BHS teacher receives high praise, honor

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She sat clutching the letter in her hands, crying.

"Dear Becky, It is my pleasure to inform you of your selection as (National Education Association-New Mexico's) 2012 recipient of the Award for Teaching Excellence," the letter said.

Rebecca Rivera, Belen High School's graduation, reality and dual-role skills teacher, skyrocketed from receiving the 2011 Belen High School Teacher of the Year and the 2011 Belen Consolidated Schools Teacher of the Year to the top award in NEA.

The 21-year educator said she didn't even know she was nominated for the award by her peers and students until she read the letter.

"Never in a 100 years would I have dreamed about this," Rivera said.

And for achieving this award, the childcare director is now preparing for an all-expense paid trip to Brazil as a 2013 Pearson Foundation Global Learning Fellow, where she will cap a year's worth of education about global competence that she plans to pass onto GRADS students.

Global competence is having international awareness, appreciation of cultural diversity, proficiency in a foreign language and possess competitive skills in a global market, according to NEA's website.

"Why not take an opportunity to learn about education to help my students?" she asks.

During the 10-day trip in June, Rivera, as well as 36 other Award for Teaching Excellence recipients, will observe and meet Brazilian administrators and teachers in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro to learn how they've advanced their education system.

These awards recognize the Belen resident's involvement in the BHS' GRADS program. Rivera was hired to create a daycare and develop high school classes for pregnant and parenting teens at a time when Valencia County was ranked third in the state for teen pregnancies.

"If I can help students graduate and contribute to the growth of the community, this helps them understand the importance of providing a positive environment for their own children," she said.

The prevention and recovery program encourages pregnant and parenting teens to complete high school while learning parenting and family life skills and gaining childcare skills they can use upon graduating. This program expanded to include a childcare center, career exploration, fatherhood program, tech prep, pregnancy prevention, peer education and life skills.

Sally Kosnick, GRADS state executive director, said Rivera has dedicated her life to helping teenagers and their families.

"She exemplifies how multifaceted a teacher's job really is and is a good example of a person who truly cares about her students and their future," Kosnick said in a nomination letter.

Tarla Hill, co-president of Belen's NEA, added, "She's amazing. She gives the kids a reality check and doesn't sugar coat it … She tells them how the world is and how to get where they want to go."

In the program's existence, Rivera has worked with more than 700 students and increased participant graduation rate from 35 percent to 95 percent.

"Because of her love of students and her heart-felt desire to assist these students to overcome some tremendous obstacles we see students be successful at school and after graduation," said BHS Assistant Principals' Joann Carter and Richard Tafoya in a nomination letter.

Rivera's commitment to students, especially those a part of the GRADS program, has "garnered the admiration of her community, has inspired her peers, and perhaps more importantly, has earned the respect and gratitude of her students," said Sen. Michael Sanchez in a nomination letter.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.