First Lady Jill Biden personally congratulates 2021 National Teacher of the Year Juliana Urtubey

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2021 National Teacher of the Year Juliana UrtubeyThings are looking up for the 2021 National Teacher of the Year Juliana Urtubey. First Lady Dr. Jill Biden surprised Juliana as she walked into her classroom in Las Vegas, Nevada to personally congratulate her and thank the top educator for her exemplary work in the education sector, on her own behalf and on behalf of President Joe Biden.

“She is just the epitome of a great teacher, a great educator,” said Dr. Biden, who is also an educator. The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) named the Las Vegas special education teacher the National Teacher of the Year on Thursday May 6. Juliana Urtubey’s recognition is historical as she is first Nevada educator to win the National Teacher of the Year award.

Juliana is currently teaching at Kermit R. Booker, Sr. Innovative Elementary School in Las Vegas, where she serves as a co-teacher in pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade special education settings and as an instructional strategist developing school-wide Multi-Tiered System of Supports for academic, social-emotional, and behavioral interventions.

Ms. Earth, as she is fondly known to her students, Urtubey is not just a special education teacher, she is a special teacher. She doesn’t teach in the conventional manner. She uses gardens and murals to spice up her teaching. During her previous employment at Crestwood Elementary School, she created a garden program which included outdoor classrooms and colorful murals. In this endeavor, she collaborated with students, families, teachers and community partners to make her approach to teaching a big success. She went out of her way to secure funds for the sustainability of the program and involved other teachers so in case she leaves, they can smoothly run the program. She has since introduced a similar program at her new school.

“I explicitly teach my students about how our brains help us learn and manage our emotions and behavior. The concept of growing our brains intersects naturally with our yearlong unit of Growth Mindset in the Garden. This learning unit encapsulates my holistic approach of teaching the whole child, inclusive of their family and community. My teaching centers on strengths-based approaches that are culturally responsive, relevant, and responsible,” she says on her application for the National Teacher of the Year award.

Born in Bogota, Colombia, and raised in Phoenix, the first generation bilingual immigrant taught in bilingual schools in Tucson, Arizona, for a few years before moving to Las Vegas. She hopes to serve as a mirror for her school community, helping students to be proud of their identities and their families, and to acknowledge their strengths and contributions to the community at a new role as the National Teacher of the Year.

Juliana Urtubey is a National Board Certified Teacher and holds a bachelor’s degree in bilingual elementary education and a master’s degree in special bilingual education from the University of Arizona. She is a National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Board of Directors member, Nevada Superintendent’s Teacher Advisory Cabinet member, and an Understood.org Teacher Fellow and mentor. She is a recipient of the 2018 Rogers Foundation Heart of Education award, Mayor’s Urban Design Award for School Gardens, among other awards.

CCSSO’s National Teacher of the Year (NTOY) Program is the most prestigious teacher recognition program in the country.  Every year, exemplary teachers from each state, the U.S. extra-state territories, the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense Education Activity are selected as State Teachers of the Year. From that group, a national selection committee representing 14 renowned education and community organizations, which collectively represent millions of educators, selects four finalists for National Teacher of the Year. The National Teacher of the Year is then selected from the four finalists after rigorous in-person interviews with the selection committee.

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