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2019 Excellence in Teaching Awards

Above: LANL Foundation and Centerra-Los Alamos celebrate two excellent teachers at Tony E. Quintana Elementary School. L-R: LANL Foundation ISEC Program Manager Bryan Maestas, LANLF Grants Manager Sylvan Argo, Centerra-Los Alamos Director of Business Management Graig Newell, bilingual education teacher and award winner Hazel Linda Miller, LANLF President & CEO Jenny Parks,  TEQ Principal Sherri Rodriguez, Centerra-Los Alamos General Manager Lennie Upshaw, Española Public Schools Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez, Deputy Superintendent Denise Johnston, 6th grade teacher and award winner Danita Quintana and daughter, and LANLF K-12 Professional Development Coordinator Doris Rivera

Teachers have the power to change many lives. Despite sometimes challenging circumstances, a lack of recognition and low pay, teachers give their all year after year, frequently volunteering time and even money to make certain students have the support they need. Their impact often extends beyond the classrooms, as they mentor and inspire other teachers and take on leadership roles in their schools and communities.

For the fourth year, the LANL Foundation and Centerra-Los Alamos, the Laboratory’s protective force contractor, are honoring teachers who go above and beyond with the Excellence in Teaching Awards. Centerra and the LANL Foundation initiated the award in 2016 to bring encouragement and support to the education profession that faces high turnover, burnout and underfunding.

Teachers may be nominated by current and former students, teachers, administrators and other colleagues. To be eligible, teachers must have taught at their current K–12 public, Tribal or charter school in Rio Arriba County or Pojoaque for at least three years. Each nominee’s impact on his or her school, students and community, leadership qualities, cultivation of positive culture and inspiration of lifelong learning in others are considered. Invited community members and staff from both sponsoring organizations evaluate nominees and select winners from information provided.

“We established this award with the LANL Foundation because there are many excellent teachers is this area who don’t get all the recognition they deserve. Teachers are such a critical part of our society, educating our students and preparing the future leaders of our community. We’re here to thank them,” said Lennie Upshaw, Centerra-Los Alamos General Manager. “There are seven winners this prestigious award, and this year, there were 33 nominations, a record number.”

2019 Winners of the Rio Arriba County & Pojoaque Excellence in Teaching Award


Richard Amora and his math students

Richard Amora, 9th-12th Grade Math Teacher at Escalante Middle/High School

What Makes Him EXCELLENT: With his ready smile and commitment to treating everyone with respect and kindness, Mr. Amora creates a positive learning culture for his students. He devotes himself to helping his students succeed by volunteering to tutor, coming in early or staying late to assist them. He makes math fun by incorporating robotics and his own photography into his lessons. Mr. Amora sets high expectations for his students, providing opportunities for them to better themselves academically and personally.

Number of years teaching: Mr. Amora has been teaching at Escalante Middle-High School for five years. He taught seven to eight years prior to that in his home country of the Philippines.

What do you love most about teaching in Northern New Mexico? “For me, it’s always the students. The students here are very kind, they’re hopeful. I guess if you’re kind to them they’re going to reciprocate that kindness. And that’s what I really love.”

What legacy do you hope to leave behind? “As I teacher, I always wanted to tell my students that whether it be a small thing, a big thing or a really great thing, you always want to devote your very best. And it’s not just important to be your best, but you also have to be kind. It has to go hand-in-hand. Whether they’re kind to you or not, you have to be very kind. You can’t be great and be rude. You have to be great and be kind.”

Tobe Bott-Lyons with his Upward Bound students

Tobe Bott-Lyons, 12th Grade Upward Bound Teacher at Española Valley High School

What Makes Him EXCELLENT: As coordinator of the Upward Bound program, Mr. Bott-Lyons helps first-generation students prepare for college. He has had a positive impact on his students, challenging them to go further than they thought possible and encouraging them to thrive for the best and pursue their goals. He devotes time and effort to convincing students of the importance of higher education and makes sure they have the knowledge they need to succeed.

Number of years teaching: This is Mr. Bott-Lyons’ second year at Española Valley High School. He has been teaching at Northern New Mexico College five years.

What do you love most about teaching in Northern New Mexico? “This is the best job I’ve ever had as a teacher, because we got to start the program from scratch. I get the chance to work with really motivate young people at a critical time in their life, when they’re figuring out, are they going to go to college? Are they not going to go to college? If they’re going to go to college, how are they going to do it? I  get to support people pursuing their own dreams.”

What legacy do you hope to leave behind? “I just want more people to have the opportunity to go to college where they want to go. I think everybody should have the chance who wants it, so I want to make more of those doors open. And I want to see them come back and give back to this community, too.”

Jolene Martin with her English students

Jolene Martin, 11th-12th Grade English Teacher at Pojoaque Valley High School

What Makes Her EXCELLENT: Ms. Martin is the teacher that everyone goes to when they are having a bad day or needs someone to trust. She has the best attitude, never gives up. She doesn’t ask for anything but will give you anything you need at any time. She gives up lunch hours and spends time after school to help her students and finds ways for them all to be successful. She goes out of her way to make sure students do not miss academic opportunities, even creating a special class for one to help him achieve his academic goals. She runs several student clubs, mentors new teachers, facilitates meetings and shares resources. She models how to handle a multitude of stresses by being professional, warm, funny, and empathetic.

Number of years teaching: This is Ms. Martin’s 16th year teaching.

What do you love most about teaching in Northern New Mexico? “It’s the kids. My experience with the kids here is they’re really hungry for knowledge. These are some of the most big-hearted kids. They’re just sweet, kind, very loving kids and they’re really hungry to learn and to do and to think.”

What legacy do you hope to leave behind? “I want to have a chain of successes. So with AVID I get to push my kids toward applying for colleges and teach them how to apply for scholarships and to move forward with their lives.” She describes being in touch with many former students on social media and how one tagged her to thank her for helping him get the qualifications he needed to get a job blogging in Israel. “That’s what I want my legacy to be: people out in the world who are working and making a difference and bettering themselves and their families.”

Hazel Linda Miller expresses gratitude for her award and for her colleagues and students.

Hazel Linda Miller, Bilingual Education Teacher at Tony E. Quintana Elementary School

What Makes Her EXCELLENT: Ms. Miller’s heart is in education. She mentors not only her students but fellow teachers and encourages parental involvement. She creates a classroom of caring and respect and works diligently to create a positive culture in the school. She inspires students to be proud of their Northern New Mexico culture through her lessons and through organizing cultural celebrations and involves families in both those activities. She encourages students to move forward with their futures despite whatever obstacles they might encounter.

Number of years teaching: Ms. Miller began teaching in 1972 in Colorado. She says she stopped counting after 45 years. She has been at Tony E. Quintana 40 years.

What do you love most about teaching in Northern New Mexico? Ms. Miller’s grew up in Española and feels very loyal to it. Her commitment to teaching began during college when she spent a summer working at a diagnostic center for juvenile delinquents. “Through that I found out that after a parent, the next closest person to a child, heart and mind, is a teacher. And I really thought that I wanted to prevent kids from going the wrong direction. I wanted to be that one person to change their minds in school. So our area and our culture here is very rich and beautiful, but we’re going through a crisis. We have a lot of children that are neglected, a lot of children in poverty and a lot of children who have very, very heartbreaking lives. And we can make a difference at school, as teachers. That’s what our job is to do.”

What legacy do you hope to leave behind? “I hope what I can leave behind is to impress on our young children that there is a bright future out there, that it’s all inside of them to decide and make their determination. Because life is what we make of it. And happiness is like a lot of other things: it’s not going to knock on your door. You have to work it within yourselves.”

Alicia Gonzales with her 8th grade students.

Alicia Gonzales, 8th Grade Teacher at Pojoaque Valley Middle School     

What Makes Her EXCELLENT: Ms. Gonzales builds positive relationships with her students and genuinely cares for their wellbeing. She instills respect and responsibility in them and celebrates their successes while encouraging them to try their best. She continuously seeks out new and innovative ways of teaching so all students achieve success. Ms. Gonzales has taken on many leadership roles, serving as Teacher Leader for new teachers and as a member of the Math Teacher Leader Network, the Instructional Leadership team and the Ir-rational Number Institute. She has organized a Math Festival for students and promoted cultural events such as Rock your Mocs and Cultural Night.

Number of years teaching: Ms. Gonzales has been teaching 21 years.

What do you love most about teaching in Northern New Mexico? “I really love the students. I’ve taught in Española, Santa Fe and Pojoaque, and I really don’t see a lot of difference between the kids. They’re all really good kids. They all want to learn and do their best, and they all want to earn your respect. I appreciate how they all try to do their best.”               

What legacy do you hope to leave behind? “I hope I leave them with confidence in themselves, and I hope I leave them wanting to support each other and motivated to continue learning. I mainly want them to feel proud of themselves and what they can accomplish, and never think that they aren’t capable, that they aren’t good enough.”

Danita Quintana thanks those who supported her nomination as she accepts her award.

Danita Quintana, 6th Grade Teacher at Tony E. Quintana Elementary School

What Makes Her EXCELLENT: Ms. Quintana exhibits remarkable commitment to her students, colleagues, family and her own professional growth. She is a very nurturing teacher who is flexible and kind and understands all students have different needs and does what she can to help each succeed. She serves as Site Coordinator for the 21st Century afterschool program and volunteers as cheerleader coach. She created a Girls’ Circle to support 6th grade girls and works closely with the counselor to provide social and emotional support in her classroom. She has led professional development for teachers throughout the district, served as the school’s liaison for a math program and mentors a new teacher from the Philippines. She coordinates parent/student activities to encourage parental involvement.

Number of years teaching: This is Ms. Quintana’s 10th year teaching.

What do you love most about teaching in Northern New Mexico? “Especially at my school, we have a lot of children with high needs. It feels like over half the kids at this school particularly are being raised by grandparents or someone other than parents. Of course, I love the lesson plans and activities and all that, but just being here with these kids and being a constant person they can depend on, that’s what keeps me here.”

What legacy do you hope to leave behind? “I would like for people to know it’s okay to go above and beyond what we’re getting paid and that it is going to take more than just the contract hours. It’s going to take more than just the lessons you have planned. Just to go into the community or develop a community outside the lessons.”

Danielle Seaboy with her 8th grade students.

Danielle Seaboy, 8th Grade English Teacher at Pojoaque Valley Middle School

What Makes Her EXCELLENT: Ms. Seaboy is extremely hardworking and has never said no to any request. She is creative, warm and welcoming and creates an environment for students to succeed. She relates to and connects with her students. She goes the extra mile, volunteering for any activity or initiative that will help improve her school. Ms. Seaboy reaches out to students who need extra support, volunteering to teach reading intervention programs, setting up anti-bullying activities and creating a School Pride Club designed to give all students a sense of belonging. She mentors many of her fellow teachers and assumes the lead role on the school’s instructional leadership team.

Number of years teaching: Ms. Seaboy is in her 13th year of teaching.

What do you love most about teaching in Northern New Mexico? “I’m from Northern New Mexico, so it’s nice to be able to give back to the community. I’m not originally from Pojoaque. I’m from Pecos, but it reminds me a lot of that small town family culture, and I really appreciate that.” Ms. Seaboy’s own experience as a child who struggled with reading and who lost her father in eighth grade also motivates her. “I just wanted to make sure that there was somebody there for kids to be able to understand who they are. I really wanted to be that support for kids, somebody more relatable to kids.  And in general, I love working with kids. They’re amazing, the things that they can do. I completely appreciate their innocence. It humbles me as an adult, more than anything.”

What legacy do you hope to leave behind? “I just want my students to know that there’s always a safe place in my classroom and they’re always welcome to come back and tell me all of the wonderful things that they’ve done. I just want them to leave and find success however they can. It doesn’t have to be a certain path, because there are bumps in roads, but I definitely want them to be successful no matter what they do, in anything they do, even the smaller things.”