ESTANCIA – Ivonne Orozco-Acosta may be the New Mexico Teacher of the Year who went to the State of the Union address in January and has become a media darling nationally, but the DACA recipient said her Estancia upbringing was a major part of it all.
“With growing up in a small town, the teachers encouraged big thinking,” Orozco-Acosta said. “Community is important and big thinking matters.
“What a small community teaches really well is that we are us and we take care of each other. I feel like that was a very important part (of things).”
Orozco-Acosta, now a high school Spanish teacher at Albuquerque’s Public Academy for Performing Arts, came here from Mexico at age 12 without knowing any English. “I learned a few words after school but I was trying to catch up socially with my peers,” she said.
The youngster eventually took an English Language Learning class. “I worked really hard with a pocket dictionary at home since I didn’t want to be the weird kid with a dictionary at school.”
PAPA principal Doreen Winn was also a principal in Estancia when Orozco-Acosta started school there. “We had no monolingual Spanish speakers so we created a plan. She had ELL in seventh and eighth grade but dropped it in ninth for another elective (because she didn’t need it).”
Orozco-Acosta said her “teachers were so good” that now she teaches Spanish. “It was overwhelming for students but my teachers understood.” While she spoke Spanish in Mexico and at home with her parents Alfredo and Fernanda Orozco, she said her academic Spanish was still “pretty good. I lost that for a while.”
She graduated from Estancia in 2009 but not before becoming a yearbook editor and friend of Cassie Winn. “Her and Cassie (my daughter) were friends forever and I knew about her from high school,” Doreen Winn said. “I needed a Spanish teacher and it is difficult to find a good one.”
Winn, who had been principal at Estancia for one year while Orozco-Acosta was there, said she knew that the DREAMer was graduating from UNM. “And she was one of the best hires I ever made.”
“Mr. (Roger) Kennedy was my science teacher and the first adult to tell me I should go to college besides my parents,” Orozco-Acosta said. He came for the award ceremony and periodically checks on his former student.
Kennedy was a track coach as was the young teacher’s other influence, Laci Lockwood. “I was not an accomplished athlete but Laci taught me it was okay not to be perfect. She said to know that you are valuable for whatever you are best at.”
Winn said that Orozco-Acosta is able to keep kids engaged “bell-to-bell. What stands out about her is the ability to communicate at a level and a depth to lower their inhibitions.”