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Teaching Spanish, Sharing Culture, and Building Community: Carlos Parra Receives Hispanic Teacher of the Year Award

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Carlos Mauricio Parra-Quintero, a Spanish teacher at Dominion High School in Loudoun County, received the Victoria D. de Sanchez Northern Virginia Hispanic Teacher of the Year Award at Marymount University’s Education Dinner on May 14.

The award, established by the Hispanic Youth Foundation, is named for Mrs. de Sanchez, a remarkable teacher who was a leader in establishing schools, training teachers, and developing textbooks and curricula for schools across Latin America. She also was active in the Reading is Fun-damental and Head Start programs in the United States. In 2008, the award was endowed at Marymount University so that outstanding Hispanic teachers in the community will continue to be recognized.

Leveo Sanchez, grandson of Victoria D. de Sanchez and co-chair of the selection committee, presented the award and a $2,000 check to Carlos Parra, saying that he exemplifies his grandmother’s vision of education – strengthening students, families, and communities.

In his teaching, Parra makes use of his theatrical background and knowledge of instructional technology to create innovative, interactive lessons that help students connect with the material and with each other. He is also the sponsor of the school’s Latin Dance Team and organizes the annual Latin Dance Competition, which now includes teams from more than 10 schools. “Kids need an opportunity to show who they are and what they are all about…to fit into society and to be accepted for their talents,” Parra explained.

John Brewer, principal of Dominion High School, who attended the award dinner, said in his letter of recommendation, “‘Caring’ is the first word that comes to mind when I reflect upon Mr. Parra’s work.” He added, “Mr. Parra’s amazing skill as an instructor empowers him to teach Spanish for Fluent Speakers and Advanced Placement Spanish concurrently. This combination of courses has strongly benefitted Hispanic students…. For many of our students who are learning English as a second language, AP Spanish represents the first point of entry into the Advanced Placement curriculum, opening up a new world of educational opportunities.” Regarding the Latin Dance Team, Principal Brewer, pointed out, “Team participants become vitally engaged in their school experience, often with life-changing results.”

Dominion junior Martha Diaz, who is captain of the Latin Dance Team, accompanied Parra and Principal Brewer to the award ceremony. She has had Mr. Parra for Spanish since her freshman year. Now, Diaz is planning to attend college and ultimately become a school counselor or elementary school teacher. “Mr. Parra inspired me to pursue my goal in achievable steps,” she explained. Diaz, who balances AP classes with dance team commitments, added, “He has helped me clarify my goals and my dreams.”

Accepting the award, Parra said, “Every student is my inspiration, and I hope I’m theirs, too.” He strives to make each student feel a part of the community. Parra focuses on the sharing of culture in class and through the Latin Dance Team (which has students from diverse backgrounds and countries, including Mongolia and Lebanon). He explained, “With culture, you know who you are…. Before, many students felt that they didn’t belong. Now they do.” Secure in their community, they also have developed the confidence and desire to excel in school, with more taking AP classes each year and going on to college.
PHOTO 1 - left to right: John Brewer, principal of Dominion High School; Martha Diaz, DHS junior and captain of the Latin Dance Team; Carlos Parra; and Leveo Sanchez

PHOTO 2 - Carlos Parra with Celestino M. Beltran of the Hispanic Youth Foundation
PHOTO 3 - Carlos Parra