Wilson Ramirez Named Northern Virginia Hispanic Teacher of the Year

Wilson Ramirez, who was inspired by the United States and the promise of education while watching a television program as a child in the Andes mountains, has been honored with the 2018 Victoria D. de Sanchez Northern Virginia Hispanic Teacher of the Year Award. He received a check for $2,000 and a commemorative plaque at a reception sponsored by Marymount University on May 30.   

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 to recognize and encourage teachers who demonstrate exemplary results in working with Hispanic students. Its namesake was a leader in establishing schools, training teachers and developing textbooks and curricula across Latin America.

Ramirez, a native Colombian who teaches Spanish and literature to fluent and native speakers at Washington-Lee High School, said he was honored and grateful to receive the award.

“I believe that every student can learn and that every student can learn to find meaning in more than one language,” he said. “As teachers, it is our responsibility to help our students bridge that linguistic gap, and teach them to jump beyond our expectations, and sometimes even go beyond their own expectations.”
The television program that inspired him, Revivamos Nuestra Historia (Let’s Relive Our History), showed the potential of global citizens to move freely about the world while using language and culture as vehicles. He has been a Spanish instructor at the University of Maryland, a university professor in Spain and Colombia, and a high school teacher and assistant principal in Colombia.
Dr. Ana Lado, a Marymount professor of education who serves on the award selection committee, said Ramirez’s application included dozens of letters of support from former students and colleagues, along with his current administrators.

“He is a person who has the gift of connecting with youth,” Lado said. “He changes lives.”
Ramirez said many of the students he teaches are just like him.
“I’ve discovered that they clearly speak my language and reflect many of the same experiences I’ve had as an immigrant from a Spanish-speaking background,” he said. “They look, sound and experience some of the same obstacles I have faced in my life, especially related to accent, language and identity.”
He said he’s taken on the responsibility of creating a place where their identities, languages and cultures are considered assets rather than deficits.
Lilliana Maldonado-Méndez, a colleague at Washington-Lee, called him a “once-in-a-lifetime teacher” who takes the time to talk with students, learns about their life outside school and offers advice and support.
“He knows which of his students have to work to support their families, who is living alone and has to support him/herself, who needs help getting school supplies, clothes, food or just emotional support,” said Maldonado-Méndez, who was the 2016 Hispanic Teacher of the Year.
He also lets them know they need to work hard and overcome problems to be successful, she said.
“He stays after school to work and help students, and he makes his room a refuge, a safe place for many students who do not feel like they fit into the school environment,” she added. “His study hall is always full of not only his own students, but also kids that ask to be in his classroom because they feel comfortable and welcome there.”
Ramirez holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy with a minor in education from Saint Thomas University in Colombia, a master’s degree in education and human Development from Javeriana University in Colombia, a masters in educational administration from Pamplona University in Colombia, and has done advanced graduate work at the University of Barcelona, Spain. He’s currently pursuing his master’s degree to become certified as an administrator.
“Mr. Ramirez gets students excited about education,” said Dr. Gregg Robertson, his principal. “His caring attitude, devotion to children and superior knowledge of the subject matter makes him effective with students at all levels. All students recognize his enthusiasm for teaching and learning and respond with accomplishment and success. He is a role model to the students and they look up to him for support and guidance.”
Marymount University is an independent, coeducational Catholic university offering bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in a wide range of disciplines. For more information, visit marymount.edu.

Photo captions
Photo 1
Wilson Ramirez is the 2018 Victoria D. de Sanchez Northern Virginia Hispanic Teacher of the Year Award. He received a check for $2,000 and a commemorative plaque at a reception sponsored by Marymount University on May 30 at the school’s Main House.

Photo 2
Marymount University President Dr. Matthew D. Shank hosted the reception for Ramirez.

Photo 3
Hispanic Youth Foundation of Northern Virginia board member Melissa Elena Stites Miller, the great-granddaughter of Victoria D. de Sanchez, with Wilson Ramirez.