Each year, Humanities Texas presents annual statewide awards to encourage excellence in teaching and recognize Texas classroom teachers who have made exemplary contributions in teaching, curriculum development, and extracurricular programming. We are pleased to feature three of our 2022 Outstanding Teaching Award recipients and their recent award presentations. Each award winner received $5,000, with an additional $1,000 for their schools to support further excellence in the instruction of the humanities.
Read more below about the teachers we recently celebrated, and stay tuned for upcoming newsletter features on our other 2022 winners!
Humanities Texas is currently accepting nominations for the 2023 Outstanding Teaching Award cycle, so nominate a teacher you know and admire! Nominations will be accepted through Friday, December 9, 2022. Visit our Awards page for more information and to submit a nomination.
On October 7, State Senator Sarah Eckhardt and Humanities Texas Executive Director Eric Lupfer presented Luz Álvarez-Sims with the 2022 Humanities Texas Linden Heck Howell Outstanding Teaching of Texas History Award during a Travis Heights Elementary School monthly assembly.
Álvarez-Sims has taught bilingual fourth grade for the past seven years at Travis Heights Elementary, with her classroom career spanning thirteen years in elementary and middle school bilingual education.
"Through my thirteen years as an educator, I have found that students learn when their identity is valued, when they can see the impact of their learning beyond the classroom, and when they are invited to ask questions and think critically about topics," commented Álvarez-Sims.
"Mrs. Álvarez-Sims displays the qualities that make a teacher successful. She is an advocate, dependable, motivated, organized, and is in tune with the needs of her students," said Travis Heights Elementary Principal Michelle Amezquita-Navarro.
During her time in Austin ISD, Álvarez-Sims's advocacy and leadership has been seen in and outside the classroom. Álvarez-Sims works at the AISD-sponsored Saturday academy, Academia Cuauhtli, a language and culture revitalization project for fourth-grade students from local East Austin schools. She is also passionate about project-based learning and serves as a mentor for the Problem-Based Learning Leadership Pathway.
"One of the most important things I can do as a Texas history teacher is guide my students in seeing the connections to the past, present, and future in themselves and their community," wrote Álvarez-Sims. "Through teaching Texas history, I am able to help students find their voice, to share the connections from lessons learned to their life and the lives of others, and to be a voice of change for our community."
On October 17, U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro, Humanities Texas Board Member John Phillip Santos, and Humanities Texas Program Officer Lauren Gocken presented Anthony Gonzales with the 2022 Humanities Texas James F. Veninga Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award during a classroom presentation at Marshall High School in San Antonio.
Gonzales has taught history at Marshall High School for the past nine years. During this time, he created the Mexican American Studies (MAS) course and the Mexican American Studies Student Association. His curriculum is currently used at multiple schools across the state.
"The Mexican American Studies course at Marshall provides a space for students to validate their own experiences and discuss topics they feel may be overlooked in a traditional history class," said Gonzales. "MAS students improve their critical thinking, analytical, and leadership skills because the course provides the opportunity to explore ideas relatable to those students."
Additionally, Gonzales serves as a coach for the Marshall High School Academic Decathlon team. Under Gonzales's leadership, Marshall has won five regional championships and twice placed in the top three in state-level competition.
"As San Antonio rebuilds from the challenges of the pandemic, talented and creative educators like Anthony Gonzales are the pride of our city," said Congressman Castro. "Through his hands-on approach and his passion for including Mexican American stories in the telling of American history, Mr. Gonzales teaches his students that the success of the American experiment depends on contributions from all of us. I look forward to seeing him continue to inspire and encourage our students, and I congratulate him and Marshall High School on this well-deserved award."
"I believe it is important that all students find their voice, feel represented, and understand that we each play an integral part of the American experience," wrote Gonzales. "The humanities are what allow our students to be creative and understand and expand upon their identities, all the while teaching them to critically analyze their world."
Ileana Sherry, who taught tenth-grade English at The International School of the Americas in San Antonio from 2017–2022, is a recipient of a 2022 Humanities Texas Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award. In 2022, Sherry moved to Washington state, where she currently teaches seventh-grade English language arts at Asa Mercer International Middle School in Seattle.
During her time at The International School of the Americas, Sherry played an important role in both her school and greater community. In 2020, Sherry cofounded the Equity and Professional Development Committee, leading peers in recognizing internal bias, identifying racial and gender disparity in the discipline and academic policies, creating an LGBTQ safe space, and developing more equitable grading practices.
"My teaching methods provide all students with an accessible education that matters to them by reflecting their concerns, exposing them to diverse voices and experiences, and honing the skills they need to care for themselves and others beyond my classroom walls," said Sherry.
In 2021, Sherry co-created a new unit with the school counselors focused on emotional regulation. Students examined how reading and writing can help them manage and understand emotions and, in turn, how managing emotions improves communication.
"Ileana's experience elevating student voices, shaping their personal learning, and seeing each student as a unique, valuable contributor to our global cultural fabric of society has influenced colleagues across campus and enhanced our philosophy," said Steve Magadance, principal of The International School of the Americas. "I am amazed by the positive impact of [her] contributions, and her creative, student-centered approach to learning makes her a model for her colleagues and a valued member of our community."
"Humanities education is vital for students to be able to read and understand the world around them," wrote Sherry. "Sometimes, humanities education is reduced to the skills that compose it: reading books, writing essays, listening to lectures, and speaking to the class. However, effective humanities education will strengthen these skills of students to give them better tools to question, interpret, and analyze the world around them. Through literary studies, students are better able to understand themselves and others. History allows them to recognize the patterns of power in the past and now. Authentic humanities education is important because it guides students to become active in making a better world."