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Photo: Twitter/@@JulianaUrtubey3
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Colombian-American Educator Juliana Urtubey is National Teacher of the Year

Latinas continue to make history in the U.S. highlighting that we are truly 60 million strong and capable of achieving what has often never been achieved before among Latinxs. Special education teacher Juliana Urtubey made recent history after she became the first Latinx to be named the National Teacher of the Year since 2005. She’s also the first educator from Nevada to win the award and she told Education Week she is only the third special educator to receive the national honor. The Council of Chief State School Officers recognized the Las Vegas teacher on Thursday with the award: “Juliana Urtubey exemplifies the dedication, creativity and heart teachers bring to their students and communities,” CEO Carissa Moffat Miller said.

Urtubey has been teacher for 11 years and currently works at Booker, Sr. Innovative Elementary School teaching kindergarten through 5th grade. She also works as a instructional strategist for the school crafting  individualized lessons to match the needs of the students. She shared during an interview CBS This Morning that she works with the students to get to know them better including their family structure and hobbies to understand their needs as well as their strengths. “There’s always strengths to find, and so once you find those strengths, you start there,” she said.

Urtubey shared that after she moved from Colombia to the U.S. as a young child and spent a part of her time in a bilingual magnet school. After her family moved she was unable to find a similar school and that moment reinforced for her the value and importance of a good education. Being “othered” in the school system gave her insights on how important it is to cater to the student’s needs versus using the same approach for all.

“I knew that I could be the kind of teacher that would just take it step by step, have a whole lot of celebration for kids, particularly kids with thinking and learning differences and really just make learning fun,” Urtubey said.

One of the ways she reached out to students was creating a community garden at Crestwood Elementary School seven years ago. The students were so invested they formed a garden club dubbed “Gnomies” that includes a small farmer’s market that runs on donations and provides students with fresh produce, NBC reported. She was given the nickname of “Ms. Earth-to-bey”, shortened to Ms. Earth because of her work outdoors including teaching outside. CBS This Morning interviewed some of her students who praised her teaching methods and how much she and the garden mean to them. “She was a good leader, and she would just teach us things in a different way that other people wouldn’t,” one student said.

With the award comes an year-long advocacy role during which she told CBS This Morning she plans to promote commensurate pay for teachers and the necessary resources they need for “a joyous and just education.” She previously told Education Week that wants more accessible bilingual education and with this new role she wants to work on ways to recruit and retain teachers of color. First Lady and fellow educator Jill Biden surprised Urtubey during the announcement telling CBS This Morning: “She is just the epitome of great teacher, a great educator.”

“My job is to make sure that I help my students find their strengths. Kids with thinking and learning differences have so many possibilities, so much potential,” she said, “and it’s just my job to find it, make them believe it and then help them grow,” Urtubey told CBS This Morning.