CHAPARRAL — All 22 of Arcelia Guillermo-Rios’ Desert Trail Elementary School students know why their teacher has been getting a lot of attention lately.
“We would all tell Mrs. Rios she’s the best teacher. Now the whole U.S. knows that she’s the best, not just the school,” said one of her fifth-grade students, Anarosa Garcia.
Guillermo-Rios, 42, was recently named Bilingual Teacher of the Year by the National Association for Bilingual Education, an organization that seeks to provide low-income students of color with equal opportunities to learn English and succeed academically. Guillermo-Rios will receive the award during the association’s 45th annual conference, which is scheduled to take place in March in Chicago.
“She is so giving of her time, her talents, her knowledge and, you know, as I wrote in the nomination, if I were to say a three-word phrase that encompasses Mrs. Rios, it would be, ‘She’s goose-bump good!’ ” said Desert Trail Principal Lucy Fischer. “There’s nothing that she can’t do.”
Fischer’s nomination letter describes the 18-year education veteran as a “powerhouse.”
“Her teaching is wonderful to watch, and the grade level given to her is immaterial. The excitement in the children’s faces is what makes her lessons so memorable to me even today,” Fischer wrote in her nomination letter.
Guillermo-Rios said she credits her success to allowing her students and their parents to take charge of their education, becoming proactive participants in the learning process. She said that she tries to differentiate instruction by tying lesson plans to real-life examples, allowing her students to make real-life connections between theory and practice.
For example, when her students were learning about the U.S. Constitution, she enlisted the help of a lawyer so that he could provide relevant examples of how the Constitution plays a role in their lives.
“The people that we bring, they represent our community. They represent us,” Guillermo-Rios said.
The elementary teacher said that when she creates lesson plans, she also calls on the help of institutions such as New Mexico State University because, as she said, “I don’t pay for it. I ask because there are people out there willing to help you.”
One of her students, Hugo Martinez, said she pushes the class to do better.
“Mrs. Rios always tells us to break the limit,” he said. “That we can do better than the best.”
In her biographical sketch that she submitted for the nomination, Guillermo-Rios wrote about her upbringing and how it shaped her aspirations to become a teacher.
Guillermo-Rios is the oldest of three children. They were raised by an undocumented immigrant single mother, Beatriz Guillermo. Because Beatriz Guillermo could not find work, she moved the family from El Paso to Pueblo, Colo., in the late 1970s when Guillermo-Rios was 5.
Once in Pueblo, Beatriz Guillermo had nowhere to turn. Fearing that asking for help might lead to deportation, she and her family were homeless. With the help of a good Samaritan who noticed that the family was living in a park, the Guillermo family was able to get help, allowing Guillermo-Rios to enroll in school.
“We were provided a place to stay and soon I was registered to attend school,” Guillermo-Rios wrote in her biography.
“I can still remember the excitement and the nerves I felt about attending school for the first time. Meeting my teacher was what meeting your first teacher should be. She was polite, attentive, enjoyed being with her students and most importantly she could understand me. … This is when I knew what I was going to be when I grew up, a bilingual teacher just like her.”
Guillermo-Rios, who has won other awards for her work at the Gadsden Independent School District, said teaching was about providing stability for her students, giving them a voice and treating them like more than just a number.
Her students say the recognition speaks volumes not only about the district but about the community as well.
Eduardo Trinidad said it was “great” that Guillermo-Rios represented and made Chaparral proud, noting that outside of those living in the New Mexico city, most people “don’t know where Chaparral is.”
“Mrs. Rios has good confidence,” Eduardo said. “Always telling us to keep trying, even when we feel like giving up.
Luis Carlos Lopez may be reached at 546-6381; firstname.lastname@example.org; @lclopez4 on Twitter.