2020 Foreign Language Academy Teacher of the Year

Wanda Morales

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Wanda Morales
Foreign Language Academy
Elementary and Middle Science, Math, Spanish, Social Studies

What factors influenced your decision to become a teacher? Identify what you consider to be your greatest contributions to and accomplishments in education.
The factors that have influenced my decision to become an educator brings back fond memories from when I was a little girl. I knew at an early age that I was born to teach. Fast-forward to twenty-five years of dedicated service to Kansas City Public Schools later, I value the many rewards a solid education has provided for middle school students. Education is one of the most powerful tools that increase, not only economic progress and ensure social justice, but help students reach their full potential. Therefore, my contribution include creating a culture that is fair, supportive, and provide each student with the resources needed to be prepared for the twenty-first century and beyond.

First and foremost, I have always considered myself a fair-minded person. I enjoy teaching students and advocating for their best interests. From the first day in August to the last day in May (sometimes June), from sixth grade through eighth grade, we work collectively to reach individual and classroom goals. My students and I have become family because, in the end, everything I do is for them. Sometimes the challenges are significant. However, I regularly set real-world expectations and provide a safe culture that is fair and helpful to the diverse needs of my students.

Next, supporting my students aligns with my professional accomplishments too. The intrinsic rewards return to me, often years later. Former students resurface and want to share with me how they are doing. I smile and listen to them exclaim. “I did it, that is an achievement!”. Others shout out, “I studied because I learned that it was good for me, from you, Senora Morales!”. Consequently, I have also taught the children of my former students. Their parents are excited that their children will have the same experience as they did. This ongoing experience is a milestone achievement; impacting generations is certainly an accomplishment for me.

Finally, providing relevant resources for students to become life-long learners helps very community reach their full potential. This includes collecting countless data, teaching, assessing, and reteaching of academic standards, if needed. However, modeling how to be a good team member, friend and positive student is just as important. Providing these daily resources continues to inspire me to continue as a proud educator for all students.

Describe a project or initiative that you have led or been involved with that contributed to increasing equity in education and opportunity for students in your school. What was your role in this project and what was the impact?
As a Science teacher, one of our biggest challenges is to organize and celebrate a school-wide Science Fair. Our Science Fair is an opportunity for students to apply the scientific method to conduct independent research. As a teacher, we mentor our students through the process. I led the organization of the event (dates, place to be, search and invite judges, recognition activity, etc.). For six consecutive years at FLA, I celebrated each fair of these, bringing a new different challenge every year.

During the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 school years, FLA had three grade-level Science Fair themes in Middle School: English, French and Spanish. Around 90 students presented projects. During the 2007-2008 school year, I invited the fifth graders (French and Spanish students) to initiate them into the process of scientific investigation. For this, I needed to create a different evaluation form for the fifth graders comparable with the middle schoolers. Around 100 students present different projects. During the 2008-2009 school year, we expanded the Science Fair to invite the third and fourth graders to get them into the process. The younger students worked together by classroom to create one project. I invited teachers from other schools and/or school districts and instructional coaches as a judge. More than 100 projects were presented. During the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years, I decided it was time to move out of our building. And after celebrating the school level Science Fair, we went to Union Station to compete at a City Level, with the first three places in each category. In the end, more than six out of 15 projects received prizes or special recognition (2010) and 10 out of 18 in 2011.

Another big challenge for me was the use of technology. As an “old school” person that didn’t grow using technology, it has been difficult to learn and practice. But that didn’t stop me and I liked to bring it to my classroom. In 2012, I contacted Mrs. Deborah Martorrel – meteorologist on Channel 4 in Puerto Rico. I wanted my seventh-grade students to have the opportunity to ask and learn from first hand on a particular topic – WEATHER – and at the same time to be able to do it in Spanish. After I won the opportunity to have an online conference between my students and her, I contacted our IT Department to check how we can make it happen. I discovered Skype. They made all the connections and downloads and were ready to run the show. It was an incredible experience to have an hour talking, seeing, learning and asking from two different places, KC and Puerto Rico. I received congratulations from the District Science Department because it was the first time for something like that. During the 2012-2013 school year, I read articles about a Puerto Rican astronaut Dr. Joseph Acabá. I knew my students needed the opportunity to talk with him. My first attempt was to have a conference from space, but it was impossible to agree with NASA. After a lot of letters, emails, phone calls, etc. with Nasa, in March of 2013, my eighth graders had the opportunity to have a conference, via Skype, with Dr. Acabá about his career, his mission on the International Space Station (Soyuz TMA-04M), the importance of being bilingual, and general questions about the universe and our solar system. At the moment of the conference, Dr. Acabá was in California. During the 2015-2016 school year, the movie “The Martian” from the 20th Century Fox was trending. Before the film’s opening, I found an article in the Puerto Rican newspaper “EL Nuevo Dia” about a guy that works in the Arecibo Observatory (radio telescope) in Puerto Rico. His major role is to observe and study Mars. The film’s production crew contacted him to verify everything related to the red planet: surface, color, characteristics to ensure they presented an accurate movie. Dr. Edgar Rivera Valentin, Staff Planetary Scientist, visited with our classroom via Skype, and my students had the opportunity to interview him about Mars and other questions about our solar system. We then visited a theater to see the movie, and my students then sent emails to Dr. Rivera with the questions of what we call “Reality Vs. Fiction.” In May of that same year, the students visited Puerto Rico as a school trip. Dr. Rivera received 18 students and additional staff at the Arecibo Observatory, where they had the opportunity to have a tour around the observatory.

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