Cervantes-Racanelli Named Northern Virginia Hispanic Teacher of the Year

Lorena Cervantes-Racanelli, an elementary school teacher who integrates the study of dance with other subjects, has been honored with the 2017 Victoria D. de Sanchez Northern Virginia Hispanic Teacher of the Year Award. She received a check for $2,000 and a commemorative plaque at a reception sponsored by Marymount University and hosted by President Matthew D. Shank on May 31 at the school’s Main House.

Cervantes-Racanelli, who has danced with and provided choreography for several professional companies, has taught at Bailey’s Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences in Fairfax County for 10 years. She works closely with other teachers to align her dance instruction to reinforce the concepts they teach, such as the life cycle of butterflies, the way plants grow, or the culture of the Powhatan Native Americans.

Dr. Ana Lado, a Marymount professor of education who serves on the award selection committee, said videos of Cervantes-Racanelli’s work were impressive.

“Every single student in her class is engaged and focused and enjoying what they’re learning, and that’s purposeful on her part,” Lado said. “The other thing is that she enjoys what she does so much. By the end of being with her for 10 minutes, you feel the connection. She gets this little sparkle in her eyes when she talks about her students.”

The award, given annually by the Victoria D. de Sanchez Endowment at Marymount, was established through The Hispanic Youth Foundation of Northern Virginia as a way of recognizing and encouraging teachers who have demonstrated exemplary results in working with Hispanic students.

Foundation board member Melissa Elena Stites Miller, the great-granddaughter of Victoria D. de Sanchez, praised Cervantes-Racanelli.

“She has really pioneered the integration of dance and the arts into learning,” Miller said. “She has basically created this new program at her school.”

Miller also enjoyed how Cervantes-Racanelli brought her work to the reception.

“When she got up and accepted her award, she turned on her music and led us in a movement exercise, breathing, rolling out our shoulders, letting everything go,” Miller said. “I’m so excited that she was our recipient, and I can’t say enough about her.”

Cervantes-Racanelli has a master’s degree in fine arts with an emphasis in dance from George Washington University and earned her bachelor’s degree from Universidad Nacional in San José, Costa Rica. She spoke no English when she arrived in the U.S. for graduate school, which shaped her perspective on what many of her own students encounter, struggle with, and can ultimately accomplish.

“Weekly, children new to our country, mostly from Spanish-speaking countries, arrive at Bailey’s,” wrote Allyn Kurin, a fellow teacher, in a recommendation letter. “Ms. Cervantes speaks to students in Spanish and makes them feel valued and accepted. In her Black Box Theater, she projects images linked to key vocabulary and uses movement which allows these newcomers to feel safe. They begin to comprehend the concepts and demonstrate their knowledge through their movements. Her classes are remarkable because the students are so engaged and she reaches all backgrounds and abilities.”

In addition, Cervantes-Racanelli teaches an after school dance program for students and a weekly class for parents on how to use non-verbal skills to support their children’s learning. She has also presented professional development workshops for other teachers at The Kennedy Center.

“Lorena is a remarkable educator, an inspiring individual and a fearless leader,” wrote Sara Quesenbery, who also teaches at Bailey’s. “She establishes a learning environment where creativity and diversity are nurtured and students are encouraged to take risks in order to reach their full potential.”

Dr. Joel Gómez, president and chief executive officer of the Center for Applied Linguistics, was the guest speaker at the Marymount event. He spoke about the intersection of language and preserving Latino culture.

The award was presented by Victoria Sanchez, the granddaughter of its namesake, who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in interior design from Marymount. Her grandmother, Victoria D. de Sanchez, was a leader in establishing schools, training teachers, and developing textbooks and curricula across Latin America. She also was active in the Reading is Fundamental and Head Start programs in the United States.

Marymount University is an independent, coeducational Catholic university offering bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in a wide range of disciplines.

Photo captions
Photo 1
Lorena Cervantes-Racanelli, who integrates the study of dance with other subjects at Bailey’s Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences, is honored with the 2017 Victoria D. de Sanchez Northern Virginia Hispanic Teacher of the Year Award.

Photo 2
Lorena Cervantes-Racanelli is presented with a plaque commemorating the 2017 Victoria D. de Sanchez Northern Virginia Hispanic Teacher of the Year Award. It was presented by Victoria Sanchez,  the granddaughter of its namesake.

Photo 3
Michol Beltran, Lorena Cervantes-Racanelli and Celestino Beltran, one of the Hispanic Youth Foundation’s founders.