Teachers who have been nominated for the Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Awards must submit completed applications by February 24, 2012.

On December 14, 2011, State Representative Mike Villarreal, former Humanities Texas board member Joe Krier, and Liz James, Humanities Texas coordinator of educational programs, presented Jennifer Rodriguez with an Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award.

At the time of the award, Ms. Rodriguez taught eighth-grade non-fiction studies at KIPP Aspire Academy in San Antonio, where she served as campus professional development coordinator, ESL instructional coach, and department head. Currently, Ms. Rodriguez is director of teaching and learning at Teach for America San Antonio.

Joyce Boubel, executive school director for KIPP University Prep High School, said, “Working with our inner-city population of underserved middle school students presents many challenges, both personal and professional. [Ms. Rodriguez] met all of those challenges head-on to help her grow and develop into the best humanities teacher I have ever known.”

“My students are passionate learners who consider deep questions about our history,” said Ms. Rodriguez at the time of the award. “We constantly walk in the shoes of people of the past to develop our decision-making skills and leadership so that my students will leave my classroom as educated, responsible citizens.”

At KIPP Aspire Academy, Ms. Rodriguez guided her students to develop not only a passion for learning, but also the skills that they need to succeed in high school and beyond. Her lessons engaged her students in an active and analytical study of history, preparing their critical-thinking and writing skills for college. Her students simulated the legislative process, recreated major historical moments, and acted as lawyers presenting cases to the Supreme Court.

"It's an honor to present this award to Ms. Rodriguez," said Rep. Villarreal. "Her commitment to her students is a reminder to all of us that our greatest responsibility is to educate the children of our community."

On January 2, 2012, U.S. Congressman Blake Farenthold joined Elinor Donnell, Humanities Texas board member, and Liz James, Humanities Texas coordinator of educational programs, to present Melanie Mayer with an Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award.

Ms. Mayer teaches English at Port Aransas High School, where she also serves as the English department chair; district vertical team leader; UIL literary, writing, and journalism coach; and the college readiness coordinator for Port Aransas Independent School District. Additionally, she teaches composition at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi.

Last year, Ms. Mayer published a book, Two Roads Diverged and I Took Both: Meaningful Writing Instruction in an Age of Testing. She has taught writing workshops and presented at conventions in conjunction with her book, sharing her successes and teaching methods with other English teachers.

“Teachers must provide all students keys, through motivation, access, opportunity, and empowerment, to be good writers, to move beyond the minimum standards of ‘good enough’ required by state assessments, and to embrace reading and writing as valued lifetime skills,” said Ms. Mayer.

Sharon McKinney, principal of Port Aransas High School, said, “Melanie Mayer is a devoted educator who truly cares about her students and her profession. She is committed not only to providing a top-notch education to the brightest students but also to helping each and every student overcome obstacles to reach their full potential.”

From left to right: Mark Larson, KIPP San Antonio CEO; Joe Krier, former Humanities Texas board member; award winner Jennifer Rodriguez; and Texas State Representative Mike Villarreal.
From left to right: Liz James, Humanities Texas coordinator of educational programs; Elinor Donnell, Humanities Texas board member; Congressman Blake Farenthold; and award winner Melanie Mayer.