The North Central Educational Service District (NCESD) has selected Hugo Zavala, Wenatchee School District, as the 2023 Regional Teacher of the Year for the North Central Washington region. Zavala is a 4th-grade Science and Spanish Language Arts teacher at Lewis & Clark Elementary School.
He is now eligible for state honors through the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. State winners will be announced in September.
Engagement Through Experiential and Integrated Learning
Over the years, Lewis & Clark Elementary School has received statewide recognition for the leadership of principal Alfonso López and the school’s dual language program. Zavala’s classroom often serves as a model for visiting districts around the state.
“He is a master of engaging his students in the subjects he teaches,” López said. “His knowledge and philosophy about bilingual education makes him one of a kind.”
Zavala builds his lessons on experiential and integrated learning best practices. By providing students with memorable life experiences, Zavala’s students are able to make connections that broaden their background knowledge and increase their interest in learning.
“Students from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds, in particular, bring a set of resources that have the potential to enrich the experiences of all students and educators,” Zavala said.
One lesson that showcases integrated learning in Zavala’s classroom is tortilla making. Using both primitive and modern tools, students measure and mix ingredients to cook their own tortillas. This experience not only develops collaborative discussion among students, but develops dual language reading, writing and mathematics skills.
“By making learning experiential and contextualized through life experiences, my students are able to retain, apply and transfer the learning to other content areas and make it personal,” Zavala explained. “Making learning comprehensible and interesting allows me to integrate content areas and engage each one of my students by respecting and highlighting their ability levels and background experiences.”
Elevating Dual Language in the Classroom, School and Home
Over the years, Zavala has guided and modeled the benefits of using dual language for literacy development within the school by elevating the status of Spanish, honoring student identity and teaching with a bilingual perspective in mind.
Zavala began by working with his grade-level team in promoting and implementing customized instruction for developing bilingual students, including the development of Bilingual Unit Frameworks of Study which use a multilingual perspective to evaluate state standards in the classroom.
Language is one of the best ways to make connections between school and home for students, Zavala added. He designs interactive bilingual homework assignments that allow parents to guide and support their students with developing vocabulary and oral language.
“Developing language is so critical, so I utilize one of the greatest language resources kids have: their parents,” he said. “By involving families, I am able to give students self-pride and confidence about their home language and identity.”
Through his efforts, and the support of his administration and implementation by fellow teachers, that status of Spanish is continuously being elevated schoolwide. By fifth grade most students at Lewis & Clark are biliterate and often interact with one another in both languages, Zavala added.
“Instruction is designed to provide opportunities to work collaboratively. Students unite when we integrate cultures and languages in the classroom.”
The Teacher of the Year program recognizes educators for their excellence in teaching while giving them a platform to advocate for educational issues of particular interest to them. Anyone may nominate a teacher for this award, which is overseen by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). All completed nominations are sent to the regional coordinator at each Educational Service District, and the regional winner is selected by committee. Zavala is one of nine regional winners who will go on to compete for the State Teacher of the Year award.
After advancing on to the statewide competition, regional finalists will be recognized by OSPI at an annual award ceremony in Olympia (date TBD), where OSPI will announce their selection of the State Teacher of the Year.