How’s this response after telling your mother you’ve decided on a career?
“When I told my mom I was gonna be a teacher, she cried,” recalled Angelica Olivas, arguably one of the most-popular teachers at Cleveland High School.
It wasn’t unanimous, but to anyone seated in the school’s gymnasium a few weeks ago when the 2019 Stormcoming court was introduced, a majority of the court members touted Olivas as most-inspirational.
Here’s a sample of what members of the court said about her: She made one student believe in herself; she made another student smile “on days she didn’t want to”; and she had taught a male student “hard work, to stay focused and that mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.”
“In education, we don’t feel appreciated all the time,” Olivas said. “For me, my appreciation comes when I get those accolades from students, preparing them for life.
“My goal is to make a difference,” she added. “I build a really healthy rapport with my students; respect is a two-way street.”
Olivas’s popularity didn’t come as a surprise to CHS Principal Scott Affentranger.
“Kids love her because she creates great relationships with them,” he said. “She cares and they see that she cares; she teaches and they see that she teaches. She is visible with kids after hours and at school events, and kids get to see that she loves teaching, loves to see them after hours in activities and athletics, and she is dedicated to the Storm — and she wears that dedication on her sleeve.
“She is a respected and valued CHS staff member and I’m proud to be her colleague,” Affentranger continued. “Also, she teaches AP Biology, which is a tough course to teach, and as a student, take and do well in.”
Affentranger said Olivas has taught at CHS since it opened in 2009, and is a good cheer coach.
Olivas — who was a cheerleader, cross country runner and soccer and basketball player at Peñasco High School — is an assistant for the Storm’s new head cheerleading coach, Kyla (Ortega) LiRosi, a Storm alum. When the head coach abruptly resigned in the middle of last school year, LiRosi and Olivas shared head-coaching duties.
This teaching career resulted when Olivas realized that following the long path to being in the medical profession would be tough for her as a young, single mother.
Growing up in northern New Mexico, she was the Class of 1998 valedictorian at Peñasco High, where her father was the principal. She then headed to Colorado Springs, where she attended Colorado College.
“I was gonna be a doctor. I had a daughter at an early age —19 — and decided (as a college senior) to be a teacher,” she said.
That’s about the time her mother, Tina Aragon, a former teacher, cried at hearing the news.
Olivas graduated on time, figuring she might be able to do lab work or research as a career.
Her first classroom job was in the eighth-grade wing at Rio Rancho Mid-High, team-teaching with the late Lori Sturgess.
“My first year was chaotic,” she recalled. “I was 22 and teaching; I worked on alternative licensure because I was only qualified for biology.
“A teacher in high school turned me on to biology,” she recalled.
Now, though, she’s highly qualified in all the sciences and teaches a college-level class.
She also sponsors the Dream Makers Club at CHS, “for students interested in the medical profession — anything medical related,” Olivas said.
She has about 40 students in that club, which she founded about six years ago.
Needless to say, the teaching profession has changed since Olivas was at PHS, namely because of social media.
“We had pagers,” she said, laughing at the memory. “I think social media can be a positive thing. We have Chromebooks… (but) we used cellphones in the past for research.
“I’ve seen a shift in students and their parents,” she added. “Most of the parents are pretty supportive.”
Her favorite subject has changed, too.
“We now have a better understanding of what’s going on at the cellular level,” she said. “The human genome program has been huge; with stem-cell research, we’re still behind (other countries) because of regulations. Religious beliefs have held it back.”
Many residents were happy to read that the state’s teachers received a 6-percent increase in their salaries this year.
“I’m making less money now than I was last year,” Olivas admitted, after a 5-percent increase in their insurance premiums. “That’s a little frustrating, but if we were doing it for the money, nobody would be doing it.
“In this profession, every day is a different adventure,” she said. “Making a difference in one kid’s life is life-changing.”