Grand Prize winner: Arlevia Davis
Mrs. Davis teaches ninth-grade biology at Legacy High School in Mansfield. She believes “every single person carries a measure of greatness,” and she strives to help her students pursue and reach their full potential.
Mrs. Davis uses a well-stocked toolkit of teaching methods to engage her students, including role play, dancing – and singing. Mrs. Davis writes and performs musical numbers, posted on YouTube, to help her students remember their science lessons.
Former students often reach out to Mrs. Davis, recalling a favorite science song that has stuck with them long past their high school education. Parents also applaud Mrs. Davis’ creative and unique approach to science.
One parent said Mrs. Davis has the skills parents wish for in a teacher. “She’s patient, empathetic, adaptable, extremely creative, and is always striving for ways to self-improve so she can reach every student who enters her door,” the parent said. “She wants every student she comes in contact with to be successful, and goes extra miles when necessary to help them be successful.”
Quote from essay: “Helping as many students as I can drives me to be the best teacher possible. Our children deserve the best. I will forever work to reach every student, every day, and everywhere.”
Distinguished Award Winners
Valerie Valadez – Elementary School Winner
Valerie Valadez teaches fifth-grade science at Clara Love Elementary in Justin, north of Fort Worth. She encourages her students to engage in scientific inquiry and take risks, and empowers them to change the world. An annual assignment, a do-it-yourself robot project, is a result of students a few years ago wanting to help a wheelchair-bound classmate with limited arm and hand mobility. Ms. Valadez listened as her students talked, wishing a robot could help their fellow student do her work, and the project was born. While designing a robot to simplify their or someone else’s life, students also discuss engineering jobs, and learn about energy and circuits. Ms. Valadez urges parents to engage in the project with their child once the student has designed the robot.
Quote from essay: “Teaching is very much like riding a bike. Only the wheels on your bike are constantly spinning while you are twirling a baton and balancing a ball on your head. And yet, I wouldn’t choose to do anything else. What other professional gives you the opportunity to change the world every day?”
Alejandra Martinez – Middle School Winner
Alejandra Martinez teaches seventh-grade science at Memorial Junior High School in Eagle Pass, her hometown. She helps her students explore the world through the travels and adventures of SloMo, the class sloth puppet mascot. Ms. Martinez, with SloMo in tow, shares her professional development trips to places such as the Arctic and Caribbean Sea. SloMo also has an Instagram account, where Ms. Martinez dives further into concepts. For instance, SloMo was excited to get his flu shot last year after the class talked about the immune system. “I can assure you he is going to be the first sloth in line to get the COVID-19 vaccine!” said Ms. Martinez. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Martinez has hosted “Meet a Scientist,” where experts on various lessons speak to the students.
Quote from essay: “Many of my students have a limited view of our world, and one of my goals is to broaden their horizons by sharing my own field experiences and taking them out to explore.”
Sergio Estrada – High School Winner
Sergio Estrada teaches physics, chemistry, and engineering at Riverside High School in El Paso. He connects science to everyday life, such as explaining the second-degree burns he received when using a metal spatula to make spaghetti, and demonstrates physics concepts, such as pulling a tablecloth out from under a place-setting. “Passion and enthusiasm are contagious, and students feed off that energy,” he said. Mr. Estrada also incorporates a variety of teaching techniques to reach different types of learners – music, video creation, labs, and writing assignments. The educator says he defines his success based on his students’ success, and he readily helps them find summer internships to expose them to careers in science and to develop their passions.
Quote from essay: “People seem to think that science is difficult, but I believe with the right support and by seeing the connection to the world around you, science can be extremely rewarding.”
Rookie winner: Crystal Deville
Crystal Deville teaches honors and Advanced Placement chemistry at Grand Oaks High School in Spring. In her classroom, she appreciates the value of mistakes. “Quite often in science, the mistakes we make lead to great discoveries. And it’s also a chance for students to understand that even the brilliant among us make errors.”
Mrs. Deville also believes in learning from others, including her mentors and students. She often solicits feedback from her students, asks questions to determine their level of understanding and identify gaps, and brainstorms with co-teachers after a lesson failure. Mrs. Deville challenges her students to plan a lab investigation and perform it; she also has them present and analyze their own investigative data to explain the science behind it. The teacher also believes in teaching soft skills, such as note-taking and study skills, to better prepare her students for success in college and science careers.
Quote from essay: “My mantra has been that my class is about the process just as much as the product. I believe my teaching reflects my desire to encourage students to invest in the process instead of moving so quickly to the product.”