Victoria D. de Sanchez Northern Virginia Annual Teacher of the Year Award 2018
2018 Wilson Ramirez, Washington-Lee High School, Arlington, Virginia
Wilson Ramirez was inspired by the United States and the promise of education while watching a television program as a child in the Andes mountains. The show, Revivamos Nuestra Historia (Let’s Relive Our History), revealed to him the potential for global citizens to move freely about the world while using language and culture as a vehicle.
Ramirez has done just that. He has been a Spanish instructor at the University of Maryland, a university professor in both Spain and his native Colombia, as well as a high school teacher and assistant principal. He currently teaches Spanish and literature to fluent and native speakers at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington.
He believes that every student can learn and that every student can learn to find meaning in more than one language.
“As teachers, it is our responsibility to help our students bridge that linguistic gap, and teach them to jump beyond our expectations, and sometimes even go beyond their own expectations,” he said.
Ramirez said many of his students are just like him.
“I’ve discovered that they clearly speak my language and reflect many of the same experiences I’ve had as an immigrant from a Spanish-speaking background,” he said. “They look, sound and experience some of the same obstacles I have faced in my life, especially related to accent, language and identity.”
He’s taken on the responsibility of creating a place where their identities, languages and cultures are considered assets rather than deficits.
“He is a person who has the gift of connecting with youth,” said Dr. Ana Lado, a Marymount University professor of education. “He changes lives.”
His Washington-Lee colleague, Lilliana Maldonado-Méndez, called him a “once-in-a-lifetime teacher” who takes the time to talk with students, learns about their lives outside school and offers advice and support.
“He knows which of his students have to work to support their families, who is living alone and has to support him/herself, who needs help getting school supplies, clothes, food or just emotional support,” said Maldonado-Méndez, the 2016 Hispanic Teacher of the Year.
He also lets them know they need to work hard and overcome problems to be successful, she said.
“He stays after school to work and help students, and he makes his room a refuge, a safe place for students who do not feel like they fit into the school environment,” she added. “His study hall is always full, of not only his own students, but also kids that ask to be in his classroom because they feel comfortable and welcome there.”
Ramirez’s education in Colombia includes a bachelor’s degree in philosophy with a minor in education from Saint Thomas University, a master’s degree in education and human development from Javeriana University and a master’s in educational administration from Pamplona University. He has done advanced graduate work at Spain’s University of Barcelona and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in administration.
“Mr. Ramirez gets students excited about education,” said Dr. Gregg Robertson, his principal. “His caring attitude, devotion to children and superior knowledge of the subject matter makes him effective with students at all levels. All students recognize his enthusiasm for teaching and learning and respond with accomplishment and success. He is a role model to the students and they look up to him for support and guidance.”
- Each student can be successful.
- Be a source of courage, confidence and empowerment for students.
- Teaching and learning are two sides of the same coin.
- Strive to promote cross-cultural awareness and appreciation.
- Technology enhances student learning.
- To teach is a joyful experience.
- Professor, Universidad Salesiania, Barcelona, Spain; Universidad de Pamplona, Cucuta, Colombia; Universidad Tecnológica, Tunja, Colombia
- Director of religious education, Saint Monica Parish, Carpentersville, Illinois
- Coordinator, Hispanic Leadership Institute, Archdiocese of Baltimore
- Formed Coffee en Español, a club where students practice communication