Two DPS educators nominated for Teacher of the Year

Rachel Lamb, Gerardo Muñoz are two of seven finalists statewide

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Denver Public Schools teachers are dedicated to their students.

And two have stood out among all the teachers in the entire state for their exceptional work.

In early October, the Colorado Department of Education announced that DPS teachers Rachel Lamb and Gerardo Muñoz were named two of seven finalists for the 2021 Colorado Teacher of the Year recognition. The program “recognizes an exceptionally dedicated, knowledgeable and skilled K-12 classroom teacher to represent the entire profession in Colorado,” states the Colorado Department of Education’s website.

“This year has been exceptionally tough on our teachers. We can’t thank them enough for their dedication to teaching our students through all the challenges of COVID-19,” said Katy Anthes, Colorado’s education commissioner, in a news release. “These seven educators have inspired me with their exceptional dedication to supporting their students and the high quality of their professional practice. Colorado would be proud to have any one of them represent the profession for our state.”

DPS Superintendent Susana Cordova added that teachers are “stepping up in ways they never imagined.”

“I know they are doing so thinking about the students who need that familiarity, who need that connection and who depend on great teachers to help them achieve their goals,” Cordova said. “Both Gerardo and Rachel have demonstrated a commitment to our students in a way that not only embodies Denver Public Schools’ cores values, but also goes above and beyond.”

On Oct. 29, the Colorado Department of Education named Muñoz as Colorado’s 2021 Teacher of the Year. He will automatically become Colorado’s nominee for the 2021 Council of Chief State School Officers’ National Teacher of the Year competition. Out of all of the states’ nominees, four finalists will be selected, and of them, one will be named the 2021 National Teacher of the Year.

“Muñoz is an incredible educator deserving of this honor,” Cordova said in a news release. “His dedication to his students is representative of many outstanding educators you will find in DPS classrooms. He inspires, guides and uplifts students on a daily basis, and I am honored to serve our students alongside him.”

Get to know the nominees

Rachel Lamb

Years teaching: 14

Years with Denver Public Schools: 2

Current role: Second grade at Inspire Elementary School.

Recognitions/projects:

• National Board Certified Teacher
• Nearpod PioNear
• National Geographic Certified Educator
• Two-time TEDxABQ Education Speaker
• Apple Distinguished Educator
• PBS Digital Innovator
• Henry Ford Teacher Innovator
• ISTE Making IT Happen award recipient
• Translating Tinybop app to Navajo language
 
Being of Navajo descent, growing up, Lamb was taught the importance of passing knowledge on to the future generations, she said.

“It is an honor to my Navajo ancestors and the many innovators in my life,” Lamb said of her nomination. But she added it is her students’ tireless work that earned her the nomination. “I am merely a vessel for their voices, creativity and vision.”

Lamb, 36, has been an educator for 14 years and most of that has been spent teaching grades two-through-five. Her career began with Albuquerque Public Schools, and this school year is her third with DPS. She and her husband — who is also an educator — relocated to Colorado to broaden their educational experience, as well as that of their 7-year-old daughter. With DPS, Lamb taught at Stedman Elementary School in Denver’s North Park Hill neighborhood for the 2018-2019 school year, and she taught at McMeen Elementary School in the Washington Virginia Vale neighborhood last year. This is her first year teaching at Inspire Elementary, 5677 N Galena St., in Denver’s Central Park neighborhood. Lamb teaches second grade there.

In her teaching, Lamb incorporates real-world applications, technology, design thinking and project-based subjects.

“Students learn a lot more when they are active participants,” Lamb said. “When we (challenge) them with something they find difficult, they always are able to meet or exceed expectations.”

Lamb also strives to ensure that education in general evolves with the students.

“Every student has a different background,” Lamb said. “There’s so many different ways students can demonstrate their knowledge through the use of technology and their individual voices.”

Gerardo Muñoz

Years teaching: 22

Years with Denver Public Schools: 22

Current role: Middle-and-high school social studies at the Denver Center for International Studies at Baker.

Recognitions/projects:

• EduColor and the #WeBuildEDU project
• National Education Association’s Racial and Social Justice Conference
• CHOOSE
• University of Colorado’s Teachers of Color and Allies Summit
• Too Dope Teachers and a Mic podcast (Muñoz and Kevin Adams)
• Currently authoring a book about being an educational disrupter, which includes exploring systemic oppression, inequality in education and how to ensure all students have an opportunity to succeed
 
Muñoz, 44, grew up in the east side of Denver “where community, culture and strength were modeled daily,” he said. “I was raised by people who cared deeply about making the world a better place for youth.”

His mother is a retired teacher, and his father was a soccer coach, but Muñoz had other career ideas — he was considering a career in journalism or perhaps acting.

But at age 22, he got his first teaching job as a long-term substitute teacher, and fell in love with teaching that first day.

“It’s the energy and curiosity that the young people walk into the classroom with,” Muñoz said. “If I have accomplished anything as a teacher, I have done so because I am a part of a community that inspires, motivates and shows solidarity.”

Muñoz spent eight years teaching at the Contemporary Learning Academy — a DPS school now located in the Capitol Hill neighborhood — before he came to the Denver Center for International Studies at Baker, 574 Sixth Ave. He teaches social studies to seventh graders and to students in grades 10 through 12, and in the 14 years Muñoz has been at DCIS, he helped build the school’s soccer program and start the school’s debate team.

“The big picture,” Muñoz said, “is seeing young people move from educational dependency to a state of freedom. It’s not just about grades and test scores because it’s also about their ability to dream and turn their talents into something they want to do long term.”

Muñoz’s wife is an early childhood educator, and they have a 15-year-old daughter.

When Muñoz was a teen, he witnessed many of his childhood friends drop out of high school, he said. That helps him realize today how important it is for all students to have some basis in education that they can relate to, and an adult that will advocate for them. Both within the school and outside of his role with DPS, Muñoz is involved with a number of programs, initiatives, campaigns and organizations that promote equity and antiracism.

Muñoz is a “champion for people of color and social justice issues,” said Marisa Vasquez, principal at DCIS Baker.

She added that Muñoz empowers his students.

“His enthusiasm for social justice sets the tone for our students as well as our staff,” Vasquez said. “He puts the students who are marginalized at the center. He brings it (equity in education) back to the students who need it the most.”

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