Nearly 330 teachers statewide were nominated for award

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AZTEC — An Aztec elementary teacher selected for a statewide award honoring outstanding teachers says it is important to her to acknowledge the teachers she has worked with over the years who have helped shape her teaching style.

Cynthia Gustamantes, a third-grade teacher at McCoy Elementary School, was one of seven New Mexico teachers selected for the 2019 Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching. The winners receive an unspecified cash stipend and $4,000 for professional development. 

She was the only teacher selected from San Juan County. The other teachers selected were from the Albuquerque, Clovis and Santa Fe school districts.

"If someone thinks you are doing a great job, and they nominate you for an award and you win, you feel really honored," Gustamantes said.

Gustamantes was one of 329 teachers who were nominated for the award. Only 16 finalists were selected from that group before the seven winners were named.

Members of the selection committee watched Gustamantes teach on Nov. 7 and conducted interviews with students, parents and colleagues while in Aztec.

Principal Tatia Fernandez said she was not surprised Gustamantes was selected for a Golden Apple award, describing her as an amazing teacher who puts her students first and creates a very successful learning environment.

"The big thing is, she builds relationships with the kids. She laughs with them and smiles with them," Fernandez said.

Gustamantes spent 18 years teaching elementary school in Roswell before starting at McCoy about four years ago. Before teaching, she spent six years as an education associate. She said it was the time she spent with her fellow teachers that helped her become the teacher she is today.

"I really am grateful for the teachers that I am surrounded by who have taught me a lot of things and have shared so many of their resources and their words of wisdom," Gustamantes said.

Gustamantes was told by the members of the selection committee the extracurricular activities she organized stood out to them.

Outside her classroom window is a garden filled with plants selected by her students who also maintain the garden.

"They are so proud of it, you will never find a piece of trash or weeds growing in this garden," Gustamantes said. "Every day, they are out there making sure it's taken care of."

She said she is excited about the work her students have been doing in their book club, which meets monthly before the start of the school day. Gustamantes noted how her students have taken the lead in discussing the books and how the club provides a different avenue for her than simply teaching reading.

The nine finalists not selected for the award are recognized as Golden Apple Teachers of Distinction. Included in that group was fourth-grade teacher Samantha Nelson at Esperanza Elementary School in Farmington.

The educators will be recognized during a luncheon on April 5 in Albuquerque.

More: Farmington teacher receives Golden Apple award

Farmington High School English and language arts teacher Stephanie Jaquez was the most recent San Juan County Golden Apple winner in 2016.

Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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