By Pablo Jaime Sáinz
Soon after migrating to San Diego from the neighboring city of Tijuana, Elva De Baca said she realized she wanted to become a teacher.
She said that, just like the teachers that made a difference in her life, she wanted to help other students who were in her similar situation growing up: poor, limited English skills, immigrant.
De Baca was surprised this week with a $25,000 check as recognition for her dedication as a third-grade bilingual teacher at Sunset Elementary, in San Ysidro.
“This is one of those days you never forget in your life,” said De Baca, after finding out she was the recipient of a Milken National Educator Award at a school assembly in front of hundreds of students, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack o’Connell, and football legend Rosey Grier.
“I’m completely overwhelmed. As teachers, we don’t expect an award. Of course, this is very nice,” she said, referring to the $25,000 check she received from the Milken Family Foundation.
De Baca was one of up to 100 teachers receiving the award this year. The award was created 20 years ago to reward, retain and attract the highest quality K-12 educators to the profession. It has been called the “Oscars of Teaching” by Teacher Magazine.
Teachers can’t apply for the award. Instead, they are secretly selected through a network of educators.
“Good teachers are the linchpin in our education system playing a critical role in propelling student learning,” said Lowell Milken, Milken Family Foundation chairman and co-founder, moments before presenting the award to De Baca.
After finding out she was the recipient, De Baca looked emotional, being hugged and kissed by other teachers and by students.
During her speech, she said that she wished every teacher at Sunset Elementary could receive an award because, she said, they’re all very special teachers.
“Everyday you give you hearts and souls. Everyday I’m inspired by you to continue being a good teacher. I would love to present one of these to each one of you,” said De Baca, who lives in Chula Vista.
A native Spanish speaker, De Baca promotes biliteracy among a student population whose needs and economic challenges she understands all too well, having herself grown up in poverty in nearby Tijuana.
“She always made her classroom environment one of pride and ownership as it is reflected in a beautiful portfolio of the students,” said Zenaida Rosario, a bilingual teacher at La Mirada Elementary, also in San Ysidro.
De Baca uses white boars, music, signals, math manipulative, and technology to teach her students. She has helped translate textbooks from English to Spanish for the Sacramento County Office of Education.
De Baca has taught at Sunset since 1990 the only school she’s ever thought in. She received a B.A. in Diversified Liberal Arts with Emphasis on Bilingual Education from the University of San Diego. She also holds a M.A. in Educational Administration from Azusa Pacific University.
To find out more about the Milken National Educator Award and the Milken Family Foundation, visit www.mff.org.