Espina named 2016 Teacher of the Year
Is visual arts teacher at Foulis Academy in Suitland
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.”
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.