Educators are up for big award
Arizona Daily Star
November  6, 2008



La Cima, Avenue B instructors nominated for teacher of the year <

By Andrea Rivera


Tucson, Arizona | Published:


Two Northwest Side teachers are finalists for Arizona Teacher of the Year.

La Cima Middle School teacher Becca Hughes and Avenue B Elementary School teacher Manuel Chavez are two of the five "Ambassadors for Excellence" in the running for the title.

"I'm really honored to represent La Cima and Amphi," Hughes said. "It's a wonderful district. We have great teachers here and they have been really supportive."

Chavez is humbled by his selection as a finalist, he said.

"I'm representing all teachers from Arizona," he said. "I'm not saying I'm the best, but I'm representing all the teachers."

Other finalists include Sarah Baird, Brian MacKenzie and Deb Moore.

MacKenzie teaches history at Patagonia Union High School in Patagonia and the other two teach in the Phoenix area.

Flowing Wells High School teacher Rebecca Hurst was named a semi-finalist but is not one of the five in contention for the award.

The winner will be announced Wednesday by the Arizona Educational Foundation at its awards luncheon in Scottsdale.

The 2009 Teacher of the Year will receive $20,000, a laptop from Intel, a Smart board and a scholarship to Argosy University, among other prizes.

From La Cima: Becca Hughes

La Cima teacher Becca Hughes wants her students to have a broad perspective on the world.

Hughes teaches Sheltered English Immersion language arts and writing to middle school students learning English and adapts her lessons to include social studies.

"My focus has always been on teaching second-language learners and social studies as well," Hughes said. "I always try to connect students to what's going on in the world and make them more aware of the world."

Students learned about voting last week as part of a lesson on complex sentences.

Her students had to write why they agreed or disagreed with a classmate's choice for "entertainment" president.

"They are interested in the real election," she said. "It's been fun to get them to see how the process works."

Expectations in Hughes' class are high, as there already is an achievement gap between her students and those who grew up speaking English.

She wants to instill in them a sense of purpose as she's teaching them to be bilingual.

"Beyond learning the communication skills and English, it's learning to have a high sense of self-esteem. A high sense of self-efficacy. They can walk out this door and be successful," she said.

Hughes has taught English language learners in Honduras, California and Massachusetts and believes it's important to embrace a student's culture.

Hughes, who started teaching at La Cima four years ago, more than measures up to Principal Gail Gault's expectations.

Not only is she a superb teacher who engages and connects with her students, Hughes is an intricate part of the La Cima community and she volunteers in the Tucson community, Gault said. When she's not teaching children how to speak English, she's teaching adults the language.

"She's the total package of what it means to be a good teacher and a good person," Gault said.

From Avenue B: Manuel Chavez

Manuel Chavez's students are attentive.

Chavez never turns his back on his sixth-grade students at Avenue B Elementary School in San Manuel.

In his class, the Smart board is a valued asset.

Chavez, who lives in Mammoth, walks around with a slate and can operate the Smart board, an interactive dry-erase board, from anywhere in the classroom. He prefers to stand in back of the class where he can better manage the classroom.

"It's amazing what we can do with technology," he said. "It makes my job easier and it makes it enjoyable for the students."

In class last Thursday, students didn't use a piece of paper and pencil to practice fractions, they used their fingers to drag fractions across the Smart board.

"Smart technology is very education-friendly and their Web site has lessons correlated to the state standards," he said.

Most of Chavez's teaching career has been aided by Smart boards.

Teaching is Chavez's second career. He worked in the San Manuel copper mine until it closed in 1999.

He only intended to work in the mine for six months as a way to save money for college.

"Unfortunately, it was a well-paying job so six months turned into 20 years," he said.

Chavez took advantage of government assistance offered to miners after the mine shut down and enrolled in college.

He graduated from Northern Arizona University in 2003 more than 20 years after a high school counselor told him he wasn't college material.

A teaching career remained in the back of his mind.

"I always thought if I am ever in a position where I can offer a student positive praise and encouragement, I will," he said.

His students are not without acclaim for their teacher.

"He understands how we are as kids," sixth-grader Roberto Lee said. "He thinks like we would think. He's a funny teacher every once in awhile, but when it's time to work, we have to work."

● Contact reporter Andrea Rivera at 806-7737 or