Salinas

Carla Salinas
1st Grade, DL Spanish
 
Southwood Elementary
Davidson County Schools
5th year ambassador teacher from Chile

Applicant spotlight:

My mission as a Participate Learning ambassador teacher and dual language educator is to unite our world through global learning. I believe that when I prepare engaging, cultural, and fun lessons, my students can enjoy and learn things about the world at the same time. This makes me continue creating meaningful experiences that help them become global citizens. I always look for ways to improve my teaching practices through professional development opportunities. That’s my passion!

One of my proudest achievements was presenting a culturally responsive storytelling strategy session for the SCOLT2021 conference. It was a moment that helped me gain more confidence and come out of my shell. It was the first time in my life that I performed a presentation in English for an important audience.

Since I committed to work as a global and dual language educator, I took into account the importance of my job as a person in charge of other people’s learning. What I do and I don’t do during my teaching life matters to my students. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” If I want my students to become global citizens, my responsibility starts with seeking learning opportunities to improve and grow as a professional. Therefore, I can provide my students with the right tools to help them make our world a better place.

[Back to top]

Danielle Wynter

Danielle Wynter
3rd Grade, Elementary
 
Ferguson-Easley Elementary
Cumberland County Schools
2nd year ambassador teacher from Jamaica

Applicant spotlight:

When asked to describe how she engages with the Participate Learning network, as well as other educator networks, Danielle shared many examples of both engagement and leadership related to her school community, our ambassador community, and beyond.

As the 3rd Grade Supervisor, she attends district workshops, creates workshops based on her learning, and presents to her grade level and other colleagues. In her role as the secretary of the School Improvement Team, she is responsible for bringing grade-level concerns to the larger group and keeping that team informed about the activities and impacts of the ambassador teachers in the building. Danielle has shared successful pedagogical methods with the school staff and opened her classroom to aspiring teachers that are seeking to create a classroom culture that encourages and supports the analytical and critical thinkers of our future. For her colleagues, she provides differentiated activities, classroom management ideas, lesson plans, and tips on how to empower students and ensure that they become global citizens that look at the world with a critical eye, questioning assumptions, and curiosity to dig below the surface.

Danielle also supports her fellow Participate Learning ambassador teachers by sharing her personal experience and offering reassurance to some of our newest international teachers. In addition, she has provided members of our network with engagement activities and inspiration for making virtual learning engaging, interactive, and fun.

[Back to top]