Victoria D. de Sanchez Northern Virginia Annual Teacher of the Year Award 2017


Lorena Cervantes
Bailey’s Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences, Falls Church, Virginia

When Lorena Cervantes arrived in the U.S. for graduate school, she spoke no English. Completing her M.F.A. from George Washington University while learning English in the process helped to shape her perspective on what many of her own students at Bailey’s Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences encounter, struggle with, and can ultimately accomplish. For the past 10 years she’s taught at the Fairfax County School, where she integrates the study of dance with other subjects.

“Weekly, children new to our country, mostly from Spanish-speaking countries, arrive at Bailey’s,” wrote Allyn Kurin, a fellow teacher, in a recommendation letter. “Ms. Cervantes speaks to students in Spanish and makes them feel valued and accepted. In her Black Box Theater, she projects images linked to key vocabulary and uses movement which allows these newcomers to feel safe. They begin to comprehend the concepts and demonstrate their knowledge through their movements. Her classes are remarkable because the students are so engaged and she reaches all backgrounds and abilities.”

Cervantes, who has danced with and provided choreography for several professional companies, has a master’s degree in fine arts with an emphasis in dance from George Washington University and earned her bachelor’s degree from Universidad Nacional in San José, Costa Rica.

Dr. Ana Lado, a Marymount University professor of education who serves on the selection committee, said her teaching style is impressive.

“Every single student in her class is engaged and focused and enjoying what they’re learning, and that’s purposeful on her part,” Lado said. “The other thing is that she enjoys what she does so much. By the end of being with her for 10 minutes, you feel the connection. She gets this little sparkle in her eyes when she talks about her students.”

In addition to her regular duties, Cervantes teaches an after-school dance program for students and a weekly class for parents on how to use non-verbal skills to support their children’s learning. She has also presented professional development workshops for other teachers at The Kennedy Center program for Education: CETA Program, Changing Education through the Arts.

She is extremely passionate about teaching all different types of students.

“When we couple self-discipline and perseverance with passion, everything makes sense,” she says. “We must be passionate about learning, living, and being a part of the culture around us, or learning becomes a chore with no foreseeable outcome.”


Teaching Philosophy

  • Deep within all students are amazing gifts of self-discipline, perseverance and passion. Knowledge is important, but even armed with a wealth of knowledge; nothing worthwhile or lasting comes easily. Perseverance—not giving up when something gets challenging, using and accepting failure as a teaching tool, and believing in our own success is invaluable.
  • The arts are an indispensable tool for learning. As humans, we feel, experience, move, touch, smell, hear, and communicate in so many different modalities. Dance opens the doorway for students to construct and demonstrate their understanding of not only the curriculum, but their own lives as well. Students learn best by doing, feeling, and creating.
  • Learning is a life-long journey, and a student’s greatest teacher can be their parents. It’s important to empower and work with them.


  • Recipient of Mini Fulbright for Costa Rican dancers
  • Recipient of full-time Scholarship for masters degree at George Washington University
  • Kennedy Center Education Community Program Artist in Residency
  • National University of Costa Rica Dance Director
  • National University Dance Professor
  • Numerous presentations on dance and teaching at the Smithsonian