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Lyseth Educator Is Spanish Teacher of Year

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Lyseth Educator Is Spanish Teacher of Year
Posted on 05/03/2022
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Maria Eugenia Fernández Iglesias, a second-grade teacher in Lyseth Elementary School’s Spanish Immersion program, has been selected as Teacher of the Year 2022 by the Ministry of Education, Embassy of Spain. In recognizing Ms. Fernández, the Ministry of Education cited the “Minichefs” project she created for her students.

This is the second year in a row that a teacher in Lyseth’s Spanish Immersion program has won the honor. Last year, José Iván Sabau Torrelo, a fifth-grade teacher in the program, was chosen as Teacher of the Year 2021 by the Ministry of Education, Embassy of Spain. Also, two years ago, Lyseth Elementary School won the ministry’s School of the Year 2020 Award in the elementary school category.

Ms. Fernández has taught in the program for three years. Her previous experience includes teaching in Spain and Utah. Lyseth’s second-grade immersion group created Minichefs in collaboration with the prestigious Manuel Peleteiro School in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

Here’s a description of her Minichefs program from Ms.  Fernández:

My Maine students and those from Santiago de Compostela exchanged typical recipes from both countries. The American students shared a recipe for each of the 50 states in the U.S., while the Spanish students shared one for each autonomous community of Spain. Each day, an interactive presentation of a state was made with historical, geographic and demographic information, as well other interesting data. We added videos of students explaining and elaborating on a typical dish of each state in the kitchen of their homes, in collaboration with their parents. 

The results included the publication of a recipe book in Spanish, with QR codes to the videos made by the students for each dish. The Minichefs program also helped students learn math, science and social studies. For example, physical space in the classroom was dedicated to the creation of a mini supermarket in which students worked on the selection of products for the preparation of dishes, and used math to develop budgets for the food purchases, learn about weighing in grams and pounds and to learn the value of monetary currency.

Students also learned the basics of human health as they created a food pyramid to learn about healthy foods and an exercise pyramid, to know what physical activities they should do every day. As part of their social studies learning, students made a giant map of the U.S. with puzzle pieces that highlighted significant details of each state. They learned the state song of each state and also composed another song to familiarize themselves with the 17 autonomous communities of Spain.

“It has been extremely inspiring to see the curiosity in the students' faces, to value their knowledge, to empathize with their concerns, and a pleasure to lead the way towards playful, open and solid learning,” Ms.  Fernández said.

Nieves Baranda Leturio, education attaché from the Consulate General of Spain’s Education Office in New York, said the Minichefs project really stood out.

“The jury, after analyzing many projects of the highest quality, has decided to award the prize to this project thanks to the excellent preparation of the activities and its final result,” the education attaché wrote in a letter announcing the award. “The jury has highlighted various aspects present in ‘Minichefs,’ such as the multi-education and interdisciplinary content, the dynamism and motivation in the activities, the respect for the students' learning pace and the high degree of integration of the educational community in the project. At the same time, the originality and creativity of the materials stand out, in particular the fabulous collective recipe book, the map of all the American states and the magnificent integration of the 17 autonomous communities of Spain.”

The immersion program was begun at Lyseth in 2014 with one kindergarten cohort. A new class was added each year. There is now an immersion classroom at each grade level from kindergarten through fifth grade.

Lyseth Principal Lenore Williams said, “The Teacher of the Year award is given by the Spanish government to those projects presented by visiting teachers working in elementary, middle and high schools all over the United States and Canada. Eugenia was chosen among many others as the best one in both countries. It is a great recognition of her incredible work. Congratulations, Eugenia, and thank you for  your dedication!”

Superintendent Xavier Botana said, “The Portland Public Schools is very proud of Eugenia. She’s an innovative and dedicated teacher who is very deserving of this honor. We’re also very grateful to her and all the staff at Lyseth for continuing to make the Spanish Immersion program such an award-winning one. Spanish is the second most-spoken language in the United States and biliteracy in Spanish and English makes students attractive to colleges and future employers.”

The Portland Public Schools is Maine’s largest school district, with approximately 6,500 students, and is also the most diverse. About one-third of the district’s students come from homes where languages other than English are spoken—a total of more than 50 languages. 51 percent of the district’s students are white and 49 percent are students of color. Approximately half of PPS students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.