Audrey Jensen Arizona Republic
(CNT) City News And Talk #arizona
Teaching Spanish to her students at Chandler High School, Sara Wyffels said, is also teaching the power of human connections.
“In this time, in our world, it seems like the disconnect is larger, that the disconnect is building, and I really feel that learning a language can teach us how not only to articulate ourselves, but also how to really listen to other people,” she said.
Wyffels, a Spanish teacher in Chandler Unified School District, was named the 2021 Arizona Teacher of the Year during the Arizona Educational Foundation’s virtual award ceremony on Friday night.
During the virtual live event, which had more than 300 viewers, students of Wyffels said she shows a genuine interest in them, radiates happiness and creates a welcome learning environment.
Wyffels said she doesn’t consider herself to be the “owner” of knowledge or learning.
“I prefer to be into the curiosity with the students and to grow with them and to discover together, that it’s not just coming straight from me but that collectively we’re building knowledge and learning skills together,” Wyffels said.
This year’s Arizona Teacher of the Year virtual awards ceremony included speeches from previous award winners, foundation board members, business leaders, former Diamondbacks player Luis Gonzalez and Olympians sharing what teachers made an impact on their lives.
“Everyone’s story includes a teacher,” said the former teachers of the year award winners during the ceremony, including the 2019 winner Kareem Neal and 2018 winner Josh Meibos.
Teachers in Arizona faced unprecedented challenges when COVID-19 forced the shutdown of schools across the nation in March. Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman spoke at the ceremony to recognize the difficulties teachers faced this year.
“Educators, like our ambassadors for excellence, have persevered and provided students and families alike, with guidance, compassion, patience and care as they’ve navigated this year together during this difficult time,” Hoffman said.
The Arizona Teacher of the Year Award qualifies the winner to run for the National Teacher of the Year award. The Arizona winner also receives $15,000 in paid travel to National Teacher of the Year events, such as International Space Camp, a visit to the White House and Google.
The four ambassadors receive $5,000 awards and the semifinalists receive $1,000 each, according to the foundation.
Lynette Stant, who is Navajo and teaches third grade at Salt River Elementary in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, was named last year’s award winner.
“Little did I know how much my life would change after walking off the stage at last year’s event,” Stant said during the ceremony. “I was doing keynote addresses, speeches, podcasts, making presentations, writing articles, blogs, serving on various education task forces, and advocating for the field of education wherever I could.”
Stant was the first Native American teacher to earn the state designation, according to the foundation.
“As a Navajo woman teaching in a Native American school, teaching Native American students, my goal was to use my voice to inspire Indigenous students and educators to reach beyond the barriers they face and be more than the narratives they are assigned,” she said during the ceremony on Friday.
Stant also created Indigenous Educators Unite to support Indigenous kindergarten through college educators. The organization saw almost 200 members at its first meeting, she said.
On Friday, the foundation also announced a new four-year scholarship to study education at Grand Canyon University. In November, principals can start recommending a high school senior for the scholarship if the student is interested in becoming a math or science teacher, according to the foundation.
The other finalists include:
Estevan Carreon, a special education teacher at Independence High School in Glendale Union High School District.
Jillian Hernandez, an elementary education teacher at Puente de Hózhó Elementary School in Flagstaff Unified School District.
Sara Mora, a career and technical education teacher at Wrightson Ridge School in Sahuarita Unified School District.
Hillary Stacey, a chemistry teacher at Empire High School in Vail Unified School District.