Los Lunas Teacher of the Year

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The brilliant smile of Sonia Allen shines as she greets visitors and extends her hand to them. Her bright office is busy with frequent traffic from students and teachers coming for her assistance.

Allen is the academic coach at Ann Parish Elementary, and previously taught kindergarten and fourth grade. Allen has been chosen Los Lunas Schools District Teacher of the Year.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: Sonia Allen, of Ann Parish Elementary, was chosen by Los Lunas Schools’ Teacher of the Year. Allen taught kindergarten for five years and fourth grade for three years. She is now the academic coach, assisting other teachers enhance their skills and promote student engagement and learning.

Allen taught kindergarten for five years, and fourth grade for three years at Ann Parish Elementary. She chose teaching as her profession because she wanted to be able to make a difference in children’s lives, and said that teaching is not just imparting knowledge to prepare students for careers and college.

“It’s so much more than that. Teaching requires compassion, acceptance of others, preparing our students socially, building their character and accepting the diversity they bring to the classroom,” Allen said. “More importantly, our students need to know that we care, we respect them, and that they are valued in the classroom.”

Her favorite subject to teach is reading because it is the foundation of learning. She has found a fairly simple solution to getting students to read.

“You really have to let the children choose what they want to read,” she said. “Because if you choose a book for them, you’re not going to be successful, but if they get to choose — then they are the engaged reader.”

Now Allen coaches teachers academically, to assist teachers in sharing best practices and to help students learn and stay engaged in learning through the school day.

New teachers benefit from Allen’s pairing them with seasoned teachers, because the first year of teaching can be overwhelming.

“We don’t want them to feel so overwhelmed,” Allen said. “Giving them that support and that feeling that, ‘I can ask the question and it’s OK. I’m not alone.’ They are amazing teachers with so much knowledge, and they’re so excited. Then they walk in and there are 25, 5-year-olds staring at them. It’s very scary. We try to take that fear away.”

Raelynn Leyba, the new kindergarten through sixth-grade computer teacher at Ann Parish Elementary, said Allen’s coaching boosted her confidence.

“Sonia helped me prepare lessons for my classes and she was the most amazing, sweetest person at the school,” Leyba said. “She makes me feel like I actually mean something to the school, and that I can do my job efficiently.”

Third-grade teacher Rachel Goar said she was new to the district this year and didn’t understand some of the supplemental material, but Allen helped her, even coming into her classroom to model how a lesson should look.

“I never felt like she was criticizing me. Everything she said was always on the positive spin,” Goar said. “I couldn’t have got through the year without her.”

As the academic coach, Allen is also helping the school transition to Common Core Standards, a new approach to core academic subjects being followed across the nation.

“I feel very strongly about the Common Core, and I think having it aligned nationally, our children can leave here and go to another school in Los Lunas, they can go to school in Belen, they can go to school out-of-state and still be at the same level as somebody else, still learning the same way and the same thing. It sets them up for success.”

Recently, a couple of Allen’s past students came to see her. One shared that he was in JROTC, and gave her his ROTC emblem because she helped him get to where he is and wanted her to have it.

“He wanted to let me know he had met his academic goals, was doing well in school and ROTC,” Allen said. “As teachers, we never know how we touch our students; I have been blessed to know we do make a difference.”

Another student came with his parents to tell her that he was going to Washington, D.C., with his classmates.

“He had raised money through fundraising during the past two years, and was so proud and excited to be able to go on the trip,” Allen said. “I was so overcome with pride and joy.”

Ann Parish Elementary has been Allen’s home away from home.

“Once you’re here, you’re just a family. You just believe in these children so much, and they come with such diversity,” she said.

“To leave this school is just not an option, and we have teachers here who live in Albuquerque,” she said. “It’s very powerful to work here and see these kids grow up and then come back. It’s just amazing.”

Allen lives with her husband, George, in Los Lunas and they have two daughters. The eldest, Tara Best, is going to school at the University of New Mexico and works at UNM-Valencia Campus. Their younger daughter, Lacy Rivera, teaches at Los Lunas High School.

“Teaching is running in the blood,” Allen said with a flash of her dazzling smile.


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