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They just sat down, but teacher Albino Garcia III brought an entire room full of people at the Embassy Suite Hotel to their feet once again.
Garcia, who teaches Lakota language and is dean of culture at the Native American Community Academy in Albuquerque, was one of seven middle school teachers being recognized by the Golden Apple Foundation of New Mexico on April 10.
He was the first Golden Apple Fellow to receive his award at a recent luncheon for the winners. After accepting the award, Garcia sang a song in Lakota that he said was about giving thanks. The entire room gave him a standing ovation when he was finished.
Garcia’s student Andrew Hollow Horn presented the award, saying the teacher had “taught him about who he was and showed me how to be proud of who I am.”
According to the foundation, Garcia is a leader of traditional Lakota ceremonies and works to preserve the Lakota traditions by engaging the next generation. His work as a storyteller led him to teaching.
Every year, the Golden Apple Foundation of New Mexico recognizes a handful of exemplary teachers across the state. Each year, the awards rotate between elementary, middle and high school teachers.
Albuquerque’s first poet laureate, Hakim Bellamy, opened the ceremony with a spoken poem about the importance and influence of teachers.
This year, 126 teachers were nominated. Nominees fill out an application and undergo classroom observations.
Winners receive a $1,500 cash prize, a laptop donated by Intel and a $4,000 grant for professional development.
Cheryl Kerby: Kerby teaches engineering and robotics and design at Mountain View Middle School in Rio Rancho. She was introduced by sisters Katelyn and Erin Zuments. The duo said Kerby treats her students like their own children and is always willing to help, “even if it means getting on the floor to do it.” Kerby said the robotics class started as a club and eventually transitioned into an actual class.
Kerby was a structural engineer for 14 years before becoming a teacher. She said the transition from one career to another required long days of working and going to school at night. She thanked her family for understanding and being supportive of her transition.
“I’m moved to tears by this award,” she said. “I get to do my dream job. I get to be a kid and play with Legos all day long.”
Alfredo Celedón Luján: The New Mexico native is a language arts teachers at the Monte del Sol Charter School in Santa Fe and has taught at various places in Northern New Mexico. He was introduced by former student Hannah Lamboy, who drove from Denver to attend the awards ceremony. Lamboy said Luján helped her see the world more vividly through writing and she will never look at it the same way.
Work by his students was featured in a segment of CPB/Annenberg’s The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multi-Cultural Literature. He is a published writer, with his work appearing in pieces such as “Santa Fe Nativa: A Collection of Nuevomexicano Writing.”
Randy L. Martin: Martin teaches social studies at Desert Ridge Middle school in the Albuquerque Public Schools district. He was introduced by student Austin Denton. He said Martin can teach students anything in a way they will understand and that he makes learning fun. Martin, he said, will tie what they are learning to things that are happening in the world today.
According to the foundation, one tactic he employs in the classroom is dressing as various famous and well-known people in the past. Sometimes he will play his banjo or guitar to begin a critical analysis of songs through different eras of American history. Martin is an education consultant for the Albuquerque Museum and president of the New Mexico Council for the Social Studies.
She has been teaching adaptive PE for 26 years. She was introduced by her student Daniel Mullen and his mother Dana Mullen, who helped her son speak through his electronic voice box. Daniel Mullen said Merzweiler makes PE fun. She helps students engage in several activities like bowling, swimming and visiting the zoo, that she said not only gets them moving, but also helps teach them rules of social etiquette.
“I also get to teach them about manners,” she said. “For example, when we go swimming, I tell them it’s OK to splash some people in the face, but it’s not OK to splash everyone in the face.”
Janene Mondragon: An English and health teacher at Questa Junior High within the Questa Independent School District, Mondragon is a native of San Luis, Colo., and has been with the Questa district for 17 years. She’s taught every grade from preschool on up to 12th grade.
She was introduced by her student Antonio Trujillo who said there was no teacher more deserving than Mondragon for the award.
Mondragon thanked her family and said one of her greatest teachers in life was her mother. She acts as a student adviser for several organizations and volunteers for Communities Against Violence. She also mentors teachers within the Questa school district.
Jana Rupp: Rupp teaches math and is the department chair at the private Bosque School in Albuquerque. Her student Rosa Bieber-Stanley made the introduction, saying Rupp could teach anyone any kind of math and make it appear easy.
“She said math isn’t always about being smart,” Bieber-Stanley said. “She tells us it’s about persistence.”
Rupp said her coworkers and support from the administration at the school help her succeed at her job.
This is her fifth year as a teacher at the school. She brings some international teaching experience to the classroom. Rupp taught math and science at the American School Foundation in Guadalajara, Mexico, for five years, which was preceded by a brief teaching stint in China.