Alicia Fuentes-Gargallo, a Spanish teacher at Westland Middle School in Bethesda, Md., is the winner of this year’s Friedel and Otto Eberspacher Award for Excellence in the Teaching of a Modern Western European Language from the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY). The annual award, presented to an educator who inspires students to understand the world’s people and cultures, was established in 1989 by Lieselotte E. Kurth of Johns Hopkins University’s German Department. It includes a $1,500 prize.
Students in grades 7-12 who participate in CTY’s humanities and writing Summer Programs courses can nominate a teacher from their home school for the award. Devlin Orlin, a former student of Fuentes-Gargallo’s who is now in ninth grade, nominated her after participating in CTY’s Law and Politics in U.S. History course at Johns Hopkins University last summer.
“She pushed us to exceed our potential when dealing with complex tenses and verbs,” Orlin said of Fuentes-Gargallo, one of 47 teachers nominated this year. “Señora Fuentes also made Spanish-speaking countries’ culture a focus and explained customs relevant to our language units, making us better global citizens.”
Nominees are encouraged to submit an essay discussing pivotal moments in their language education and teaching careers. In her essay, Fuentes-Gargallo, a native of Barcelona, Spain, writes about a contest sponsored by Coca-Cola for which she and her fellow third graders were invited to submit an essay for the chance to win a collection of books.
“The prospect of receiving such a coveted prize was highly motivating, and I decided I would make good use of our home dictionary to write an essay that showed rich, sophisticated, polysyllabic words and awe-inspiring ideas about how to improve our planet,” she writes. She won the contest, and the experience instilled in her a profound love of language.
The following school year, Fuentes-Gargallo’s Spanish teacher brought a passion, knowledge, and management style to her classroom that cultivated Fuentes-Gargallo’s own desire to teach.
While an undergraduate student at the University of Barcelona, Fuentes-Gargallo had the unique opportunity to attend lectures hosted by the Associació de Professors d'Anglès de Catalunya, a non-profit association made up of teachers of English working in Catalonia. Here, she said, she was able to hear some of the top teachers in the field discuss their methods and practices.
“Their ideas sparked future goals for the day when I would be the one managing my own set of students,” she writes.
Now at Westland Middle School, a Bethesda public school where she has been teaching for 16 years, Fuentes-Gargallo instructs sixth graders who participate in the school’s language-immersion program. They begin each day discussing a joke or interesting photograph, and as they segue into the daily lesson, she gives her students choices in how they would like to learn the new material.
“We try to always have activities that require movement and collaborative learning,” she says. “Often, it is not a quiet classroom.”
To further nurture this lively collaboration, Fuentes-Gargallo said she plans to use her award to purchase furniture that will enhance the collaborative learning environment in her classroom.