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Two Being Honored as Rising Star Teachers of the Year

April 4, 2017

Two teachers have been named Rising Star Teachers of the Year by the Marian Greenblatt Education Fund. This award honors teachers with less than five years of experience whose creativity and enthusiasm encourages students to stretch themselves and achieve more.

This year’s recipients are Amra Nansimbi, a fourth grade teacher at Glenallan Elementary School, and Yecenia Morales, a Spanish teacher at Wheaton High School.

Amra Nansimbi, fourth grade teacher at Glenallan Elementary School on Thursday March 9, 2017. Winner: Rising Star Teacher of the Year

Amra Nansimbi, fourth grade teacher at Glenallan Elementary School, in her classroom with students

In her fourth year at Glenallan, Nansimbi has a unique ability to develop relationships with all students. She is a teacher innovator. She builds connections with students, and in turn, is able to differentiate instruction and create opportunities for students to pursue their interests. For instance, she has built in time for students to participate in Genius Hour, an instructional approach that gives students choices and allows them to explore their passions, which empowers them as learners. This has motivated students to do research and collaborate with their peers after school and on weekends, before presenting their findings to the class.

In fact, much of Nansimbi’s teaching inspires students to take action outside of school to better society and the environment. This creativity is also a result of her focus on creating a STEM-centric classroom. Last year, she was selected to participate in the National Teacher Summer Institute, which offered professional development around STEM and helped teachers develop lessons that aligned with Common Core State Standards.

Nansimbi, who attended Glenallan as a child, has worked hard to increase her instructional capacity in guided reading and small group math instruction. She has a strong understanding of content and is willing to modify things to make them more accessible and engaging.

She taken on multiple leadership and professional development opportunities; partnered with LEGO Robotics to introduce engineering lessons to students; led professional literature circles around science instruction and equity; and taken professional development from, to learn how to teach coding to her students.

She creates a learning environment that is defined by positive and meaningful relationships, and unprecedented creativity and innovation, which motivates students to discover and maximize their unique talents and skills. Visitors to her classroom can “feel the love,” says a retired MCPS teacher and friend. “Amra has a unique sensitivity and ability to connect with Glenallan students, and she works hard to understand and appreciate each of their challenges and gifts.”

Yecenia Morales, Spanish teacher Wheaton High School. In her classroom on Tuesday February 28, 2017. Winner: Rising Star Teacher of the Year

Yecenia Morales, Spanish teacher at Wheaton High School, teaches a class.

Morales, who graduated from Albert Einstein High School, is in her second year at Wheaton, teaching Spanish for native and non-native speakers. During her job interview, she said she was enthusiastic about working at a school focused on project-based learning. Her students have since accomplished interesting projects. The most notable was a Spanish for Spanish Speakers class, where students wrote and illustrated children’s books about environmental topics, which were later published, displayed in the media center and will be read to children in the community. Students in that same class also researched historical crimes and wrote newspaper articles about them using academic vocabulary they had recently learned. Students in Spanish I created their own recipes with descriptive directions, sufficient enough for other students to make their recipes.

She uses her background as a first-generation Latina to build relationships with and inspire students. She starts class by playing Latin-American music in the background. She speaks to students in Spanish throughout the class, and uses mimics to help them when words or sentences are too difficult to comprehend.

She also takes on leadership roles by facilitating professional learning community (PLC) meetings, and collaborating with colleagues to enrich instruction and monitor student achievement. She helps colleagues by teaching them the newest computer education applications, and has presented her methodologies and classroom strategies at the New Educators Orientation. She is meticulous in her work and uses data consistently to reflect on instruction. For example, she collected information from students about their interests through a survey and used that information to guide lessons.

Morales also cultivates relationships with students by co-sponsoring the Wheaton High School Latin Dance team, which has performed at parent meetings; ZooLights, the National Zoo’s annual winter celebration; and at the University of Maryland.

Morales earned an associate’s degree at Montgomery College, and undergraduate and master’s degrees in education from the University of Maryland, College Park.

Nansimbi and Morales will be honored at the annual Champions for Children celebration on April 26 at BlackRock Center for the Arts. The event is hosted by MCPS and the Montgomery County Roundtable for Education (MCBRE).


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