Farmington teacher named semifinalist for state education award

List of finalists will be announced in November

Megan Petersen
Monica Leaming leads students in her orchestra class Thursday at Tibbetts Middle School in Farmington.
  • Monica Leaming, whose teaching career began in Farmington, says she is dedicated to local schools.
  • Award finalists win more than $5,000 in professional development funding and cash prizes.
  • Several teachers from Four Corners schools have won the award in years past.


FARMINGTON — Tibbetts Middle School and Farmington High School orchestra teacher Monica Leaming was named a semifinalist for the state-wide Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching on Wednesday. 

The award program is organized by the Golden Apple Foundation of New Mexico, an Albuquerque nonprofit group that deals with teacher recognition, professional development and community engagement, according to its website. 

The yearly award recognizes seven teachers for “exceptional work in helping students learn, think and create,” according to a press release from the foundation. 

“Just to be a (semi)finalist or to be in this position to get a visit is a real honor, so we just want to congratulate the school and the community,” Golden Apple Foundation executive director Brian O’Connell said.

Monica Leaming  is one of 16 teachers from eight communities throughout New Mexico to be named a semifinalist for the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching.


Leaming was nominated by local parent Brandy Acosta, O’Connell said, and she was chosen as a semifinalist from a field of 142 teachers from 26 communities in New Mexico, according to the press release.

Leaming is one of 16 teachers from eight communities throughout New Mexico to be named a semifinalist, according the press release.

She will go through the finalist selection process, including classroom visits from a selection committee of former award recipients or people involved in the award program. O’Connell said Leaming’s committee will consist of one local judge and two judges from around the state, and they will observe one of Leaming’s classes, and interview her colleagues, students and parents in the process to select finalists.

The seven finalists, who will be announced in mid-November, will be inducted into the Golden Apple Academy of Fellows and awarded a professional development fund of $4,000 and $1,500 cash prize, according to the website.

Leaming has been a music teacher in the Farmington Municipal School District since 1996.


O’Connell said the foundation will host a luncheon for the winners and their families in April in Albuquerque.

Leaming has been a music teacher in the Farmington Municipal School District since 1996.

“I am dedicated to Farmington schools,” Leaming said after an orchestra class at Tibbetts on Wednesday. “I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else.” 

Leaming said it has been an honor to go through the award nomination and application process.

“I’ve been enjoying the process,” she said. “It really caused me to reflect.”

The application process included questions about influential teachers in the nominees' lives, as well as classroom management strategies and goals.

Leaming said she follows “big shoes,” both in teachers that have mentored her and teachers who have received the award.

Several teachers in the Four Corners area have received the award in years past, including Stephanie Jaquez of Farmington High School in 2017, James Olivas of Naaba Ani Elementary School in Bloomfield in 2013, Heather Erlandson of Bloomfield Early Childhood Education Center in 2007, and Sandy Bell of Farmington High School in 1999, according to O’Connell.

Other local teachers were nominated for this year’s award, including eight teachers from the Farmington district and three teachers from the Aztec Municipal School District, according to the foundation’s website.

Megan Petersen is the business and education reporter for the Farmington Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4621.