Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
A Roswell Independent School District (RISD) teacher was presented the 2019 New Mexico Teacher of the Year Award at Berrendo Middle School (BMS) Wednesday.
Jessica Sanders, BMS science department head and sixth and seventh-grade teacher, was surprised in her classroom by Christopher Ruszkowski, state secretary of education, her husband Tyson Sanders, teacher-leaders, administrators and school board members on Wednesday morning. Sanders said she felt “empowered, excited, totally awestruck” when it was announced that she was the state’s Teacher of the Year. Sanders said her students were just as excited as she was and she could see how proud they were for their teacher to be awarded.
Sanders said she loves her school and community and is invested in the statewide and local education of children. With this award, Sanders said she is trying to be a voice for the state’s children.
A New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) press release stated the Teacher of the Year will represent the state in the National Teacher of the Year competition and Sanders is considered to be the spokesperson for teaching in the state for one year. In February, Sanders will attend the Teacher of the Year induction meeting at the Google Headquarters and will also visit Washington D.C., Space Camp and the National Football Championship.
Awards are not new to Sanders, who earned the 2018 Golden Apple Fellow Award earlier this year, and was also awarded the New Mexico Science Teacher of the Year Award. Outside of BMS, Sanders is the president-elect of the New Mexico Science Teachers Association and is a troop leader and service unit manager for Girl Scouts of the Desert Southwest. Sanders is also a mother of four children between ages nine and three, and active in volunteering in the community.
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Sanders teaches seven classes a day at BMS, where she has been a teacher for the past three years. She is also the eighth-grade volleyball coach, co-sponsor of Fellowship of Christian Students and is working on implementing an American Sign Language club. She said being an excellent teacher requires taking care of the whole student, not just the educational process, and one of her best practices in the classroom is to supply “engaging and meaningful” activities for her students. When Ruszkowski asked the class if Sanders is the best science teacher in the state, all of the students answered yes.
“Everything is science,” Sanders said. “I want my kids to understand, no matter if you are shooting a basketball or bending over to pick up a book that fell off the table, it’s all science — every bit of it and that they can do science all the time.”
For the application process, Sanders said it was a reflective process about how she contributes to education locally and statewide, and she said being a part of the teacher-leader network made her feel empowered and equipped to apply and be active at the state level for education.
“I had the most amazing science teachers myself,” Sanders said about why she wanted to teach science. “And I wanted to be just like George Tuggle. He was my science teacher and he made things explode, he put things on fire, it was just so engaging and every day was a new day. I wanted to be that same teacher.”
First Ruszkowski presented a $10,000 check for the Excellence in Teaching award, which only six percent of the state’s teachers are awarded, and following this announced that Sanders was chosen for the state Teacher of the Year award. The students and others present in the room celebrated with cheers and applause. Ruszkowksi said it was “a great privilege” to present the award to Sanders, whose students are learning two years’ worth of science in one year. He also shared that Sanders struggled with dyslexia in her early education career and this experience made her empathetic for struggling students.
“We do have amazing teachers and our school has exemplary and highly effective teachers and we never get recognized,” BMS Principal Licia Hillman said. “When you are looking at Albuquerque and Santa Fe and everything seems to stay up north, we’ve got great things going on down here and it shows. For her to be recognized for all her hard work, it’s amazing — it’s amazing for our school.”
For this year’s applicant pool, Ruszkowski said Sanders’ application was selected from around 85 applications. Ruszkowski explained the award has a 55-year history and changes have been made to ensure the award is based on performance and merit, rather than popularity. Ruszkowski said to his understanding is that Roswell has not a had a Teacher of the Year in the last decade, and may have never had a teacher earn the distinction.
Usually, Ruszkowski said this designation goes to teachers in the Albuquerque and Santa Fe areas.
“It’s just huge for the city of Roswell to have that distinction and that recognition,” RISD Superintendent Dr. Ann Lynn McIlroy said. “And then just for the district and then for the school, it’s just amazing. It’s super exciting. It just what’s on the horizon for her (Sanders) and how she then becomes an ambassador not just for the state of New Mexico, but she represents us and the best of us. That to me is monumental and just really beyond explanation what the potential for that is.”
Two BMS students, Ryder East and Annika Roybal, both agreed Sanders’ class was their favorite because Sanders explains the subjects thoroughly and makes class fun. They said they were happy to witness the award on Wednesday.
“She says everyone is a scientist,” East, 13, said. “She’ll help no matter what and she’s a really good teacher.”
Roybal said she has learned a lot about life cycles from Sanders and when the RDR relayed this comment to Sanders, Sanders said it made her “teacher heart so happy” to know she is impacting her students beyond education.
“She’s a really amazing teacher,” Roybal, 12, said. “Nice, thoughtful, beautiful — just like amazing.”
“She’s passionate to no end,” Chandler Lessard, an educational assistant, said. “She really does love what she does. With a lot of teachers at a certain point, you can tell the passion is gone, even though they try. She really does come in every day wanting to teach and wanting to show the kids exactly what do.”
City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at email@example.com.