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Two Emporia Teachers Receive Horizon Awards

Jan 6, 2016 | District News Release

Alissa Miller, Manuel Estrada Among State’s Best Young Teachers

010616 alissa miller 4 WEB

EMS teacher Alissa Miller (right) is congratulated by her class and Principal Wendy Baumgardner.

Two Emporia teachers lear ned today they are Horizon Award winners and among the outstanding young educators in Kansas.

Manuel Estrada Espinoza, a third grade teacher at Walnut, and Alissa Miller, sixth grade language arts teacher at Emporia Middle School, were notified of the awards by Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson.

The Emporia educators are among 32 Horizon Award winners announced this week across the state by the Kansas State Department of Education.

The Kansas Horizon Award recognizes exemplary beginning teachers who perform their first year in a way that distinguishes them as outstanding. Teachers who have successfully completed their first year of teaching are eligible to be nominated. The awards will officially be presented at the Kansas Exemplary Educators Network Conference Feb. 20 in Topeka.

Estrada and Miller are now in their second year of teaching in Emporia. They were  nominated by their principals, Allison Harder and Wendy Baumgardner, and Superintendent Theresa Davidson.

Estrada’s principal and teaching colleagues describe him as a exemplary teacher, which is  demonstrated daily through quality instruction and caring relationships he builds with students.           

010616 Estrada 3 WEB“Mr. Estrada is an exemplary teacher not only through the instruction and structure that he provides for his student in his classroom but the understanding he exhibits by constantly role modeling expectations,” said Principal Allison Harder.

He was born in Mexico and came to the United States as a second-language learner. In his nomination, he writes that his personal experience has helped him become a better teacher.

“Coming to the U.S. and doing what I do as an educator was my ‘American Dream’.” he said. His family moved to Seattle where he was an ESL student who experienced many struggles learning English. A teacher told him he did not have a future in teaching because of his background and limited English skills.

“Over the years, I was able to turn that experience into one of my main sources of motivation. Thanks to that memory, I now know what I do not want my students to feel and how I want them to see me,” he said. “Regardless of their social economic status, heritage, and background story, it is crucial to make a connection with them and do not give up on them. Always believe in your students.”

At Emporia Middle School, Miller’s colleagues describe her as an energetic and passionate teacher who establishes strong, caring relationships with her students.

“What’s so impressive about these bonds that she makes is they last longer than the yearly school term,” wrote sixth grade teacher Jason Williams in a letter of support for the nomination. “As teachers we all make a difference, but I am truthful when I say that she gives me inspiration and drive to look beyond the numbers and data, to really see and understand these young people in our classrooms.”

Principal Wendy Baumgardner also said Miller challenges her students to reach their personal best each day and cited “her ability to motivate and challenge students.”

“Alissa Miller is an enthusiastic, young professional who goes above and beyond for her students at Emporia Middle School,” Baumgardner said.

Miller wrote in her nomination that she has learned from her first year “to ask for help, learn from your mistakes, and teach from the heart.”

“I think that it’s crucial as a first-year teacher or as a 41st-year teacher, the one thing that drives you forward is giving your heart to your students. When this is accomplished, that’s when you’re truly doing the best that you can do. And when you teach from the heart, everyone around you sees and feels it too.”

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