Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa arrived Tuesday morning at Palm Beach Central High’s campus to give teacher Evangeline Aguirre the day off – after, of course, he told her she had been named Palm Beach County Teacher of the Year.
Aguirre accepted the balloons and flowers, but declined the holiday. She’s in the middle of planning a boot camp to prepare her students for statewide testing. She’ll take that holiday another time.
The state’s high-stakes exam can be particularly challenging for students because they all are just learning the language.
Aguirre, Palm Beach County’s teacher of the year, teaches high school English to students who aren’t native speakers of the language. But her lessons go well beyond understanding the text, and her students say they work hard because her story isn’t all that different from theirs.
Aguirre began her life in the Philippines and came to the U.S. in 2004 as part of a teaching exchange program.
Her students are more recent arrivals from about 20 different countries. They speak about 15 languages among them, but they’re only beginning to get a handle on English. And while Aguirre said she understands a bit of Spanish and French, that’s not enough to converse fluently with the students. So they find other ways to get through the lessons.
It’s hard work, but her students say they’re encouraged by her genuine interest in their lives, both in the classroom and out.
Huddled together to brainstorm all the things they’ve learned from her, students from Mexico, Ecuador and Venezuela say she’s told them: Don’t give up. Value what you have. If you see your friends go astray, go the other way.
“She absolutely loves kids,” said her principal Darren Edgecomb. “Sometimes that’s taken for granted. It all builds from building a good relationship.”