St. Therese parishioner wins educator award
Friday, Jun. 21, 2019
Courtesy photo/Ana Alamo
Huntsman Education Award winner Ana Alamo is shown with her trophy.
HOLLADAY — Her whole life Ana Alamo’s parents have pushed her to be the best that she can be. Now, as a teacher, it’s a message she passes on to her students at Cottonwood Elementary School, where she teaches fifth grade. Parents have been so impressed by Alamo that through the PTA they nominated her for both a Granite School District Excel award and a Huntsman Education Award.
While Alamo did not receive the school district award, the Huntsman Foundation chose her as one of 11 educators to receive its education award. She was recognized at a banquet on her birthday, April 26.
“She is kind, yet exacting; loving, yet focused,” Shelley McConkie, a Cottonwood parent, wrote in the nomination. “She is not just trying to get the kids better test scores in their writing, but she is also concerned about getting the students to think more in depth about what will help them develop into good, compassionate people.”
Alamo’s parents, Antonio and Albina Burrola, were Mexican migrant workers who settled in El Paso, Texas. As a child, Alamo could never have imagined how far she would come. In kindergarten, knowing almost no English, she was unable to communicate with her teacher or her peers and she struggled academically.
“It was really difficult for me to excel,” she said. “I just kind of got by.”
Things might have stayed that way for Alamo except that she was blessed with a wonderful first- and second-grade teacher, Virginia Rascon.
“She made me feel like her favorite student of all time,” Alamo said. “I think she just treated all of her students that way.”
It was only when she moved on from Rascon’s class that Alamo realized how exceptional the teacher was.
“I wasn’t very advanced because of my struggles with the language, and other teachers didn’t want to deal with that,” she said. “They’d stick me in the back of the classroom and didn’t take any special interest in me.”
But the seed Rascon planted grew and flourished. Alamo did well in school and after high school began a nursing degree at the University of Texas at El Paso. However, after marrying her husband Vince at the age of 19 and deciding she wanted a family, she chose teaching for the flexibility it would have.
At that time, her husband worked for the railroad so Alamo left college to join him on the road. In 1999, they moved to Salt Lake City and Alamo was able to continue her education at Salt Lake Community College and then transferred to the University of Utah while also starting a family. Her daughter Melina was born in 2004, and in 2006, she had twins, Adrian and Isabella. Alamo wanted to be a full-time mother so she quit school.
When the twins were 2, she returned to school so that she wouldn’t lose her course credits. Her parents came to Utah from Texas for a year to help with the children so she could complete her degree and fulfill her student teaching requirements.
“They couldn’t ever help academically but they always put it in my head, ‘You have to do better than us — look at the struggles that we went through as immigrants; you need to push us forward and you need to graduate college,’” she said.
Three years later, when the twins entered first grade, Alamo also went back to school — but this time as a teacher. She was hired by Calvin Smith Elementary, the school where she had done her student teaching, and stayed there for three years until she transferred to Cottonwood Elementary. During the past four years, she has won the hearts of students, parents, peers and administrators.
“Ms. Alamo is a master teacher who understands curriculum, differentiation for all learners, and has shown the capacity to infuse the curriculum with technology,” Principal Paulette McMillan wrote in the nomination. “Her love and care of children is evident in her tremendous desire to see them all succeed.”
Alamo has been a fifth-grade teacher her entire career. In addition to the basic curriculum, she goes above and beyond for her students. Through a book club she runs, she teaches them to not only read and comprehend what they are reading but also to explore difficult topics such as racism, death, divorce and inclusion vs. exclusion. She has also tutored struggling students after hours without pay.
“I tell my students I started school without knowing any English,” she said. “I tell them ‘You don’t have an excuse. … There’s nothing that should stop you. If I did it, you can, too.’”
Alamo said her Catholic faith has also helped her to excel. She is active in St. Therese of the Child Jesus Parish as a lector, extraordinary minister of the Holy Eucharist, parish council member, finance committee member and as the chairperson of the parish festival committee.
Alamo recently took her parents, children and husband on a long-overdue vacation with the $10,000 prize money she won as part of the Huntsman award.