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OWP Teacher Consultant Named Oregon Teacher of the Year

October 14, 2011

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The Oregon Writing Project is delighted to spread the news that Elena Garcia-Velasco, Spanish Literature and Language teacher at Roosevelt High School, OWP Teacher Consultant and Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling alum, has been named Oregon Teacher of the Year.

From an Oregonian article by Betsy Hammond:

Elena Garcia-Velasco, a demanding and successful Spanish teacher, didn’t hesitate when asked to name the mentors who helped make her an exceptional teacher. “My students are the biggest teachers I have ever had and my biggest influence.” In her acceptance speech, she ignored dignitaries and spoke to students. “This is about you. Every day, we come here because we believe in you and know you are full of possibility. It is our honor and our responsibility to make sure that you do reach your potential.”

Along with her students, Garcia-Velasco’s mentor while an intern in Lewis & Clark’s M.A.T. Program was Michele Stemler who taught Spanish at Jefferson High School.

OWP Director, Linda Christensen has known Elena since they taught together at Jefferson, and this is where she learned first-hand about Elena’s passion for teaching and her extraordinary commitment to her students.

In 2003 Elena participated in OWP’s 4-Week Invitational Summer Institute, and after the Institute, she kept saying, “We need to host an institute for Spanish immersion teachers.” Elena regularly attended Portland Public Schools immersion meetings where she spoke about the Writing Project. A couple of years ago, she proposed the immersion institute again; OWP discussed the possibility with district leaders, and the course was on. Teacher Consultant, Elizabeth Schlessman, an elementary immersion teacher from Woodburn, joined our Writing Certificate Program, and the two of them, along with co-director, Mark Hansen, created the immersion institute taught entirely in Spanish.

Christensen also traveled to Mexico with Elena as part of a series of border trips co-sponsored by Rethinking Schools and Global Exchange, and led by Bill Bigelow.

“While Elena and I shared early morning searches for coffee, we also shared an amazement at the passion and ingenuity of people oppressed by the politics of the border. But Elena doesn’t stop with compassion — for those caught between the border or those living in the United States whose dreams have withered because of poverty and politics. She fights for her students by making sure they are prepared for their future.”

A great example of the impact of Elena’s dedication to her students came last year when Roosevelt student, Angel Gutierrez, the sixth child of seven in a Spanish-speaking North Portland family, earned a full scholarship to Brown University.

In a thank-you letter to Elena, Angel wrote “Cuando yo haga algo enorme en mi vida lo voy a hacer con la educación que mis maestros y maestras me han dado.” (When I do something big in my life, I’ll do it with the education that my teachers have given me.)

For the full story on Angel Gutierrez see: http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2011/01/angel_gutierrez_senior_at_port.html

Congratulations to Elena Garcia-Velasco who has done something big in her life: She’s been a teacher — an outstanding one.

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