Maria Requena is a first grade teacher at Midvale Elementary in Midvale, Utah where more than 70 percent of the students speak English as a second language. A Title I school, Midvale has one of the highest transient rates and the highest free and reduced lunch rates in the district. The children who fill Mrs. Requena's classroom come from various cultural, educational and economic backgrounds, making her job both diverse and challenging. This year Requena is one of six Utah educators to win the 2010 Utah PTA Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Education. The 20th anniversary Golden Apple Awards Ceremony airs on KUED-Channel 7 Thursday, May 27 at 7:00 p.m.
Aware of the learning diversity among her students, Mrs. Requena works to incorporate a variety of learning techniques using visual, audio and kinetic exercises to reach each child. "We have students that read on a high school level in sixth grade and we have sixth graders that can barely read," says Midvale PTA President Suzanne Walker. "It's a challenge to teach at Midvale Elementary but it is also a place where great teachers can make a huge difference in a child's life."
That's where Requena comes in. Author of My Language My Success (or, Mi Idioma Mi Exito), a phonetics program designed to help parents teach their children English, Requena followed the Utah State Core Curriculum and adhered to the National Reading Board's emphasis of phonetic awareness, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. "She spent years developing, refining, publishing and obtaining a copyright of My Language My Success," says Midvale Principle Karen Kezerian. "This support has been invaluable as [children] learn vital literacy skills in both English and Spanish thus retaining their own heritage and culture while learning to adapt to a new environment."
Originally from Mexico City, where she taught elementary education with the LDS Church Education System for 16 years, Requena immigrated to the U.S. with her five children in 1991. "Frustration and anxiety were feelings she faced as she tried to successfully adapt and help her children not to become discouraged," says Kezerian. Requena's experiences led her to become a teacher. She received her Bacholers of Science in Elementary Education, attending classes at Salt Lake Community College and BYU.
Requena works to build a learning environment balanced between creative freedom and effective discipline. Her class discipline plan is one of "pulling cards," where each progressive card has more serious consequences. However good behavior receives great rewards. "Mrs. Requena lets the students know that she can change her mind," says Walker. "This helps the children understand that there are consequences for their actions but it also helps them to know that there is always hope."
Requena stresses the importance of a caring relationship between teacher and child. She also stresses a caring relationship between child and parent, sending home a special recognition package when a student accomplishes something wonderful in class. "She uses the resources that we have in our school wisely and in innovative ways to help the parents see what their children are doing and to recognize their accomplishments," says Walker.
Working to build self esteem and confidence in her students, Requena couples her commands and instructions with loving words. "It's wonderful to hear her say 'Sit down, beautiful.' or 'Enjoy your library book' and not just 'Sit down' or 'Read your book,'" says Walker. "You can tell she truly loves them and wants them to be the best students they can be."
Once a year Midvale Elementary presents Dual Immersion Pageant, a song and dance celebration in honor of diversity. Requena invites parents to participate in planning the event, using their skills to help with costuming, decorations and choreography. The pageant is always the biggest event of the year, with the greatest attendance. "Mrs. Requena's class is often asked to perform at various community events like Cinco de Mayo, Canyons School District Opening Day Party and they have even performed for the Mexican Ambassador," says Walker.
Requena is a teacher who always has an eye on the greater community while maintaining a successful classroom. When Midvale PTA planned "Safety Night," Requena invited her Hispanic friend working with the FBI to talk to Spanish-speaking parents about drug abuse, spouse abuse, gangs and the importance of speaking out against these things. Several nights a week she takes her program My Language My Success across school districts to train other educators and parents. "Much of her work, time and supplies she gladly donates to alleviate the anxiety of what she felt when she first came to this country," says Kezerian. "She has literally benefited hundreds of struggling parents and students. Every school needs a Maria!"
"My belief is that the parents role in the children's education is the key to their success," says Requena. "At home children need to develop self esteem and feel their parents genuine caring."
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