With a new school year under way, we are excited to feature the winners of our 2016 Outstanding Teaching Awards. Humanities Texas recently presented awards to four teachers during ceremonies at their respective schools. Each award winner received $5,000, with an additional $500 for his or her school to support humanities instruction. Read more about these four accomplished and inspiring teachers below.
But, wait! There's still time to nominate an exceptional educator for our 2017 Outstanding Teaching Awards! Humanities Texas is accepting nominations for the awards through Wednesday, December 14. Visit our Awards page for more information and to submit a nomination.
On October 3, 2016, The Honorable Joe Straus, Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, and Humanities Texas Executive Director Michael L. Gillette presented Steve Davidson of San Antonio's MacArthur High School with his award.
A former combat medic in the Gulf War, Davidson currently teaches regular, AP, and gifted and talented (dual credit) English IV. He also leads the MacTEACH Tutoring Program, a successful at-risk youth and refugee peer-to-peer tutoring program.
Beginning with only ten gifted and talented seniors, MacTEACH is now comprised of over one hundred student tutors who serve the school's English Language Learners, special education students, STAAR re-testers, general core students, and students preparing for AP tests. Additionally, MacTEACH tutors provide academic and emotional support to at-risk youth, including the area's Burmese refugee children.
"Through MacTEACH, hundreds of students have learned how to work with others, find their place in America, and realize the power of a humanities education," wrote a former student of Davidson's. "I can confidently say I have never met anyone who impacts students to such an extent as Mr. Davidson."
"If I'm not bridging a gap between a core curriculum and the opportunity to apply what is learned about the human condition, thus demonstrating to my students how they can best contribute to it, then I have failed as a teacher of the humanities," said Davidson. "Therefore, my creation of the MacTEACH Tutoring Program remains my most significant accomplishment as a teacher of the humanities."
"I want to thank Humanities Texas for putting a spotlight on great teaching," said Speaker Straus of San Antonio. "I also want to thank Steve Davidson for his commitment to MacArthur High School and its students. He has shown the very positive difference that teachers often make in the lives of their students."
On October 11, 2016, Texas State Senator Paul Bettencourt and Humanities Texas staff member Sam Moore honored 2016 award recipient Cameron Stephen at Cy-Fair High School.
Stephen teaches AP courses in Spanish language, literature, and culture at Cy-Fair High School, where he serves as the chair of the foreign languages department.
"To be recognized and to have been selected from amongst so many very qualified candidates motivates me to continue to work at my craft of being the best educator that I can be," said Stephen. "I attribute success in what I do to those who have mentored me along the way because they shared so much of their knowledge and wisdom with me. Credit must also go to my colleagues in my department and to my students. Their support, hard work, and dedication make it possible for the magic to happen every day."
In his sixteen years teaching at Cy-Fair High School, Stephen has worked to cultivate and expand the AP Spanish language program. Before he arrived, only three students sat for the AP Spanish language exam. Now, more than sixty students participate annually.
"Mr. Stephen is an outstanding foreign language teacher and department chair who is always taking the extra steps to ensure success for his students and staff," said Cy-Fair principal Michael Smith. "He is not only involved at our school to improve student learning, but also works nationwide to help other teachers grow in their profession."
"I am pleased to help present Cameron Stephen with the Humanities Texas Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award," said Senator Bettencourt. "This award recognizes what students already know—that those teachers receiving it are exceptional. This recognition makes a real difference to the teacher, the school, and the students."
Texas State Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and Humanities Texas board member Manuel Medrano presented Mission High School teacher Victoria Rojas with her award on October 17, 2016.
Rojas teaches both AP human geography and dual credit Mexican American studies. In 2015, after only her second year of teaching, Rojas was named Mission High School Teacher of the Year.
"Ms. Rojas is the definition of commitment, belief in student success, opportunity, and dedication," said Edilberto Flores, principal of Mission High School. "Mission High School and the Mission community are fortunate to have a strong advocate for student learning and fidelity to teaching history concepts."
Rojas co-created and successfully implemented a dual-credit Mexican American studies course at Mission High School. The first of its kind in Texas, the course is taught in partnership with South Texas College. Through community-oriented activities, students enrolled in this course engage directly with the local history of the Rio Grande Valley and learn about their community’s economic, political, and cultural contributions to U.S. history.
"As a teacher, I set out to take action to provide students with the opportunity to be educated about their local community, develop their identity, and become aware individuals who can think critically about the world around them," said Rojas. "Ethnic studies, this class in particular, opens their minds to their own value and role locally and nationally."
Rojas continues to seek ways to help schools and teachers implement a Mexican American studies course. With the hope of more schools offering the course in Texas and the rest of the nation, the curriculum is now available online to the public.
“My passion to provide students with culturally relevant and engaging education is the reason for my continued dedication to the cause.”
On October 24, 2016, U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett and Humanities Texas Executive Director Michael L. Gillette presented Josephine Icaro with her award during a student assembly at Austin’s LASA High School.
"Ms. Icaro is an artist in the classroom," said Stacia Crescenzi, LASA High School principal. "She provides her students with the perfect mix of intellectual rigor and creative opportunity. We are incredibly lucky to have her as part of our LASA family."
At LASA High School, Icaro teaches Pre-AP English I and Peer Assistance, Leadership, and Service (PALS). A Plan II graduate of The University of Texas at Austin, Icaro participated in the university's UTeach program to prepare for her teaching career.
Through her interdisciplinary approach to teaching, Icaro incorporates history, music, drama, philosophy, and art into her English classroom, cultivating an appreciation for the humanities. Whether her students are rewriting modern-day songs into Shakespearean pop sonnets or taking a virtual tour of ancient Mesopotamia in preparation for a unit on Gilgamesh, Icaro makes literature relevant and exciting for her twenty-first-century learners.
"When the seeds of knowledge are planted by me, my teaching brings to fruition independent thinkers, motivated doers, and innovative leaders who can read meaningfully, write precisely, and speak articulately about the world around them," said Icaro. "I see the value of all humanities disciplines and seek to plant the same seeds of belief within the future generations."