Espina named 2016 Teacher of the Year

Is vis­ual arts teacher at Foulis Acad­emy in Suit­land

The Enquire-Gazette - - Front Page - By JOHNATHON CLINKSCALES jclinkscales@somd­news.com

Rec­og­niz­ing the work of out­stand­ing ed­u­ca­tors in Prince Ge­orge’s County Pub­lic Schools, the sys­tem, the sys­tem named Amanda Espina, a vis­ual arts teacher at Ben­jamin D. Foulois Cre­ative and Per­form­ing Arts Acad­emy in Suit­land, as its 2016 Teacher of the Year.

Espina and 12 other nom­i­nees were joined by fam­ily, friends and col­leagues dur­ing PGCPS’ an­nual awards cer­e­mony on April 21 at Martin’s Cross­winds in Green­belt. Spe­cial guest speak­ers in­cluded Board of Ed­u­ca­tion Chair­man Se­gun Eubanks, Mary­land State Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Darla Strouse, 2015 PGCPS Teacher of the Year Re­nee Roth, PGCPS Tele­vi­sion Spe­cial­ist Dave Zahren and PGCPS CEO Kevin Maxwell.

Maxwell said hav­ing tal­ented teach­ers like Espina is key to PGCPS’

suc­cess in rais­ing aca­demic achieve­ment.

“I think this is just a great ex­am­ple of a teacher, that when you lis­ten to her chil­dren and par­ents of chil­dren in the room, you re­ally see the im­pact that great teach­ers make on chil­dren and that’s what we want in ev­ery sin­gle class­room in Prince Ge­orge’s County,” Maxwell said. “I think it’s re­ally, re­ally im­por­tant to cel­e­brate the work that we all do. Be­ing rec­og­nized by your peers, be­ing rec­og­nized in a set­ting like this that’s pub­lic and open. Not ev­ery district does this and so it’s im­por­tant be­cause it helps you un­der­stand how val­ued the pro­fes­sion is and how val­ued you are for the work you do and for the dif­fer­ence you make in the lives of chil­dren.”

Espina has spent 10 years teach­ing in the school sys­tem, start­ing out as an in­ter­re­lated arts teacher at Over­look Ele­men­tary School in 2006. She trans­ferred to Ben­jamin D. Foulois in 2009 where she now serves stu­dents from across the county who take part in the school’s cre­ative and per­form­ing arts spe­cialty pro­gram.

In Fe­bru­ary, Espina par­tic­i­pated in and as­sisted with PGCPS’ first coun­ty­wide art ex­hibit, where one of her stu­dents was named best stu­dent artist, at The Mall at Prince Ge­orge’s in Hy­attsville. The ex­hibit, which ended March 7, fea­tured more than 2,000 pieces from stu­dents at both lo­cal and state lev­els in cel­e­bra­tion of Youth Art Month. Espina said the ex­hibit was in­spi­ra­tional and al­lowed art teach­ers, who usu­ally work in iso­la­tion, to share ideas and in­struc­tional prac­tices, ac­cord­ing to a short au­to­bi­og­ra­phy pub­lished in a PGCPS book­let.

“I’m ex­tremely proud,” Espina said after be­ing rec­og­nized at the cer­e­mony. “I love the county that I work for, I love the stu­dents that I serve and es­pe­cially, my school. We worked so hard to de­velop a re­ally rich and rig­or­ous pro­gram at Ben­j­main Foulois so to be a rep­re­sen­ta­tive and to be some­one that can speak about the good things that are go­ing on in Prince Ge­orge’s County is something that I’m ex­tremely proud of and is something I look for­ward to do­ing the next year.”

Matthew McCrea, prin­ci­pal of Ben­jamin D. Foulois, said Espina ex­em­pli­fies the qual­i­ties he be­lieves are nec­es­sary in a teach- er. As a found­ing teacher of the school’s vis­ual arts pro­gram, Espina not only works con­stantly to in­vest in its goals, but the ex­cel­lence in her stu­dents which she has guided them to, McCrea said in an in­ter­view.

“She’s an ex­em­plary ed­u­ca­tor in­side the class­room. She’s an ex­em­plary ed­u­ca­tor out­side the class­room,” said McCrea. “I am just the luck­i­est prin­ci­pal in the county to have teach­ers like Amanda all around me. … It’s as­ton­ish­ing to watch.”

When it comes to watch­ing in as­ton­ish­ment, McCrea said Espina coaches her stu­dents and works with them step-by-step to pro­duce bril­liant pieces of art.

“On a daily ba­sis, my stu­dents thank me. They thank me when they’re hard at work on their as­sign­ments, they thank me with hugs in the hall­way, with draw­ings that they leave on my desk and I don’t even know who it’s from. It’s something that I never re­ally dreamed for my­self but it’s something that I’m truly hon­ored to ex­pe­ri­ence,” Espina said.

Espina was nom­i­nated by her peers not only for her pro­fes­sional skills, but for her de­vo­tion to her work, love of chil­dren and sup­port of col­leagues. She is a leader at Ben­jamin D. Foulois, serv­ing on a num­ber of com- mit­tees in­clud­ing co-chair­ing the Char­ac­ter Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee. Out­side of school, Espina works with the Univer­sity of Mary­land Col­lege Park, where she re­ceived a bach­e­lor’s de­gree with a dou­ble ma­jor in art ed­u­ca­tion and stu­dio, as well as a master’s in arts in­te­gra­tion, to men­tor new teach­ers, serves as an art show co­or­di­na­tor for the school district and leads the Vis­ual Arts Pro­fes­sional Ed­u­ca­tors In­duc­tion Pro­gram, Fine Arts Sum­mer In­sti­tute and nu­mer­ous train­ings in­clud­ing ele­men­tary art in­struc­tion, art ex­hibit prepa­ra­tion, arts in­te­gra­tion and cur­ricu­lum devel­op­ment, ac­cord­ing to a PGCPS press re­lease.

“I don’t know how she does it. I wish I could just dis­till what she does into a bot­tle and have ev­ery­one in the county drink it. It would solve all of our ed­u­ca­tional prob­lems,” he said. “I had never hired for a vis­ual arts teacher be­fore but talk­ing to her about it, hear­ing how she thought about arts and hear­ing what she thought vis­ual arts teach­ers needed, we wouldn’t have ended up with a teacher that we have right now if it weren’t for Amanda. She is the rea­son why the arts depart­ment at Ben­jamin Foulois is suc­cess­ful as it is.”

For Espina, she en­joys art, the stu­dents and the ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ence in gen­eral. It’s a dream come true to “do what you love for a liv­ing,” she said.

“I feel like I’m re­ally open with my stu­dents. I’m clear in my ex­pec­ta­tions but I want them to know that their voices’ value. Usu­ally when I start a class, I start off with a stu­dent sur­vey — I’m ask­ing them what they want to learn, what they want to do here with the time that we have to­gether,” said Espina. “I want them to feel com­fort­able. I want them to think of the art room as a safe space to come whether it’s ac­tu­ally about art or just about life and what­ever is go­ing on with them.”

The other three fi­nal­ists for PGCPS 2016 Teacher of the Year were Ridge­crest Ele­men­tary fourth-grade teacher Mary K. Row­ley, run­ner-up; Brandie Cole from Ju­dith P. Hoyer Montes­sori School; and Ben­jamin D. Foulois’ own Cullen Waller, an in­stru­men­tal mu­sic teacher.

Waller said Espina is “truly and hon­estly de­serv­ing” of her achieve­ment. Of ev­ery­one who was nom­i­nated, Espina is ev­ery­thing and more in terms of what a ‘Teacher of the Year’ should em­body, he said.

“I think it’s awe­some. When it was first pre­sented to us as a school, we voted for each other and from the very time that I knew she was a nom­i­nee, I’ve been vot­ing for her,” Waller said. “Any­thing any­body needs from a vis­ual arts per­spec­tive, she’s there; she’s self­less. She will help us be­fore she helps her­self.”

Hav­ing been named the 2014 PGCPS Teacher of the Year from Ben­jamin D. Foulois, Laura Shel­ton said be­ing se­lected is a dis­tinct honor and pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity to share all of the won­der­ful things hap­pen­ing within the district on both lo­cal and state lev­els.

“This is so ex­cit­ing. It just speaks to all the won­der­ful things that are go­ing on at our school,” Shel­ton said. “Dr. Maxwell is a ma­jor ad­vo­cate for arts in­te­gra­tion in the school sys­tem and we’re look­ing to ex­pand that pro­gram. All this does is just af­firm the value of in­te­grat­ing the arts in ed­u­ca­tion.”

Espina will go on to com­pete for the Mary­land Teacher of the Year award. A fi­nal­ist will be se­lected by the state’s ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment dur­ing a gala event in the fall, ac­cord­ing to a PGCPS press re­lease.

“I think she’s go­ing to rep­re­sent us very, very well,” Maxwell said. “She’ll be a great can­di­date.”

STAFF PHOTOS BY JOHNATHON CLINKSCALES

Amanda Espina gives her ac­cep­tance speech as Prince Ge­orge’s County Teacher of the Year as the other three fi­nal­ists watch. From left is Brandie Cole from Ju­dith P. Hoyer Montes­sori; Espina’s col­league Cullen Waller, an in­stru­men­tal mu­sic teacher at Ben­jamin D. Foulois; PGCPS Tele­vi­sion Spe­cial­ist Dave Zahren; and fourth grade teacher Mary Row­ley from Ridge­crest Ele­men­tary School, run­ner-up for 2016 PGCPS Teacher of the Year.

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